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Women's Empowerment in TunisiaA lawyer by training and a former militant against the colonialist movement, Béji Caïd Essebsi, current president of Tunisia, has earned himself another title for his resume: women’s rights activist.

Tunisia, birthplace of the Arab Spring, is often regarded as a model country for Middle Eastern countries trying to move toward democracy. In a predominantly Muslim country, President Essebsi has been the subject of much criticism due to his support for controversial legislation regarding women’s rights. However, the president maintains that under the country’s constitution, Tunisia is a civil state that emphasizes equality.

In July 2017, Tunisia’s parliament passed an unprecedented legislative package defending women’s rights. The law on violence against women, specifically rape and domestic violence, became a landmark step toward women’s empowerment in Tunisia, as well as all over the Middle East. Including key elements of the United Nations Handbook for Legislation on Violence against Women, the law defines violence as “any physical, moral, sexual or economic aggression against women based on discrimination between the two sexes and resulting in damage or physical, sexual, psychological or economic suffering to the woman, including threats of such aggression, pressure or deprivation of rights and freedoms, both in public and private life.”

Tunisia became the first to overturn the draconian law offering impunity to rapists if they marry their victim of the few countries that still enforced it. Shortly after, Jordan and Lebanon followed suit. In addition, the laws passed by the Tunisian parliament include criminal provisions for violence committed within a family, as well as public sexual harassment. The new law takes important steps to women’s empowerment in Tunisia by requiring equal pay and protection against child employment. The law also includes crucial preventative measures to prevent violence against women, and requires assistance be given to surviving victims of domestic violence.

President Essebsi did not stop there though. In September 2017, he shifted his focus toward administrative orders regarding marriage and inheritance. President Essebsi urged the government to rescind previous law forbidding Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men. Additionally, he seeks to allow women to receive equal inheritance as women heirs are currently entitled to only half the inheritance of a man.

While President Essebsi’s emphasis on equality has the potential to empower women in Tunisia, passing a law is only the first step. Changing the way people think about women, not only in Tunisia and the Middle East but all over the world, still promises to be an uphill battle.

Richa Bijlani

Photo: Flickr

Poverty Rate in Tunisia
Tunisia proved the authority of its democracy when 2010 uprisings overthrew a decade-long dictatorship. That same year, the World Bank found that the poverty rate in Tunisia had been cut in half since the start of the century. Tunisia’s GDP has doubled as it approaches 10 years since that revolution, but rural areas are still stuck in a rut of poverty.

Most economic growth is localized to coastal, urban communities. The agricultural sector only contributes 10 percent to the overall GDP, but 35 percent of the country’s population competes for that small percentage. The result is that two-thirds of the country’s poor population lives in rural, agrarian areas.

Still, Tunisia is considered a success story and role model for other countries fighting poverty. The government implemented programs to improve the national status of education, healthcare and infrastructure after the new democracy took hold in 2011, and the aggregate influence was tangible. But the disparity remains, and the poverty rate in Tunisia is as much as 30 percent higher in some rural regions.

 

The Devastating Effects of the Poverty Rate in Tunisia

 

In hard to access areas, potable water and electricity are only available to 65 percent of people. This leaves nearly half of the poor population without water or electricity. The number of women receiving prenatal care is 35 percent lower in rural areas, and infant mortality rates are significantly higher. The Tunisian government has made basic healthcare accessible to all people, regardless of income, so the adverse statistics seem to represent a different problem.

Literacy rates (a strong indicator of poverty) are just above 98 percent for males between 15-24, and near 96 percent for females of the same age across Tunisia. These are promising figures, just like the overall improvement in poverty rate in Tunisia, but again there is a disparity in rural areas. Dropout rates for primary education remain at about 50 percent for the whole country, disproportionately attributed to children in poverty, and especially to girls in rural areas. The statistical stagnancy represents a social emphasis on patriarchy rather than education, and it is more and more clear that one father’s agrarian income can no longer support a family.

Tunisia’s battle against poverty shows that change begins with people. The poverty rate in Tunisia will continue to improve as the people continue to seek self-sufficiency. The civilian uprising that created their new democracy was an inspiration to similar countries, and hope remains that societal examples within that new democracy will make education and health a greater priority in rural areas.

