Social Networks and Women's Mobilization in Tunisia

By Zlitni, Sami; Touati, Zeineb | Journal of International Women's Studies, October 2012 | Go to article overview

Social Networks and Women's Mobilization in Tunisia


Zlitni, Sami, Touati, Zeineb, Journal of International Women's Studies


Abstract

After the fall of Ben Ali's regime, fears were growing as various religious parties have decided to run in the elections to the Constituent Assembly of October 23t , 2011. The Code of Personal Status, the very symbol of Bourguibian modernity, might well be challenged. Beyond their presence on traditional media, feminist movements have organised themselves online so as to make themselves heard and to be able to mobilize public opinion. Facebook has become a place that maximizes visibility, thus allowing Tunisian feminists to make their ideas and their actions widely known. By favouring distanciated commitment, Facebook is a tool that has brought about an upheaval in the various forms of militancy and the militant's relationships to organizational structures.

Keywords: Revolution, feminist mobilization, ICT, electronic medias, social networks, Facebook, Tunisia.

Introduction

Tunisian women's trailblazing and advantageous legal status is considered an exception in Muslim countries. For decades the status has been a showcase for successive Tunisian governments, a forceful argument at election time for President Ben Ali, and an often-used alibi by the authorities when European countries and NGOs challenge the regime about human rights and freedom of the press. We will first show the specificity of the status, then we will have a close look at the role played by social media in the defense of the status as Tunisia is going through a period of political turmoil. In this part we will also show that the defense of women's freedom has brought about new ways of using social networks and that those new forms of mobilization online have now appeared.

Legal Specificities for an Outstanding Status

The much-vaunted Tunisian Personal Status Code (PSC) is the result of a long process that spread over a century. First reformers' reflections, the national debate of the 1930s over women's liberation and finally Habib Bourguiba's highly symbolic strategic choices all combined to make the Code possible. In the following part, we will present the contribution of Tunisian first reformers and thinkers before explaining the context in which a national debate was made possible after Tahar Haddad's Our Women in the Sharia'a and Society was published in 1929. We will conclude this part with the political decisions and strategic choices made by both Tunisian presidents between 1956 and 2011.

The Historical and Intellectual Foundations of the Tunisian Specificity

The women's issue arose in Tunisia and was the result of Turkish and Egyptian experiences that had been taking previous Tunisian experiences into account. They were all based, on the one hand, on the ideas of an elite whose members, for most of them, had studied at al-Zitouna University and raised on the concepts elaborated by Middle-Eastern reformers (Rifat Tahtawi, Mohammed Abduh, Rachid Ridha). On the other hand, they were also based on the ideas of intellectuals who had been educated at Sadiki College and then in French universities. Middle-Eastern reformers and Tunisian thinkers have indeed compared French women life to those of their citizens during their stay in France. Thus the have noted the importance of women's education and social integration. This comparison allowed them to propose solutions to what was called the decadence of Arab societies in political, social and economic sectors.

There was also the considerable contribution of 19th century Tunisian thinkers who all helped to lay the bases of modernism. Among the first reformers was Private secretary Ahmed Bin Dhiaf who was the first person to talk about women's emancipation and to stress the need to give both professional and religious education. Kheireddine Pacha, for instance forcefully asked in 1877 for a new status for women while emphasizing the need for girls to go to school and get educated. He relentlessly argued against the fears raised by ulemas about women's emancipation. …

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