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How do we address inequalities between women and men on our path to peaceful coexistence? How can we overcome cultural barriers to achieve greater advancement of women?
“These are major questions in our country, but there is little consensus on the issues,” said Mohamed Ben Moussa, a representative of the Tunisian Baha’i community, at a discussion on the advancement of women held last week in Sousse.
The gathering, organized by the country’s Baha’i community, brought together some 40 people, including religious and civil society leaders, at a “cultural café”—a new kind of forum emerging in Tunisia in which people from every stratum of society meet to exchange ideas and explore insights about the progress of their society.
“Our country has been held up as an example for the advancement of women in the Arab region,” Mr. Ben Moussa continued, “but many people feel that we have reached a plateau. The laws of our country have advanced, but it is essential for our culture to advance as well. We must examine family structures, how children are educated from an early age, and how we can foster a culture of cooperation among all people, especially between women and men, in all spheres of life.”
The question of the advancement of women has gained prominence in recent years as a new constitution and legal changes have instituted greater protections for women. Representatives of various groups—Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and the indigenous Amazigh people—contributed to the conversation, highlighting how coexistence is only possible when women are able to participate fully in the life of society.
“The oppression of women exists in all fields,” said Sahar Dely, a director of an Amazigh cultural organization. “Oppressive constraints are linked to other matters such as religious, racial, and cultural differences.”
Ms. Dely described stereotypes in society that excuse violence against women and spoke of the achievements that become possible for women when attitudes towards them change, citing stories of female leaders of the past, including Tahirih – a Baha’i heroine and champion of women’s emancipation. “Today, we have to address cultural matters before any legal changes can be realized. If nothing is changed within the collective imagination of Tunisians, the role of women in society will not be transformed.”
A short film inspired by Baha’u’llah’s teachings on the principle of the equality of women and men was also screened at the gathering. The film, produced by the Tunisian Baha’i community as a contribution to the discourse on the advancement of women, tells the story of Tahirih alongside decades of striving for social progress in the country.