Tunisian women: A history of shining stars

From the founder and first queen of Carthage to the Berber queen who fiercely fought Arab Islamic expansion, Tunisia has been home to remarkable female figures who changed the course of history. Although it is a challenging task for women to take leadership roles in a conservative society, Tunisia has been favorable soil for female potential to blossom.

This goes back to 1956, when Habib Bourguiba, the first president of the country, ensured basic rights for women in the Code of Personal Status. Those rights included access to education, being able to ask for divorce, setting a minimum age for marriage, the abolishment of polygamy and repudiation, and many others.

Tunisian women have been advocating for their rights ever since, and they have achieved a lot more than their neighboring peers. In November 2015, Tunisia’s parliament adopted a new law that allows women to travel with their minor children without getting permission from the children’s father. This victory showcases once more the influential and prominent role that women play in this North African country.

Shedding light on Tunisia’s female role models is a difficult task as women have succeeded in each and every sector. Here is a portrait of three of them who have distinguished themselves on the international level, in three different sectors, proving again that despite the glass ceiling and prejudice concerning gender, culture and religion, hard work and commitment pay off.

The social entrepreneur, Sarah Toumi

Sarah Toumi. Credit: WEPOST Magazine Tunisia

Sarah Toumi. Credit: WEPOST Magazine Tunisia

Sarah Toumi is 28 years old. She was born in France and currently lives in Tunisia.

Toumi has just been placed in the top 30 under 30 social entrepreneurs by Forbes Magazine.

She manages the social enterprise Acacias for All, which fights land desertification in Tunisia through sustainable agricultural techniques, including planting acacias.

She faced challenges on her road to success. The Ministry of Environment rejected her project in 2008, but she didn't give up on her dream.

Instead, she collaborated with local farmers in Bir Salah Sfax.

The Olympic champion, Habiba Ghribi

Habiba Ghribi is 31 years old. She was born in Kairouan, Tunisia.

Habiba Ghribi. Credit: Africatopsports.com (full link)

Habiba Ghribi. Credit: Africatopsports.com (full link)

Ghribi is an inspiration to every Tunisian. During the 2012 Summer Olympics, the 3000 metres steeplechase runner won the silver medal, becoming the first Tunisian woman in history to win an Olympic medal. She attained success with a little bit of luck and a lot of talent.

In an interview with a Kapitalis journalist, she said, "I was born in a little village in the region of Kairouan. I was born with a talent. However, we were not aware of it. In my little mind, running meant catching the bus, running meant going to school, not being late and missing classes. When my family decided to settle in Sfax so that we can be educated in the best conditions, we discovered my talent. When I was 9 years old, my teacher wanted me to join the basketball team. I wanted to race. One day, they lent me shoes to run. I ran and I won. I was 15 and it was the beginning of my career."

The civil society leader, Wided Bouchamaoui

Wided Bouchamaoui. Credit: Courrier International

Wided Bouchamaoui. Credit: Courrier International

Wided Bouchamaoui is 54 years old. She was born in Gabes, Tunisia and currently lives in Tunis.

Bouchamaoui is the leader of the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA), an employers’ union. It was one of four which received the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize for participating in the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, which contributed to the Tunisia’s democratic transition following the Jasmine Revolution in 2011.

When a Web Manager Center journalist asked her about the relative absence of women in the political and economic arena, she said it is not due to lack of competence and skill, but a lack of will. Having successfully managed UTICA after a critical period following the 2011 revolution, she has proven that hard work and commitment are the key to success.

Cover credit: i2Clipart


Meriam Ayachi

Management major at the Higher Institute of Commercial Studies, Carthage Tunisian Global Youth Ambassador, former US Department of State Scholar, former Intern at Empower Peace in Boston and at Tunis International Bank in Tunis, former In-Country Consultant at UN Global Education, attendee at: Preparing Global Leaders Academy in Amman, Young Leaders Exchange in London, North Africa International Model United Nations in Tunis, MENA Exchange Leadership and Development Seminar in Beirut, International Student Summit in London and Young Diplomats Forum in Athens. "I like to write because it is the only way I feel that I can express my ideas fully."