Day 10/16 of Activism Against Gender Violence: The Right To Be Woman.
We come from all around the globe. We emerge from different backgrounds. We speak different languages, and hold different nationalities. Yet, unfortunately, as women we suffer from the same inequalities and gender based-violence everywhere in the world.
This violence begins early for some of us. It starts while we are still floating in the safety of our mother’s womb when outside the father, the family, and the community declare that they prefer a boy - a son. It continues up until we rise into adulthood and find ourselves judged and punished by society for the sole reason that we are women.
In Tunisia, women are the victims of this violence though we stood up for dignity and freedom, side by side with men, for the same cause.
During Tunisia’s revolution, I saw the many different kinds of violence to which women might be subjected. A Woman’s body becames a threat to her life. In the aftermath of the ex-President fleeing the country, one of the first outcomes was the kidnapping and raping of girls.
This behavior became so normalized that men and boys even joked about it on Facebook. They said: “if a girl today isn’t kidnapped, it means that they’re not beautiful.” It’s funny for these men because they've never experienced rape or how much it can affect the psyche, never mind the body.
Since then, the police has been taking advantage of the chaos. They took every opportunity to sexually harass women – from looking, to staring, to touching, to raping and beating and insulting. I can’t call these attitudes anything but animalistic. Some police acted in gangs to inflict violence on women as happened this past September.
Even before the revolution, I didn’t feel that I could walk by myself securely in the street at 3am, for instance, without being afraid of being insulted or raped. During last year unrest, I would be lucky not to be beaten or raped on any given day!
This violence is worldwide. Three days ago, I watched a documentary entitled “Bride Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan”. It shows that even when people say that they want to make women happy, they terrorize them! It is called an amusing tradition, but it is not funny at all. In fact, from Kyrgyzstan, a tiny country in central Asia, to the rest of the world, women suffer from different forms of gender-based violence either under the name of tradition and culture, or under the pretext of religious teachings, or during and following conflicts, wars or political and economic crises.
This violence is verbal, and surrounds us in the whispers of our society. As a woman, I have heard all kinds of sexist statements even when visiting the supposed democracies of the world that guarantee women’s rights. The same kinds of jokes are everywhere: an American friend said to me some time ago, during an innocent conversation on driving: “you’re a girl, you can’t drive!” I face the same sexism in my home country, Tunisia. The same stereotypes: my ex asked me once our relationship got to engagement: “Do you know how to cook?”
This sort of question seems normal, since most girls I suppose have been asked this question by their boyfriends sooner or later – but try reversing the situation. It wouldn’t sound like an ordinary question if we ask them the same. Why? Is this women’s role in life? I still call these men and boys my friends, however. I refuse to simply get depressed from patriarchal attitudes. Instead we should try to change perspectives, one person at a time, to arrive at an understanding of who women are and what our role in society is today.
This is gender inequality we face and challenge every day in school, at home or at the workplace - only asking for work valued equal to men, the right to drive like men, or lead our businesses, or choose our partners as men do. I feel that these issues can be solved through dialogue and debate without engendering major losses - but what about the greater sexual and gender based violence and its effects on women? How do we address this?
We should not remain the victim anymore. It is also our role as women to raise awareness, to protect our fellow women and to help them understand that they are born with unreliable rights and freedoms.
Blogging is one way that I use to empower women, to give them a voice and reveal the violations that are otherwise hidden away in different corners. Blogging for me is the practice of 'citizen journalism' which is needed in every community.
One of the first articles I posted was about women’s experiences , simply because we need to realize; it is a daily experience as a woman to talk about my issues and violations. I have a voice, and now I am bringing it out of the silence.
It has always been a challenge to get women talk openly about their experiences, especially sexual violence by police and authorities. Women have been taught that both law and society will take the side of the violator and not the violated, where she is a woman. This continues into today – think again of the Tunisian woman that was recently arrested and charged with public indecency. And why? Because she had been gang raped by police officers!
Despite these hurdles, I am proud to say that Tunisian women were and still actively participating in our revolution. Women were among the first who rise up high our revolutionary slogans and they have been part of all crucial moments. We have been the protesters, the journalists, the volunteers, the elections observers, the campaigners… all this in spite of the violence we live in fear of from the bus station till arriving to the demonstration square.
I would like to leave you on a hopeful note. I was once asked by a Yemeni friend, “if you were born again would you choose to be a man or a woman?” I answered immediately: “I would be a WOMAN!”
A proud woman proves herself every day and changes her community. YOU should also be proud of being a woman. It is not your sex that you should change but the society that you live in.
Aya Chebbi is a dedicated Tunisian activist and a founding member of United Women For Peace. To learn more about her work please visit the links below.