Brooke Clayton

Photo: Google

Causes of Poverty in Tunisia
The pressing issue of poverty in the North African country of Tunisia is one that needs to be addressed. While attempting to understand the causes of poverty in Tunisia, patterns of unemployment, food insecurity and civil unrest have become most apparent.

According to a 2010 estimate, nearly 15.5 percent of Tunisians lived below the poverty line, whereas in 2014 the poverty rate was as high as 24.7 percent. Furthermore, the income inequality in Tunisia is dramatic – the top 20 percent of Tunisians earn 46.3 percent of the national income while the bottom 20 percent earn only 5.9 percent. Poverty, in particular, affects those in central Tunisia at a higher rate than those on the outskirts of the country’s borders.

 

Leading Causes of Poverty in Tunisia

 

Hunger is a pressing issue within Tunisia that contributes to poor living conditions for many. Numerous Tunisians are finding that their food is too expensive for them to afford or that it is physically and geographically inaccessible in seasons where food is not abundant. There are many problems associated with malnutrition on such a large scale including limits to economic productivity and increased health costs for many.

Tunisia also has a remarkably high unemployment rate, which affects, in particular, university graduates and women. Tunisia’s sizeable workforce is straining the country’s resources and many young Tunisians have reacted violently against this, which has contributed to the civil unrest that concluded with the revolt against the Ben Ali regime in 2011.

The civil unrest that has plagued Tunisia since 2011 is another one of the major causes of poverty in Tunisia. The political instability that is a result of the Ben Ali regime stems from dissatisfaction with poverty and unemployment that continues to plague many Tunisians. This unrest has since driven away tourists and business investors alike, which has further increased unemployment for Tunisians, as not enough jobs are being created to meet the demands of the growing workforce.

At the moment, it seems that the best way to combat poverty in Tunisia is to address the unemployment and political instability that have contributed to poor living conditions for many of the population. By addressing these two major issues, the lives of many in this country will likely begin to improve as poverty can start to decrease nationwide.

Jennifer Faulkner

Photo: Flickr

Corruption in TunisiaIn 2010, a 26-year-old fruit vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire in the rural Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid while protesting a corrupt and undemocratic government. In the proceeding months, popular protests spread like wildfire from the inland region of Tunisia to the coastal capital, and on to Egypt and Syria.

Since then, the country has held its first successful democratic elections. Still, corruption in Tunisia has not subsided. This development has been cynically dubbed the “democratization of corruption.”

The most pernicious form of corruption in Tunisia can be found in the credit industry. In recent years, the government has received between $2 billion and $4 billion worth of foreign loans, which officials then allocate to private banks – usually those with close clientele relationships with the government.

Moving down the line, nepotism also decides which private companies can acquire credit from banks. More often than not, investments end up in the major coastal cities, leaving almost four million rural Tunisians – 35 percent of the population – working and living in only 15 percent of the total Tunisian economy.

Last May, a “Second Revolution” erupted outside Tataouine, a rural city in the south, protesting corruption in Tunisia. Demonstrations called for increased regional investments and jobs and demanded that one local oil company in particular implement employment quotas for Tunisian nationals.

In tandem with the democratization, a number of anti-corruption agencies like the National Authority for the Fight Against Corruption (INLUCC) have been created. In an ironic twist of fate, the current government used the widespread anti-corruption sentiment to accuse recent protesters of colluding with smugglers and violent extremists.

While much of the called-for investments in inland Tunisia may, no doubt, end up in the hands of corrupt officials and businesspeople – just as it does in coastal cities – capital flows will nevertheless begin to amend regional economic disparities and prevent future conflict. Indeed, the World Bank notes that rather than improving since the 2011 revolution, the economic divide between the inland and costal regions has grown more severe.

To fix these problems, the International Crisis Group recommends encouraging the Tunisian government to give more funding to the INLUCC and facilitate an economic dialogue between regional elites. Until corruption in Tunisia is brought to an end, foreign loans will continue to merely stimulate certain segments of the Tunisian economy and exacerbate regional tensions.

Nathaniel Sher
Photo: Flickr

Why is Tunisia Poor

Tunisia is a country of around 11 million people in North Africa. In the past decade, it has emerged as the only success story of the Arab Spring, a revolutionary and democratically-minded movement that swept the Arab world in the early 2010s. So why is Tunisia poor?

