For neighboring countries, Tunisia is a model of women’s rights. Although women’s rights in Tunisia are lacking in some areas, activists and lawyers have consistently worked to dismantle patriarchal social structures.
Poverty in Tunisia
The national poverty rate consistently fell between 2005 and 2015. In 2005, the poverty rate in Tunisia was 23.1%, and in 2015, the poverty rate was 15.2%. Poverty tends to disproportionately affect inland regions in Tunisia.
Inland regions register higher rates of poverty than coastal regions. This difference is often stark. In Centre West, a landlocked region, the rate of poverty was 30.8%, whereas, in Centre Est, a coastal region, the poverty rate was 11.4%. The national poverty rate for men and women, however, was nearly identical.
Role of Women in the Economy
By 2005 the number of female entrepreneurs in Tunisia was nearly 5000 and had impressively doubled to 10,000 by 2008. Despite the expansion of women’s rights in Tunisia, which has played out through a legal process, deferral to traditional gender roles continues to hold women back from pursuing entrepreneurial roles in society. A 2010 study found that this may be explained by an “inadequate support system” for women in Tunisia who aspire to develop careers in the business world.
The development of a strong support system for women entrepreneurs in Tunisia is the goal of Mowgli’s partnership with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). The initiative partnered 12 Tunisian businesswomen with Mowgli mentors for a year. Its goal was to create a new culture of support and sustainability that will foster “economic and societal development throughout Tunisia.”
This approach is fundamental to shift the business culture in Tunisia. Institutional support for women entrepreneurs is tantamount to their success. Women entrepreneurs generally receive less institutional support than their male counterparts receive upon starting a new business. This includes a lack of financial support from financial institutions. Women entrepreneurs are also less likely to be offered opportunities to participate in business training, courses or schooling.
Women Entrepreneurs in Tunisia
Despite these obstacles, women entrepreneurs in Tunisia have developed innovative ways to improve support for women in business. Raja Hamdi is the director of the Sidi Bouzid Business Center. The center supports startups by providing mentors to evaluate business and market trends.
The Sidi Bouzid Business Center works closely with the Mashrou3i program, which is a partner of Go Market, a research and marketing firm located in the Kairouan region of Tunisia. Go Market was founded by female entrepreneur, Hayfa Ben Fraj. It works strategically in market analysis to support a “wide range of sectors and diverse fields such as technology, crafts and agriculture.”
Working Toward an Inclusive Economy
Although patriarchal structures of repression endure in Tunisia, the overall attitude is one of progress, equality and inclusion. Constituting one half of the population in Tunisia, women represent a latent workforce with the potential to reshape Tunisia’s economy through a series of innovative programs based on a culture of mutual support. Women’s rights in Tunisia will continue to increase as entrepreneurial opportunities for women flourish.
– Taylor Pangman