once envied a pregnant cat: It was passing by the Libyan borders next to our car when we were stopped, my mom and I, by the officers asking us to bring our ‘Mehrem’ (accompanying male relative) to enter the country. The cat didn’t need one. It just crossed the borders.

I was a child then, and my rights, awareness of my social status and moments of gender-based challenges were limited. It took me a few years to realize the little place I occupy in the society of my country, in my region and in the world as a woman, a place that is consistently challenged, negotiated and redefined by a continuous existential struggle. I will not list here the challenges that women in my country face today; I only know those that the women surrounding me deal with. Taking into consideration that women I encounter in my daily life are usually the ‘most-privileged’, ‘well-educated’ and the ones that are enjoying a ‘better life quality’, I cannot imagine when hearing their concerns and frustration facing our patriarchal society what other women are going through in remote areas in Tunisia.

From gender-based violence to submission and a lack of opportunities, Tunisian women today are more vulnerable than before. I have never felt more vulnerable in my country as a woman. Do not expect me, at this point, to list the achievements of Bourguiba and his efforts to emancipate women in my country. You will find others writing about it, because today everyone writes about women. It is the one day in the year when we remember half of our society. The other half owns the rest of our years, our times and the places we cannot occupy.

The rhetoric on women’s Day is just as problematic as our silence during the rest of the year’s days. My post here, could be only contributing to reinforcing our tendency to celebrate women, talk about them, talk to them today, then forget about them. This fifty per cent of our society is still considered in the discourse of development programs as a ‘minority’ that needs to be empowered, just like other ‘categories’ of the society that are less significant, statistically speaking.
The list I will talk about is more recent, it was lately published by Arabian Business Magazine featuring the 100 most powerful Arab women. That list, even though it is limited as there must be many other women in my region that deserve to be in it, is a new hope that is bringing more female leaders and role models into the public sphere and inspiring other women to become more powerful.

I was honoured to be in this list along with four other inspiring women from Tunisia working in culture, academia, arts and civil society. It is women like these that make me optimistic that someday we will not celebrate women in a day, we will not talk about them as minorities and we will integrate them in a whole human development vision; that someday, I will stop envying cats.

Samar Samir Mezghanni

*You can find this blog on United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office website

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