Tunisia: First Shelter for Women Opened
Monday, March 4, 2013 2:25 PM

Tunisia has long served as an example of women's progress in North Africa, granting women the right to divorce in 1957 and legalizing contraception and abortion in the 1960s. Yet when it comes to issues of domestic violence in the country, Tunisia has fallen behind. Tunisia’s minister of women's affairs, Sihem Badi, admits the injustice in only now opening their first public shelter for victims of domestic violence. “We're late,” she says. “Look at Morocco. They have tens of shelters for women.” Resistance to facing the problem of domestic violence is deeply rooted in Tunisian culture. Badi explains, “Some people are afraid to see women gain autonomy; they fear it's going to break families.”

According to a survey by the National Office of Family and Population, published in 2010, about 47 percent of Tunisian women aged 18 to 64 have been the victim of violence at least once in their lifetime. Until now, the only help for victims came from independent advocacy associations, such as the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women. The association created its own center dedicated to women in 1993, providing aid and free legal assistance, but no housing.
The shelter, which opened in December 2012, can accommodate 50 women and their children and offers legal and psychological assistance. However, so far, the shelter remains empty. The shelter was a partnership project between Tunisia’s government, which provided the building, and UN Women in New York, which provided the funding. Some fear that the shelter’s location is too remote to be accessible for those affected by domestic violence. “This one is far from Tunis, it requires heavy logistics to reach it,” describes Dorra Mahfoudh, former president of the Tunisian Women's Association for Research and Development in Tunis. “There is a risk that no one will go there. We need several, in different areas, in the South, where the rate of violence against women is higher.”
Compiled from: Lafrance, Camille, “Tunisia Marks Belated First in Sheltering Women,” Women’s eNews (01 March 2013).