Far from the tumult and disappointment of the political, economic and social situation, I am going to tell you the story of an authentic Tunisian woman, the fruit of the Tunisian Personal Status Code – CSP, one of Habib Bourguiba's best-known acts, consisting of a series of progressive Tunisian laws promulgated on 13 August 1956. These laws aimed to establish equality between men and women in many areas, giving women an unprecedented place in Tunisian society, abolishing polygamy, creating a judicial procedure for divorce and authorising marriage only with the mutual consent of both spouses.

A CSP that has seen the implementation of modifications that have strengthened it, in particular with the amendment of 12 July 19931. But this feminist policy, which is undoubtedly part of a policy of modernisation of the country, remains confronted with the conservative mentalities of a part, albeit a minority, of Tunisian society, influenced by the rise of Islamism during the 1980s and particularly today with the new Constitution of Kais Saied, President of Tunisia since 2019, which openly threatens the achievements of women in Tunisia and promises a closed and Islamic republic if one consider correctly the text of the constitution he wrote and published in the official gazette and which benefited a 90% Yes vote in a plebiscite, not in a referendum, but only with a 25% participation, which calls for the application of the Islamic Sharia, threatens the Tunisian Personal Status Code, and is against the respect of rights and freedoms, and does not consider the civility of the state or local authorities. It is also likely to cancel the laws that have been passed in favor of women's rights since independence, and in particular, those that have been passed thanks to the 2014 CMonstitution.

13 August 2022: it is the Day of Tunisian Women

I want to talk to you about Leila Derouiche Rafrafi, fruit and example of the emancipation of Tunisian women who has always fought to manage her life as a woman, mother, companion, wife, Cordon Bleu, and Artisan Woman Head of a company born from the earth, as we say in our country with several Bartalla (Tunisian hat) that she managed to handle remarkably.

I have chosen to talk about her, because what better way than to talk about a great lady, who started at the bottom of the ladder, to represent this 13 August 2022, the National Day of the Tunisian Women, holder of the Code of Personal Status promulgated and implemented. What could be better than to tell you the story of Leila, a very assertive character, free and dynamic, a romantic, a faithful and loyal friend of all those who have approached her and with whom the bonds of sincere friendship are easily created. A generous woman who has the gift of self-giving, and who encourages, helps, trains, and opens her doors to artists, creative people and creators. And helps young women to realize their dreams, move forward, to never give up or give in.

Her inspiration was the story of the grasshopper and the ant told to her by her mother. During all those years of hard work she saved one penny after another, and one day the dream ripened and providence smiled on her by an advertisement for a plot of land for sale in El Alia.

Leila is one of the Tunisian women who have toiled and sweated to live, survive, build and construct despite the vicissitudes of life. With two decades of experience in the hotel industry in the same luxury hotel, the Hôtel Résidence, by dint of hard work, she went from being a waitress to receptionist and accommodation manager, then a few years later she discovered her gift for organizing events and became an event manager for ten years. She succeeded in building and asserting herself in the difficult and masculine world of the hotel industry, followed training courses to improve her level of knowledge of languages, especially English and German, and finally realized her dream: with a lot of love and determination, she was able to create, build, and bring out of the ground what is today Henchir D'Heb, a guest house, a farmhouse among the best in Tunisia.

As one of eight children and the granddaughter of a farmer, she grew up appreciating the land and the value of working on it. Leila had to mortgage her salary, a flat bought with her savings, and sell everything she had. She saved up all her tips, never going out, never enjoying it, to make her dream come true.

Little by little, she transforms the only building on the land, a stable, into a farmhouse, and into guest rooms. The dream, stone by stone, finally becomes reality. From an imagined plan she built one room after another, marble (gifted by a cousin) thanks to which she built the patio and the living room and then little by little the rooms came into being.

A woman, like many other Tunisian women, who enchants her guests with refined Tunisian cuisine, sensitive to beauty, to art, she sublimates everything she touches.

My passion! It's the kitchen.

Leila's art of cooking and dining is a story that goes back to when she cooked for the former clients of the Hôtel Résidence where she worked. She created a group outside of her job, cooking twice a week in her clients' homes.

In addition to the intimacy and quality of the reception, Henchir D'Heb offers to the guests the Tunisian gastronomy; Leila is a Cordon Bleu, and makes it a point of honor to give you a taste of home cooking not found in restaurants. Nowhere else will you eat Henchir D'Heb's salads, concocted with seasonal vegetables and fruits, nor will you taste the couscous filled or couscous fish freshly caught and delivered to the fishmonger's in Bizerte, or the "felqolla meat", meat “gargoulette”. Nowhere else can you taste the home-made ricotta cheese or the marmalade without sugar made from the fruit of the orchard, and discover organic products from local farming.

Leila Derouiche Rafrafi, or determination, strategic thinking and endurance, has succeeded in creating a dream, and making it a reality for her guests. Like a top-level sportswoman, Leila is enduring, has the breath and is always ready to face all obstacles and challenges, overcome them, and offer you her love of the land, of the art of the table, where refined country architecture is alternately mixed, the spices that tickle your nose and enchant your taste buds from the first bite, in a green setting, surrounded by an orchard, where fruit trees, olive trees, the vegetable garden, the lapping of the water in the pool and the invigorating breeze of El Alia.