In the decade before 2010, Tunisia managed to halve its poverty rate, dropping from 35 percent to 16 percent. This success came from certain important social achievements. Universal access to electricity, high enrollment in primary education and reductions in child malnutrition were significant factors. However, these trends seemed to stall after 2010, and the poverty rate has remained fairly stagnant.

Despite the poverty reduction and economic growth, inequality has also increased. Many investments in the early 2000s moved from high-skill jobs to low-skill ones. Tunisia also lacks a significant social security system and unemployment insurance. Investments typically happen in coastal regions, which increases regional wealth disparities.

In central Tunisia, poverty and and unemployment rates are several times higher than the national average. Some experts worry that the lack of infrastructure and jobs will create a breeding ground for extremism that could threaten Tunisia’s progress.

But why is Tunisia poor in certain areas? Several factors contribute to overall unequal opportunity in Tunisia. Where you live and the circumstances you were born into can determine how long you attend school and whether you have access to water. Additionally, Tunisia falls behind most other Middle Eastern and North African countries when it comes to sanitation.

Certain facts about an individual household in Tunisia can determine whether the family is impoverished. The educational attainment of the head of the household and the ratio of male to female employees are some indicators. Additionally, the ratio of the food budget spent on inexpensive cereal products can also indicate a level of poverty. Finally, households with fewer children are also less likely to be impoverished.

Thankfully, with successes both in reducing poverty in the past and in the Arab Spring, the people of Tunisia have proved that they can achieve incredible social victories. The International Monetary Fund has also recently lent Tunisia $2.9 billion to help address the issue of poverty.

Brock Hall

Photo: Flickr

Tunisia's Human Rights
In 2011, Tunisia was embroiled in revolution, eventually leading to the resignation of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the formation of a new, free, republic. Although Tunisia’s new government may be free, there is no guarantee that it will have a stellar human rights record. Following the revolution, Tunisia’s human rights record has been imperfect, and its new government still has issues to work out.

According to Amnesty International’s annual report, the biggest threat to human rights in Tunisia is the current nationwide state of emergency, which has been in effect since November 2015. Through this state of emergency, the government military force has been granted an expansion of powers in order to deal with the threat of the Islamic State along Tunisia’s borders. Instead, the military has used its power to take away the human rights and freedom of Tunisian citizens. Tunisia’s Truth and Dignity Commission, which was created to address Tunisia’s human rights violations, reported that it has received reports of more than 62,000 human rights violations.

Among said human rights violations include arbitrary arrests, intimidation and harassment, discrimination and the banning of assembly and free speech. Since the start of the state of emergency, there have been thousands of arrests and house searches, often without a warrant. Accompanying these arrests is a sense of intimidation and harassment, where law enforcement and military officials are threatening people in the name of counter-terrorism. Tunisian citizens are stereotyped, men in long beards and women in religious clothing are explicitly monitored and treated harshly and their homes are searched. These unlawful searches and arrests go against key human rights, including the right to work and freedom of movement – further injuring Tunisia’s human rights record.

The Human Rights Watch notes that Tunisia has been trying to prevent torture and ill treatment towards detainees in their prisons, with the National Constituent Assembly creating a High Authority for the Prevention of Torture, which elected 16 members in March 2016. Using unannounced inspections, torture in prisons and detention sites can be reduced. However, the Tunisian government is still unsure of how to preserve the human rights of citizens in police custody as reports of ill treatment by judges and police officers rise.

Addressing these reports, the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recommended, among other suggestions, that Tunisia should increase accountability amongst these police officers and judges by raising awareness of human rights. Thus, while the government continues to stabilize and search for ways to stem Tunisia’s human rights violations in the midst of the country’s ongoing state of emergency, there is hope that the treatment of its citizens will continue to improve.

Rachael Blandau

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Tunisia
Water quality in Tunisia has been a long-standing problem in the country located in the northernmost part of Africa. Data indicates that most water resources are polluted and that the majority of these pollutants stem from wastewater discharge, industrial effluents and agricultural activities. Although efforts have been made within the last decade to create wastewater facilities, overall the quality of the water remains poor and could continue to worsen if more is not done to reverse the increasing pollution.

