Never forget, it will only take a political or social crisis, to jeopardise your rights, you must remain on high alert throughout your life.
On their status in the public space and the creeping sexism of men, discussed in a previous article (Harassment, gender and sexism in the city), today are three beautiful humanist warriors, feminists from the south, smiling and determined, who combine three objectives: the quest for justice, equal opportunities, and the implementation of female leadership wherever they are, with a unique, effective and saving weapon, art and culture.
Three stories, three paths that scenic art brings together: theater, cinema and music
They joined me on a beautiful rainy morning, swayed by the songs of Feyrouz, another Woman of Struggle, Ayda Ben Chaabane, Hend Ben Haj Ali, and Yasmin Corrales, who represent the microcosm of a true social laboratory, three different stories, three paths that began with an early awareness, showing how, through experience, success, commitment, struggle, failure and disillusionment, at some point, they found themselves on the political scene as women of theater, cinema, directors and authors of artistic and cultural convergences for the preservation of the memory, words, gestures and beauty of our African, Tunisian-African and Afro-Venezuelan culture.
They offered me the privilege of diving into their respective universes of the struggles they are leading.
Let's start with Ayda Ben Chaabane.
Ayda Ben Chaabane, is a 55-year-old Tunisian woman, a French Literature teacher, former president of the Coalition for the Women of Tunisia, feminist and human rights graduate activist.
As a child, she was made aware of the injustice within her family, of the housework imposed on her while her brother was allowed to do nothing and go out. In fact, not accepting anything that was imposed on her, she started her own small personal and intellectual revolution.
They said: you are a wild and dangerous woman. I tell the truth, and the truth is wild and dangerous. I have written articles celebrating freedom and I have philosophical leanings. But my greatest crime is to be a free woman in a time when only slaves are tolerated. I was born with a thinking brain in a time when reason is being killed.
Reading, theater, film and music
A lover of reading, she found her freedom through French literature, Latin American literature, with a particular attraction to the revolutionary liberation movements in Latin America, and the pamphlets written in black ink by the world's greatest men and women.
A lover of reading, she found her freedom through French and Latin American literature, with a particular attraction to the revolutionary movements of liberation in Latin America, and the pamphlets written in black ink by the world's greatest men and women.
As a 16-year-old member of the Communist Party, founded in 1925 and the closest to the people at that time, she always felt free, since women's place was fundamental and equality between men and women already a reality where she opened her eyes, and, where she was introduced to Nawal Saadaoui, Marcel Khalifa and Oumeima el Khalil, emblematic figures involved in art and culture.
With her high school diploma in hand, and still involved in the student movement, she successfully graduated from the National School of Administration (ENA) in Tunis, but because of her activism within the Communist Party, she was refused entry to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while her classmates at the ENA were appointed as ambassadors.
Continuously confronted with sexism, Ayda, a born artist, made a film Separation on informal immigration, selected at the 2009 official “Tunisian Documentary competition” but the film's director removed her name in spite of all the work she had done, snatching her honors and success. Luckily, soon after, she joined a committed troupe, "Les colombes blanches", which toured the country, introducing her to the dynamics and protest movements active in committed film, theater and song clubs, despite the stranglehold of the ruling party on democracy and state institutions, she always opposed.
"My greatest pride are my students. My Mission is to make sure that they become free men and women, future builders of our Country"
It was in high school, where she has been teaching for 34 years, that her struggle gained momentum, enabling her to witness the reality of society through her pupils, whom she continues to sensitize, to raise awareness and responsibility. Some of them already judges, lawyers, artists, leaders of associations and micro-businesses, continue the struggle to safeguard state sovereignty. Supported by foreign countries, a minority hijacked the popular uprising of 2011having initially born from the left-wing workers’ and students’ demands, and took control of the democratic transition, imposed the Constituent Assembly with a trap-like constitution that calls for sharia law, and continue operating with impunity despite the assassinations of emblematic leaders, soldiers, national guard, innocent people, tourists and citizens, the deterioration of the Tunisian economy and the public sector in general.
Despite the presence of terrorists in our institutions, we have kept standing: The Coalition for Tunisian Women
She co-founded with other women "the Coalition for the Women of Tunisia" a network with cultural, educational, children's and health associations. Present throughout Tunisia, it has accomplished a tremendous work in defending women’s, youth and children’s rights, through various projects on citizenship, women's participation in the public arena, the image of women’s image in the media, as well as through training. The significant achievements have led to a better representation of women in the media not only in cooking and cosmetics, as it was before, but also in economics, politics, governance, secularism and even theology. The biggest success was the 2018 training for the municipal elections, which resulted in 15 determined women being elected as 'local coucillors' across the country.
