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Key findings
  • Tunisians view GBV as the most critical women’s-rights issue that the government and society must address.
  • More than half (52%) say that violence against women and girls is “somewhat common” (31%) or “very common” (21%) in their community.
  • Most Tunisians (86%) believe that a man is “never justified” in using physical force to discipline his wife.
  • A large majority (85%) of citizens believe that a woman who runs for elective office will face criticism or harassment from others in the community.
  • More than eight in 10 respondents (83%) say the police are likely to take GBV cases seriously. But three-fourths (74%) also consider it likely that a woman who reports being a victim of GBV will be criticised, harassed, or shamed by others in the community.

In September 2021, Najla Bouden Romdhane became the first female prime minister in Tunisia and the Arab world, another milestone in a country widely seen as a pioneer in the Middle East and North African region when it comes to gender rights (CNN, 2021; AFP, 2018). A series of pro-equality laws dating back to 1956, just months after independence, seeks to guarantee “equality of opportunities between women and men,” as the 2014 Constitution states, “to have access to all levels of responsibility and in all domains” (Constitute Project, 2019; UNFPA, 2018).

In 2017, a wide-ranging law to protect women’s rights adopted a broad definition of gender- based violence that included physical, economic, sexual, political, and psychological violence (UN Women, 2017).

However, despite considerable progress, gender-based violence (GBV) remains a serious problem in Tunisia (UNDP, 2022). The United Nations’ definition of GBV refers to any form of violence that is directed against someone because of their gender, and includes physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, as well as stalking and harassment.

According to a survey conducted by Tunisia’s National Institute of Statistics (2015), almost half (48%) of Tunisian women have experienced some form of GBV at some point in their lives. One in five (20%) reported suffering physical violence, and 14% reported experiencing sexual violence. Other forms of GBV, such as emotional abuse, stalking, and harassment, were also common. Despite government measures to address GBV, enforcement of the laws is often weak, and many victims of GBV do not report the crimes due to fear of stigmatisation or retaliation (UNDP, 2022).

This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 (2021/2023) questionnaire to explore Africans’ experiences and perceptions of GBV.

Findings show that Tunisians consider GBV the most pressing issue related to women’s rights that the government and society must address. More than half of citizens see GBV as at least “somewhat common” in their community. A majority say men are never justified in using physical force against their wives and trust that the police take GBV cases seriously.

However, a majority also believe that GBV is a private matter and should be handled within the family. And almost half of Tunisians think that women who report GBV to the authorities will likely face criticism, harassment, or shaming from the community.

Mohamed Najib Ben Saad

Najib is the data quality officer at Afrobarometer