A born leader, with her enthusiasm and optimism she has managed to easily motivate other girls and young women around her in the field of restoration and the art of making a farmhouse and a guest house: Henchir D'Heb, the Farm of Gold, a place where it is pleasant to live a few hours or a few days, in calm and serenity, in a purely Tunisian style with notes of contemporary Tunisian art, a place of meetings, meetings, a place of parties also for whoever wants to celebrate an event, and even the Team building take place there because one comes to oxygenate oneself at her place: Leila is a master in the organization and the staging and the presentation.

Leila, Henchir D'Heb and eco-tourism

Henchir D'Heb is located in El Alia, 45 kilometers from Tunis, not far from Bizerte. You can easily reach a quiet and green agricultural area because she loves the land. Her name, the Farm of Gold, has been spreading by word of mouth because it confirms the expectations built on what Leila considers: The land she loves is gold.

Leila is very eco-friendly, the furniture that equips the guest house inside and out is undoubtedly largely made from the reuse of existing or found furniture here and there. She has taken care to safeguard the natural areas around the country house, she has planted, she has taken care to protect the environment, because "ecotourism was born out of an awareness, faced with mass tourism, that it had become urgent to preserve our ecosystems.” It was necessary to create a kind of tourism that was beneficial to all, using sustainable materials. A sort of win-winpact with nature, which is also why one of the main sources of energy at Henchir D'Heb is solar energy, with the photovoltaic panels used to power the lodge, and why nature is present everywhere.

At Henchir D'Heb, water consumption meets criteria, sorting and recycling as well as the volume of waste, energy management, responsible purchasing for food and maintenance, respect for the living environment inside and outside, staff training, information and awareness of travelers.

Everything comes from the earth and goes back to the earth, like the composting area at the back of the orchard. And it is precisely in this perspective that she has always invited other guest house owners to exchange on this subject, to help each other, and when Leila does not have rooms she proposes other guest houses with which she collaborates, among them the Cap Blanc guest house in Metline, Dar Blilis, Dar Ellamma in Ras Ejbel and others. Recently, a group of guest houses was formed to work together with the Tourist Office to help each other solve their difficulties.

One of the aids that Henchir D'Heb has received for the quality of its services, among ten guest houses and rural lodgings, is that of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), which has subsidized them with a 2-month accompaniment, a coach Yves Letellier, training for the staff, a hygienist, and the creation of a website in progress. A beneficial and precious help.

Here is a tourist activity on agricultural land, a bet won thanks to the law of 2015 which authorizes to make a tourist activity on 5% of a hectare since ecotourism can be made only in agricultural zones. Leila had to wait 5 years to be able to benefit from this law, to be approved, thanks to a technical plan, a guest house up to standard, and finally be recognised by the Tourist Office. Her rooms are between 18m2 and 20m2 as stipulated by the law for hotels.

She loves to entertain, she was born into a large family where people like to host, and she grew up in the buzz, the animation of the kitchen, and the open door to neighbours and friends.

Moreover, 90 percent of the guests hosted at Henchir D'Heb, among tables and rooms, have become loyal and come over every two months.

Always on the lookout for new experiences, she is daring and self-confident, giving her all in all her undertakings, she is an artist who helps artists.

Leila is an art connoisseur and pays tribute to her former husband and now friend, father of her daughter, painter and artist Jan Demeulemeester, with whom she says she learned a lot, the history of art, Tunisian and foreign artists, and since then she organizes every year a collective exhibition and invites her clients and friends to admire the works of known and unknown talents; she organizes book presentations, shows, poetry readings.

She has opened her arms to the women potters of Sejnenia who come almost every Sunday to exhibit their magnificent creations inspired by the ancestral art of Amazigh pottery of the Women of Sejnene and who offer workshops to young and old.

Among her projects, are to organize bi-monthly cooking classes, and promote home-made organic jams; and from September, to organize workshops facilitated by painters, and to renew the experience with a volunteer storyteller friend Lamia Chahed, who animated some of the evenings of Ramadan 2022; and exhibitions of painters' works in collaboration with Senda Khelil of the Kalysté gallery in Soukra.

Leila, a passionate owner, offers you a journey that revolves around a beautiful project, the discovery of preserved regions, such as the Ichkeul Park and its lake and the participation in original activities, such as yoga, pottery, cooking, poetry, painting and so many others that make the beauty of life in Tunisia.

Leila, a craftswoman and artist, a woman entrepreneur, to be discovered and supported by all the women who work very hard to keep their heads high thanks to their talents, their creative gifts, their determination and their perspicacity, protected by the Code of the Personal Status and the laws which accompany it. To be defended.


1 Amendment No. 93-74 of 12 July 1993 amending the Personal Status Code gives a woman the right to pass on her surname and nationality to her children in the same way as her husband - even if she is married to a foreigner - on the sole condition that the father has given his approval.