Formation of a New Gender Order in Tunisia after the Revolution

The research for this project, which was embedded in the Cluster of Excellence’s thematic focus “Post/Secularism,” examined the newly negotiated gender order in post-revolutionary Tunisia. After extensive political wrangling and disputes, the transformation period ended with the ratification of the “new” Tunisian constitution of the “second” republic on 26 January 2014. Sonia Zayed worked with women parliamentarians from the Islamist Ennahda Party who participated in the constitutional national assembly and she observed decision-making processes within the Party.
The Tunisian gender order is defined by traditional customs, religion and seemingly unshakeable hierarchies. In this regard, patriarchal elites resist a process of social change that is being demanded by the country’s youth. This was the conviction that informed the Tunisian revolution. It is an issue that is intimately bound up with issues of law, economics and social policy.
Interviews were conducted to form a picture of the status quo with regard to the prevailing gender order in Tunisian society. Sonia Zayed’s own social position as a woman who wears a head-scarf played a central role, enabling her to gain the trust of women members of the Ennahda Party almost immediately, trust that would certainly not have been extended as readily to a male researcher. As a practicing Muslim and a scholar, she also won the respect of her male interviewees, who as a result answered questions they otherwise might not have. Yet, her particular social position also set limits to her work. The secular women’s rights activists from the “Association des Femmes Démocrates” refused to answer her research questions because they regarded her headscarf as a political symbol. For this reason she had to narrow her research question somewhat and focus on the women’s wing of the most prominent Islamist party in Tunisia.
The research results highlight the female actors’ rigid understanding of Islam and the persistence of traditional conceptions of roles. It is women who justify mechanisms of oppression and impose them on the youth. Islamists regard the patriarchal family as the foundation of Tunisian society and consider a father’s orders as not subject to challenge. Pre-marital sex on the part of women is seen as a punishable crime, whereas sex outside of marriage is only regarded as a trivial offence for men. The virginity cult is assuming increasingly bizarre forms and has resulted in the spread of practices such as anal sex between men and unmarried women, and has promoted the establishment of medical clinics specialized in the production and implantation of artificial hymens. Homosexuals have been forced underground and are prosecuted by the law. Divorced women are stigmatized and branded as “hard sells.” Moreover, Tunisian society has seen a marked rise in sexual violence, for which victims seldom press charges since the police almost always blame the victims.
In sum, the double standards analyzed in this study pose a serious problem for Tunisian women. Individual rights that protect women must be enforced in future, in particular against the normative encroachments of orthodox Muslims and the extremely influential Salafis.
The research results are currently being written up with the aim of submitting them as a PhD dissertation by the end of 2017.

Early results of the project were published as:

Schröter, Susanne and Sonia Zayed: “Tunesien: Vom Staatsfeminismus zum revolutionären Islamismus“, in: S. Schröter (ed.): Geschlechtergerechtigkeit durch Demokratisierung? Transformationen und Restaurationen von Genderverhältnissen in der islamischen Welt, Bielefeld: Transcript, 2013, pp. 17–44.

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19. September 2022, 13.00 Uhr

Book lɔ:ntʃ: Friedensfähig in Kriegszeiten - Friedensgutachten 2022. Mit Prof. Dr. Christopher Daase (Professor für Internationale Organisationen, Forschungsverbund "Normative Ordnungen" der Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main und Leibniz-Institut Hessische Stiftung Friedens- und Konfliktforschung (HSFK)). Mehr...


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