Press release: Gender-responsive measures to combat COVID-19 urgently needed to preserve and advance Tunisia’s progress on women’s rights, warns UN Women

Date: Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Tunis, 02 June 2020 - To safeguard the progress made on women’s rights and protections in Tunisia, gender should be placed at the heart of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new policy brief issued by UN Women, which examines the health and socio-economic impact of the lockdown on Tunisian women since it came into force in March.

According to the brief, Tunisian female doctors and scientists have been at the forefront of the battle against COVID-19 from the outset of the crisis. Women constitute 50 per cent of the country’s doctors, 72 per cent of pharmacists and 64 per cent of nurses. Yet, their essential contribution to public health is hardly reflected in the decision-making bodies, compromising the effectiveness of the country’s efforts to alleviate the hardships of the pandemic on women.

The brief also highlights that while Tunisians were asked to stay at home for their own safety, home might not always be a safe space for all women. Since the beginning of the confinement measures, Tunisia has witnessed an increase in domestic and gender-based violence cases. In the span of only one-week last March, 40 women reported acts of violence compared to seven during the same period last year. Between March 23 and 23 April, hotlines received 1,425 calls related to gender-based violence.

On the other hand, sources at the Ministry of Interior have reported a drop in the number of gender-based violence complaints lodged with its specialized units. If confirmed, this drop raises the question of women’s access to justice during lockdown. Courts across the country have largely suspended their work except for urgent cases. Lack of access to justice can result in the isolation of survivors and a feeling of impunity for perpetrators. Essential health care and protection services for survivors have also been restricted due to lockdown and confinement measures. According to the brief, women’s access to sexual and productive heath has also been impacted by the lockdown, with 50 per cent of women saying they had difficulty accessing family planning support.

The report also highlights how the socioeconomic impact of confinement has affected men and women differently and highlighted pre-existing gender inequalities in Tunisia. For instance, due to school closure and strengthened hygiene measures at home, many Tunisian women have seen their house workload increase dramatically, a particularly stressful situation for women who continue to work during the lockdown. This comes at a time when the North African country is already struggling with endemic socio-economic gender inequality, including lack of access to employment, education and political participation.

“Tunisia’s democratic transition and progress towards gender equality has been an example to follow in the Arab States region,” said Begoña Lasagabaster, UN Women Representative in Tunisia. “To ensure that measures to stop the pandemic do not reverse these gains and leave half of the county’s population behind, Tunisia should put women at the heart of its response, both in the management the crisis and socioeconomic mitigation plan.” 

As part of its response effort, UN Women remains committed to working with the government of Tunisia and civil society groups to combat the pandemic while ensuring that Tunisia remains firmly on the path towards women’s rights, equality and empowerment by:

- Organizing awareness-raising campaigns on the increase of gender-based violence and the risk of impunity for such crimes;

- Facilitating survivors’ access to essential health and protection services through alternative and adapted support mechanisms so women can still receive essential help during confinement;

- Ensuring continued access to sexual and reproductive health services during lockdown;

- Remaining committed to providing social and economic assistance to the most vulnerable women;

- Including women and gender experts in all measures to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and ensuring the equal participation of women in COVID-19 decision-making bodies.

For more information, please contact:

Faten Bejaoui

Communications Associate, UN Women Tunisia

E-mail: faten.bejaoui (at) unwomen.org

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