[:en]One week ago I officially started my experience as an EU Aid Volunteer in Tunisia. I am based in the capital city, Tunis, which is home to many development agencies and humanitarian organisations operating in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. Tunis is a very interesting and culturally diverse place, with aid professionals coming from all over Europe and other neighbouring countries. My local guide for my first few days here in Tunis is a Libyan friend, Waleed, who has introduced me to the culture of hospitality typical of the Arab world. Our common Mediterranean roots make the integration process a lot easier.

My hosting organisation is an Italian NGO called GVC, Gruppo di Volontariato Civile. GVC’s presence in Tunisia dates back to 2012, right after the outbreak of the revolution which led to the development of the so called “Arab Spring” across the Middle East. Since then, GVC has been active in the regions where the revolution originated, notably Kasserine and Sidi Bouzid, with the mission of reinforcing Tunisian civil society in its transition towards democratic governance. GVC believes good governance is vital for inclusive and sustainable development in the MENA region. In its efforts to strengthen civil society, GVC Tunisia pays particular attention to the gender dimension, with projects in support of the active participation of women in the socio-economic transformation of their communities.

It is in this framework that I have started my EUAV mandate here in Tunisia. Building on the lessons learnt from previous projects, my mission focuses around helping the GVC in-country team establish a gender strategy, aimed at improving the participation of rural women in local development. I am supported in my mission by a new country director, Luca De Filicaia, who brings in years of experience working on democratisation processes and participatory local governance in Palestine. The local team on the ground consists of two young Tunisian women, Salwa and Najwa. For the past four years, they have been supporting the set up of eight women’s groups working to improve the income options available to rural women, while also promoting a more active participation of women in processes of local governance.

My first exchanges with our in-country team have been very positive and have allowed me to better understand the complexities of the context of GVC projects. I soon realised that promoting gender mainstreaming approaches in rural Tunisia poses many challenges. GVC operates in a geographical area where unemployment rates are higher than the national average (48% of young people are unemployed in Sidi Bouzid), women’s illiteracy rates are prominent (women’s literacy levels are 26% lower in Kasserine than in Tunis) and gender equality often has cultural limitations. This picture is further complicated by a legal framework which hinders the development of social enterprises, since for many years Tunisians have interpreted cooperativism as a brutal form of land expropriation by the state.

Despite the challenging circumstances, Najwa and Salwa stress the determination of rural women to improve their business practice and be more active in local development. With this in mind, the next few weeks will see the women of Kasserine and Sidi Bouzid become protagonists of forums and debates with local authorities to address problems linked to local governance and come up with joint recommendations. In addition, some of the women involved in GVC projects will have the opportunity to attend an exchange visit to Emilia Romagna (one of our donors) to learn more about fair-trade initiatives and the context of women-led cooperatives in Italy. The idea behind this exchange is for the women to gain business inspiration, while exploring potential paths to lobby local authorities for a better legislation around cooperativism back in Tunisia.

Stay connected to see how the Tunisian gender landscape will evolve!
Valentina Tartari, EU Aid Volunteer, GVC Tunisia


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