There is a large demand for water that has not been polluted—per capita renewable water resources are 489 cubic meters per year for a population of 9.6 million people. The annual per capita water scarcity threshold is 1,000 cubic meters, making Tunisia’s 489 cubic meters far below what is accepted. In addition, 16 percent of withdrawn water goes to households, tourism and industrial uses, while a whopping 84 percent is used for agricultural irrigation. Water used for agricultural purposes has doubled in the past 15 years.

Various government strategies and activities have been implemented in regards to the water quality in Tunisia and how to better protect its water resources. Water quality management is dispersed among a few institutions. The Ministry of Agriculture’s role is planning and managing the water sector, while the Ministry of Environment controls water pollution sources, among other responsibilities.

Recently, efforts have been made to improve water quality in Tunisia by Japan, which has granted the country credit for construction of a seawater desalination plant in Sfax, a city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. This credit has been given more specifically to the National Water Supply and Distribution Company, also known as SONEDE. The amount of the grant is about 780 million dinars (MD) and will be paid back over 25 years with a seven-year grace period, at an interest rate of 1.7 percent.

This credit will reinforce the capacity and water quality in Tunisia that is used for drinking by helping SONEDE provide 100,000 tons of water to the region of Greater Sfax, which is the second largest city in the country. This credit will come to the aid of one million people residing in Sfax.

Sabri Bachtobji, the State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, stated that the grant given to construct a seawater desalination plant in Tunisia is the first Japanese commitment that is part of the promises given at the TUNISIA 2020 Conference on Investment that was held in November 2016.

Sara Venusti

Photo: Pixabay


Tunisia is a small, African nation located on the Mediterranean Sea and nestled between Algeria and Libya that transitioned to a democracy after the 2011 Arab Spring and adopted a progressive constitution in 2014. In the same year, it held elections to elect a president. Its location makes it a favorite point for refugees in Tunisia, but most see it as a transit country.

Here are 10 facts about refugees in Tunisia:

  1. Before 2011, only 100 refugees arrived each year in Tunisia. These refugees came primarily from Algeria, other western African countries, and Palestine.
  2. During the height of the Arab Spring in Libya in 2011, some 990,900 people (10 percent of Tunisia’s population) crossed the border into Tunisia. However, 77 percent of the Libyans who became refugees in Tunisia later returned to Libya.
  3. Since 2011, there has been a steady decrease in the number of “persons of concern” — a designation of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for refugees, returnees, stateless people and asylum-seekers — in Tunisia. The number of Tunisian refugees in 2017 is close to 1,000.
  4. Libyans arriving in Tunisia have three months before they must apply for a work permit from the Ministries of Interior. An organization called International General Services was created in Tunisia to assist refugees in becoming more self-reliant. Refugees sign one-year contracts with the service organization for jobs in fields such as maintenance in electricity and air conditioning.
  5. Tunisian refugees often arrive after being rescued from sea trying to get to Europe. Of the 900 people rescued by this method in 2015, 147 people claimed asylum in Tunisia.
  6. At the beginning of 2015, 80 percent of those who boarded boats in Libya and arrived in Tunisia were economic migrants looking for a better life. The remaining 20 percent were Eritrean, Somalian and Syrian refugees. The UNHCR assists Tunisia in determining if the person is a migrant or a refugee.
  7. Tunisian refugees have access to French and English language classes and may enroll in Information Technology training in the towns of Medenine and Ben Guerdane.
  8. The UNHCR is assisting Tunisia in drafting a new asylum law. Until that time, UNHCR is the sole entity conducting refugee status determination.
  9. All elementary school-aged refugees are enrolled in primary school once they have reached Tunisia.
  10. All asylum seekers in Tunisia receive health care. UNHCR covers the cost of primary and emergency visits through their partner, Tunisian Red Crescent.

Tunisia has seen the number of refugees increase greatly since 2011, and then decrease to a much smaller number today. The country’s location attracts both migrants and refugees. It has promised to adopt a national asylum law soon, which will take the burden away from the UNHCR as the sole entity conducting refugee interviews.

Jene Cates

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in TunisiaIn June 2016, the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) online magazine announced that the organization has approved a four-year, $2.9 billion loan program to help alleviate poverty in Tunisia.

This news may come as a shock to some people. The IMF gave financial assistance in the form of a Stand-By Arrangement following the 2010 Tunisian Revolution, and the North African country is considered to be one of the few successes that emerged from the Arab Spring.