Caught up by the dramatic events facing the country , collectives, associations and networks, including the Coalition, have been mega-campaigning: from the debate for the cancellation of the article of shame on “complementarity”, in 2012, an article of shame, to the struggle for equality in inheritance, still ongoing, for the decriminalization of the use of soft drugs, law 92-52, which is hostage to procrastination after the umpteenth sentence of three young people to 30 years in prison for a cannabis joint, for the dismantling of the Rgueb Koranic school in 2019, denounced by a television report revealing the health, hygiene and safety conditions, violence and abuse on 42 children between the ages of 10 and 17. At least 200 other similar camps have found the same fate.
"So many women in the shadows have given us and continue to give us lessons in bravery”
Ayda has been continuously involved with women peasants, farmers, workers, bottle-pickers, women from all walks of life who challenge the Islamists and opportunists in the shadows and stand as bulwarks against their mafia and criminal operations: like this woman from the Ghazela neighborhood, a stronghold of the Islamists, who opened a café vandalized several times, and who, despite having been subjected to tax inspections, to physical, moral and verbal violence, is still there.
"My strength lies in unity and humility, the more pretentious we are, the less effective we will be" a clear message to the egocentrists
The self-centredness of a certain left-wing civil society, however, ended up destroying the Coalition's dynamic, involving some presidents of associations in the network, who weakened and then blocked its functioning. While the strength of committed women should be in self-reflection, self-assessment and self-criticism of the old mechanisms that did not work, not in maintaining them.
For the past eleven years, we have seen in Tunisia, left-wing activists supporting a theocratic state, claimed by political Islam, fascist in its governance, with a pseudo liberation from dictatorship, a pseudo freedom of expression, and pseudo individual rights and freedoms.
“As a matter of fact, extremism also exists on the left. That is why we have to stay united and create a strong and functional structure that respects the rights listed in the UN Charter with a project to defend. The left we want today must be respectful of the economic, social, cultural and political rights, freedom of expression, local power, self-management in regions with state control, the will of the people, putting an end to the domination of our people by powerful states that impose their abusive laws of the market to steal our wealth and submit us.
The media, the radio... Giving voice to women who are made invisible by the system
Ayda also hosted from 2021 to 2022 a programme on the new R2C radio station, "the forum of freedoms", through which the burning issues of the moment were debated and denounced after 11 years of disastrous and dramatic Islamist rule.
"The women who have given me life lessons and who have given up all the glitz behind and stood up for themselves, are unknown.” All the women in Tunisia are women in struggle: whether in the city or in the distant villages, in the mountains, young girls studying, working, women active in their homes, taking care of their children, working outside, while participating in social movements. Whether they are precarious or suffering from illness, they resist despite the difficulties. One of them dropped everything to go back to school, cleaning houses to live and pay for her theater activities and classes, and is now happily remarried, and at work. There is also Mabrouka, a shepherdess whose sons, shepherds, had their throats slit by jihadists in the mountains for denouncing them. Today, she continues to fight, denouncing and sensitising the people of her village to never give in to terrorist threats, with the motto "the motherland above all".
"Women's struggle is progressive in nature, it does not consecrate conservatism" like Zeineb Farhatt, a woman of overwhelming generosity and self-sacrifice, whose militancy for art and culture has never waned despite her fight against illness, may she rest in peace, and Noura Borsalii, who is extraordinary. And those who continue to fight and mobilize, such as Sonia Chamkhi in cinema, and Mounira Zakraoui in theater, about whom no one talks, Ahlem Belhaj, Yosra Frawes, and many others who have built Tunisia since independence today."
We cannot be in the liberation of people without liberating the woman
"The struggle continues, the struggle evolves, it is therefore essential to create a South-South network with the women of the Mediterranean basin" and those of the rest of Africa and Latin America": For Ayda, the real struggle is one of the so many women of the world, from which, African and Latin American who keep fighting against, imperialism, exploitation of the wealth of their countries, and for the consecration of sovereignty, the acquisition and respect of individual freedoms, such as the right to abortion for Latin American women, and against excision and for equality in inheritance for African women and in the Arab countries of West Asia and the Arabian Peninsula.
It is unacceptable that a woman who fights for her country and for individual and socio-economic freedoms is not herself free. In light of the fervour of the Tunisian people, following the presidential decisions of 25thth 2021 to freeze the activities of parliament and recently to dissolve it, Tunisian women must unite around more political demands than feminist ones. Conceiving a state of law and delegating it to an elite, not in agreement with the demands and basic needs of the people and without a full citizenship implementation, harms the process of democratic transition. A state of law is where women are treated equally to men with no need for them to subcontracting for this or that male candidate. We are capable of taking action and evolving the events. Why stand behind men? when we are able to stand shoulder to shoulder with them, to change and improve our country…