Christine Petré
Last updated: 9 March, 2014

“Colour is a form of female resistance in Tunisia”

Tunisian intellectual Amel Grami has been at the forefront of women’s rights in Tunisia. Your Middle East asked her about Tunisia’s new constitution and her philosophy; that colour is indeed a form of resistance.

Is the new constitution a victory for women’s rights in Tunisia? 

The international press happily welcomed this “great triumph of the democratic clan”. The En-Nahda party has seized this opportunity to celebrate its victory and disseminate the idea of being a moderate Islamic party and reconciling Islam and democracy. From the point of view of feminist scholars and some associations, the new constitution is indeed a victory after unprecedented mobilization of civil society, particularly the struggle of activists to protect and defend their civil rights. But they aspire to reach full citizenship. For example, Article 20 ensures equal treatment before the law, but not true equality in the laws. Also, this article does not expressly state the grounds of discrimination prohibited under international treaties and conventions, contrary to what had been desired by civil society activists.

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Article 45 that guarantees gender parity in elected assemblies is another provision in this new constitution. It is obvious that it is one of the victories of the opposition over the Islamist clan. However, this article does not state, in accordance with international standards of human rights, the principle of equality in all its dimensions and in all the areas of life (civil, cultural, economic, political and social). We should stress that there are many contradictions between some articles, others are vague and remain subject to interpretation and when we talk about interpretation there is always a risk involved.

“We should stress that there are many contradictions between some articles”Keeping in mind what happened last week as a group of Constituent Assembly members claimed for more reservations against the CEDAW, one must be aware of the real challenges. Once you are not convinced and you give some concessions under civil society pressure, you may change your position in case that you win the elections. This is what many fear En-Nahda party may adopt as future strategy to enforce what they consider Islamic principles. But Tunisian women activists are more and more vigilant and they will never give up. They will continue the struggle for their rights and for a better future for Tunisia.

In an article for OpenDemocracy you said “Colour is a form of resistance,” please explain your philosophy. 

I remember talking to people and some activists about the new challenges of Secularist Tunisian women, how to address Salafists and some deputies of En-Nahda party inside The Constituent Assembly claiming for polygamy, separation of sexes etc. I was struck by their vulnerability, pessimism, anger. They asked me to participate in many talk shows in order to speak in their name and to defend women’s rights. For them, I was the voice of secular intellectual women able to debate politics, religion and culture issues and to convince people.  This was the turning point for me. I realize that it is my responsibility to represent a category of Tunisian women, and my duty would be to address their concerns and to defend their rights.

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I was asked to show them my optimism, how to resist, how to continue the work of the leaders of the Tunisian women movement. I realize that it wasn’t a simple task to be all the time optimistic, confident, able to struggle even when you are humiliated, attacked on your reputation, receiving threats, aware about the risk that you can lose your life. I started looking for strategies of resistance and I learned a lot about the strategies adopted by Algerian women in their struggle against fundamentalism, the activism of Iranian women, the resistance of women in South Africa and I was convinced that as a women we should learn more about the culture of resistance, build a solidarity network and develop a sisterhood.

One of my new strategies to resist is to create new codes of dress, hairstyle and colour based on fresh colours showing at the same time my belonging to the culture of life and my vision. For me, resistance is not always identifiable through organized movements as every day practice may help us to understand the creativity of women. Colours, smiles, changing styles of dress, fashion, tales, writing etc. are forms of resistance, acts of affirming agency.