While Tunisia has come a long way both politically and economically, the country is still plagued by high unemployment and a lagging private sector.

According to IMF Survey, 15 percent of Tunisia’s population and 35 percent of its youth, are unemployed, contributing greatly to poverty in Tunisia. Civil society representatives, speaking with World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim during his visit in May, claimed that only 27 percent of the country has access to finance due to strict rules on foreign transactions.

Joblessness and lack of opportunities has produced lackluster economic growth and low government approval ratings. The World Bank reported that only twenty percent of young Tunisians in urban areas trust the government. The figure is ten percent for the countryside.

Regional disparities are also a problem; while the national unemployment rate is high, it is even higher in regions far from the coast. In southwest Tunisia, 26.1 percent of people were unemployed in 2015, according to Tunisia’s National Statistics Institute.

Where unemployment goes, poverty follows. A 2014 World Bank report revealed that the poverty rate in central Tunisia was four times higher than the national average; as high as 30 percent in certain areas.

All of these factors combine to produce a significant number of disgruntled youth that extremist groups seek to recruit.

According to a Voice of America article published on June 6, 2016, over 7,000 people in the country have become fighters for the Islamic State and other jihadist groups. The reason, cited by many, is that the government has failed to integrate a youth population that is in a process of soul-searching, following the democratic uprising of 2010 that lasted into 2011.

In order curb this terrorist threat, which has major security implications for the region and the world at large, economic development and poverty reduction are key. The new IMF program aims to do exactly that.

In an interview with IMF Survey, IMF Mission Chief for Tunisia Amine Mati stated that by injecting more money, the $2.9 billion loan would help maintain the overall stability of the country’s economy.

As civil society representatives and young Tunisian entrepreneurs have made clear, labor market, private sector and structural reforms are also needed. According to Mati, the program will also assist government efforts in creating a more dynamic economy and ensuring growth is distributed across the country.

Tunisia has great potential. Its democratic government is committed to solving the country’s problems. Foreign aid will help accelerate the progress already made in reducing poverty in Tunisia.

Philip Katz

Photo: Pixabay

BeekeepingHoney continues to be a popular commodity across the globe, and poor rural farmers throughout Africa are beginning to take up the practice of beekeeping to earn money.

In Kenya, a large portion of those living in poverty reside in rural regions, as large cities such as Nairobi are beginning to prosper. Bees, and the delicious nectar that they produce, are starting to be viewed as a viable business enterprise for farmers living in the Kenyan countryside.

According to CapX, “More than 90 percent of honey in Kenyan supermarkets is imported,” which gives local farmers the opportunity to enter a practically untouched market.

However, the practice of beekeeping in Kenya has typically been popular among the elderly community, who yield small quantities of honey from hives made out of wooden logs.

To combat this trend, CapX reports, “Charities like Christian Aid are working to develop honey hubs in Kenya.” These hubs will provide education, training, modern equipment, storage and industry connections in an effort to promote the business of beekeeping and help prove that bees can end poverty for these farmers.

A similar strategy is taking hold in Tunisia, where the project TuniBee is beginning to empower local beekeepers. Students who attend the Mediterranean School of Business in Tunis, the capitol of Tunisia, began the initiative at the suggestion of Noomen Lahimer, their professor of economics and entrepreneurship.

According to BBC, “People who already keep bees to supplement the income they get from their day jobs are selected from deprived areas of the country” to work with TuniBee.

Beekeepers who participate in the program are given extra beehives that are purchased by the sponsors of TuniBee. On top of this, Khaled Bouchoucha, a beehive entrepreneur, and Hidhli Naoufel, a veterinarian, provide high-end beehives and expertise on the handling of bees to the participants.

The greatest upside to the promotion of beekeeping in Africa is the worldwide interest in the delicious golden syrup.

CapX reported, “Honey is a treasured substance among many Muslim communities.” Honey holds special significance in Islam, and countries like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are willing to spend a lot of money if the honey is of a high quality.

In Tunisia, TuniBee has intrigued large corporations such as Total, Shell and Microsoft, that they hope will eventually act as corporate sponsors. Additionally, TuniBee has already secured one U.S. company that would like to import their honey.

The ever-growing popularity of this up-and-coming industry has led many to believe that bees can help end poverty for rural farmers across Africa.

Liam Travers

Photo: Pixabay