Tunisia is considered one of the most progressive countries in the Arab world with respect to women’s rights. Since 1956, equality between men and women has been written into law through the Code of Personal Status (Code du statut personnel). In practice, however, cultural norms persist that limit the interactions between men and women, restrict women’s presence in certain public and private spaces, and limit women’s economic opportunities.
Municipalities in Tunisia are well placed to promote gender equality through the services they deliver. There is near parity on municipal councils at a national level, which should facilitate including women’s needs into planning processes. Many female councillors are active on municipal commissions, but they are often ones that have small budgets and a focus on social or women’s issues, and thus have a limited influence. IMLP supported eight partner municipalities and female leaders to put gender equality into practice by designing services that would meet the specific needs of women and other marginalized groups in the community.
A Specific Design
The ILMP team started by presenting, discussing and building a common understanding of the concept of gender among local government partners. With everyone on the same page, they started to introduce gender into various aspects of local management. Municipalities received guidance on public consultations and how services can be designed to meet the specific needs of different groups, specifically women.
Each of the eight partner municipalities had the opportunity to design and implement a gender-specific project that would be partially financed through the project. The women elected officials on the municipal committees, such as “Women and Family” and “Equality and Equal Opportunity,” were given roles to help see the initiative forward.
They each followed a participatory process, to identify their respective project:
- Initiate a local reflection process to identify three potential projects that address specific needs of women.
- Organize a multi-stakeholder workshop to present and debate the three options.
- Organize a selection committee made of national stakeholders to select and refine the project.
- Develop a detailed plan for the selected project with the support of technical experts.
- Implement the selected project to improve or develop a gender-specific service.
At different stages of the process, Canadian municipal partners were invited to share their experiences on integrating gender into the planning, consultation, and design of projects and services. This allowed each of the local partners to identify several services that could better address gender specific needs. As a result, the municipalities allocated funds from their own budgets to improve various services, in addition to the eight projects funded by IMLP.
Joan Westland, former Mayor of Bolton-Est (QC), knows that being inclusive requires constant reflection and deliberate action. Her municipality holds regular public consultations and invites local groups to present projects that can be considered in the municipal budgeting process.
To be inclusive in all stages of engagement, project design and implementation, Ms. Westland regularly asks these key questions:
“Where do you hold your meetings? How do people get to your meetings? If I have a disability, can I get to your meetings? If I can get to your meeting, can I get into the meeting room? If I can get into the room, do I have access to the materials that you’re presenting? Right down to how simple is the language used to draft the information? Can I understand it? Just saying we’re inclusive because we invited everyone is not what inclusive means.”
The IMLP team worked with the Tunisian partner municipalities to reflect on how different women and men experience their services. In the municipality of Menzel Abderrahman, for example, the reflection process revealed that the municipal building did not have proper washroom facilities. The male staff were able to use facilities in nearby cafés. The women, however, were not allowed to enter the cafés and had to wait until lunch break to go to their homes. With a matching contribution from IMLP, the municipality put in proper washroom facilities for women and for men, which can be used by staff, elected officials, and the public accessing the building.
Senim Ben Abdallah, IMLP senior coordination expert, appreciates the value of looking for simple answers.
“Sometimes problems can be resolved with a small amount of money. This project improved the working conditions for women and men in the municipality and made it more welcoming for citizens.”
Daniel Champagne, Municipal Councillor at the City of Gatineau (QC), had a similar message. Reflecting on the process in his own municipality, he shared how integrating gender does not have to be complicated. Simple improvements to a design, such as ensuring sufficient lighting or safe transport options, can make a big difference on women’s experience and feelings of safety.
“When we bring that angle to the reflection, we see how we can improve the quality of life and conditions for women by simple yet concrete gestures.”
The same community of Menzel Abderrahman went on to design a gender-specific project to improve access to sports activities. Through the consultation process, the municipality found a strong demand for a space designated for women to play sports and exercise. In the community, the Hmaied El Moujahed stadium is dedicated exclusively to men’s soccer, which left women and children without a place to play sports.
The municipality decided to convert a space underneath the stadium’s bleachers into a women’s gym. The space has been renovated and will be equipped for women to do physical exercise. It will also include a space for childcare services while women exercise. Another long-term goal is to develop a women’s soccer team. The municipality has already found partners, such as the Irish Soccer Federation, who will train women and girls.
PIIML staff point out that because the project promotes sport for all, including women, they expect that in a few years, they will see a women’s football team as a result of growing acceptance of the presence of women in the stadium, a prime space for men.
A Place to Relax
In Sidi Bourouis, there is no “mixed” public space where women and men are both allowed. The cafés are traditionally male spaces, where the presence of women is very limited. During the local reflection process to develop a gender-specific initiative, several project ideas were proposed but they were too large in scope and not deemed feasible. Then the Deputy Mayor made a proposal based on her own experience as a woman in the community. She saw the need for a mixed space where women could have a coffee, read, relax, and enjoy time with their family. The stakeholders supported the idea, and the municipality designed a project to renovate a municipal park and create a mixed family and cultural space.
The municipality sought input from women in the community through various means – social media, a door-to-door questionnaire, a focus group, and a multi-stakeholder meeting – to contribute to the design. It was decided that the space would be an inclusive public park, open to all ages, genders, and population groups, with a special emphasis on women and children. It would have a café, proper washrooms, a playground for kids, an event space, and a garden. It would be a space that women, men, and children can enjoy all together. The park has officially been opened and is in use. The women councilors continue to advocate for its further development and have included it into the municipality’s Annual Investment Plan (IAP). They have also made agreements with a local association to hold cultural events in the park and are seeking sponsors to put in a pool.
The Opportunity to Work
In the municipality of Nabeul, the rehabilitation of the municipal kindergarten "Habib Karma" was quickly identified as a priority. The space itself had problems with electricity, the washrooms, and roof, and was no longer a safe space for children.
The whole project was much bigger than the financial contribution offered by IMLP. The municipality was able to mobilize both financial and in-kind support from various sources, because of the vested interest of the community, many of whom had attended the kindergarten as children. Citizens volunteered to help with repairs and made anonymous donations. The private sector and civil society organizations pitched in. The local Rotary Club contributed to put in a new washroom facility and equip the kitchen.
The rehabilitated kindergarten now meets the needs of women and children in the community. It offers a safe, fun space for children with a higher quality of education. It provides a level of service that is comparable to a private centre but that is affordable for lower-income parents, especially women. The centre is also open outside of traditional business hours to accommodate the different working hours of women.
Mrs. Westland, over her decades as mayor, has seen the participatory development of an inclusive municipal park in Bolton-Est, QC. Through the consultation and mobilization of community members, the space has grown into a multi-functional, accessible gathering place for all community members with playgrounds, sports fields, a picnic area, and an events space. It has become a vibrant location thanks to the work of committed volunteers. The volunteer network has grown into a non-profit organization that leads a variety of community activities, such as the public markets, a bistro, and a cooperative agriculture project.
“The volunteer infrastructure in our municipality has been key to the sustainable development of the community. We’ve had people moving into the community because they want to be part of the process. I shared [with the Tunisian partners] how to engage the population so that you have a sustainable development vision and reality in the community.”