As a child, I spent a lot of time with my fiercely independent grandmother. To give you a flavour of the kind of woman she was, she left her family’s Lincolnshire farm at tender age of 18 for London to pursue a career in teaching where she met and married my grandfather. His early death left her a widow with two young daughters to raise which she did alone. Spending my school holidays with her meant she became my moral teacher, an ethical code which for her started and ended with the belief that until we are all free, nobody is. For me, nowhere is this truer than in achieving true equality between the genders.
This principle of gender equality is a fascinating one, especially in the context of a young democracy like Tunisia. Before coming here last year, I had heard of the great strides made in extending and improving rights of women in Tunisia and was eager to see these in action. Having a broad understanding of the civil society pressures in the UK resulted in our current gender equality laws, I was intrigued to discover how Tunisia had achieved so much and more in such a short space of time. For this I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture by Dalenda Largueche in celebration of International Women’s Day. A formidable orator and noted scholar, her breadth of knowledge and passion for equality is both inspiring and breath-taking. Over the space of 45 minutes, she took me on a journey from Tunisia’s independence to its post-revolution constitution, covering the legislative drive by Habib Bourguiba to create the protections to ensure equality and how this achieved some societal changes. While certainly creating the conditions for Tunisia’s recent feminist revolution, what was most inspiring was her belief in how the current push is not coming solely from the state but that Bourguiba’s seeds are starting to grow into grassroots movements. If my office here is in anyway indicative of Tunisian society as whole, I can certainly attest to that. Working alongside colleagues who are pushing forward equality in both the professional and personal spheres offers glimpses of our future. For them and for myself, I am proud to say I am a feminist.
By: Stephen Thackeray