"During the Arab Spring, Tunisian women visibly upheld demands for freedom and equality. Unfortunately these needs have not vanished," said Minister for International Development Heidi Hautala on the International Women’s Day when visiting a shelter for women under construction in Tunis. The shelter supported by Finland and the other Nordic countries is the first in Tunis where women can get legal and psychological support as well as seeking safety.
Minister Hautala also spoke at a Women’s Day event held in the Constituent Assembly of Tunisia, together with President Moncef Marzouki and President of the Constituent Assembly Mustapha Ben Jaafar.
"It was wonderful to hear that they both stressed the importance of women for the development of Tunisia, and condemned all discrimination based on the gender," Hautala said.
During her five-day visit to Morocco and Tunisia, the minister has concentrated especially on women’s rights. Defending these rights is the focal point in the support for democracy Finland directs to the the region.
"Tunisia has traditionally been considered a model country for gender equality in North Africa. I share the local people’s concern about a backlash: there are indications of an effort to narrow women’s right both in Tunisia and in other countries of the region," the minister stated.
In both countries, battles are fought on many fronts. The new Constitution of Morocco is progressive for women and guarantees the same rights for women and men, but implementation of the Constitution has proceeded slowly. The drafting of the Constitution has been delayed in Tunisia and there have been conflicting views, for instance, as to how the position of women and men is recorded in law.
In Tunis, Minister Hautala also met the Egyptian writer and legendary defender of women’s rights, Nawal El Saadawi. El Saadawi and the minister participated in an event organised by NISSA TV, an initiative to establish a TV channel for women in the Mediterranean region.
"I hope that the women’s television project will get support from both the southern and northern shores of the Mediterranean and also from the EU so that it can launch operations in a year, as planned."
During the minister’s visit, the local media were busy reporting about the Chargé d’Affaires of Tunisia in Finland, who was quickly called home by the Minister of Foreign Affairs after suspicions of drunken driving had spread about him, especially in the social media.
"The police are still investigating the case in Finland. However, it would seem clear that no representative of the Embassy of Tunisia is under investigation. His legal protection was bypassed when the decision was rushed. At the same time, I have been impressed by the solidarity that is shown here for his defence," Hautala said.
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