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Economic Advancement is Critical for Tunisia’s Prosperity

Women's Initiative Fellowship alumna Eya Bouchoucha shares her thoughts on advancing Tunisia's prosperity.

Article by Eya Bouchoucha March 27, 2018 //   4 minute read
Eya Bouchoucha and other Women's Initiative Fellows visited the NYSE and met with representatives to discuss finance and free markets in 2015. Photo by the New York Stock Exchange

As a lawyer and law professor focused on empowering women, Eya Bouchoucha, 2015 Women’s Initiative Fellowship alumna, promotes gender equality and encourages women to be change makers and effective leaders. She seeks to empower others to contribute meaningfully to economic, social, and political spheres in her home country of Tunisia. 

Tunisia is a young democracy. In January 2011, my country ousted longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. By 2014, Tunisia had adopted a new constitution and freely elected a new parliament and president. Despite ongoing violence in the Middle East and North Africa, Tunisia shines as a beacon of hope for the region. Independent watchdog Freedom House even named Tunisia the first free Arab country in 2015. 

But while the new constitution sets goals to promote shared prosperity by advancing economic opportunity, poverty remains pervasive. In order to break the cycle, Tunisia must promote broad-based fiscal measures for the public and private sectors that account for gender discrepancies.    

Caused by corruption and lack of transparency, unemployment, inextricably linked with poverty, is an enduring problem, although numbers have improved in the last few years according to the World Bank. The Tunisian government has a key role to play in creating an environment for economic growth and shared prosperity by promoting a favorable investment climate. The government should amend tax and finance laws and take necessary action against fraudulence to ensure transparency in all sectors. 

The private sector plays an important role, too, in generating jobs and economic development for all segments of the population. Top priorities must include investment in startups and the encouragement of entrepreneurship and innovation. These investments will improve prospects for all citizens, including women and youth. 

Women face a unique set of challenges when it comes to poverty. Beyond their frequent victimization via domestic abuse and violent extremism, they are often also concentrated in university disciplines that lead to lower paying fields and feminized professions. While they are increasingly better educated than their male peers, as seen in data from UNICEF, females face poorer employment prospects. Women enter professional and managerial ranks at similar rates to men yet remain dramatically underrepresented at senior levels of authority. Until more women have equal opportunity to enter senior positions, underrepresentation in the private sector and society more broadly will persist. 

Investing in the education of young girls, cracking down on child marriages and violence against women, informing the disadvantaged and abused of their rights, and preventing teen pregnancy are all steps the government can take to improve outcomes for the impoverished female population. As recently as February, the Tunisian Parliament adopted a new law to counter gender-based violence, but successful implementation will require strong support from both civil society and government. Civil society is also working to develop women’s core competencies in cooperation with the private sector.           

Programs like the Bush Institute’s Women’s Initiative Fellowship can support women in overcoming these barriers by empowering them to effect change through leadership and economic trainings. The Fellowship was personally a life-changing experience for me. Through instruction in key leadership skills, I learned how to become a more impactful leader in my country. 

Tunisia has taken important steps to solve its challenges, but there is more work to do. By advocating for key legislation, such as laws that counter gender-based violence and promote economic growth and investment, Tunisia will fulfill its hope of acquiring a significant place in the global market.