As Tunisia gears up for a crucial presidential election on Sunday, low female turnout and a dearth of women candidates continue to plague the cradle of the Arab Spring. FRANCE 24’s met the activists battling to get out the female vote.
Insaf Ben Nessib and her colleagues drive for hours through southern Tunisia’s desert landscape. They’re part of a campaign to convince more women in rural areas to go and vote.
“Here, women are afraid to vote. They’re worried their votes are wasted. They’re thinking: ‘If I vote, what will change?’,” says Ben Nessib, regional coordinator for the “Parfait” programme.
In remote communities, many women feel disillusioned, and there’s little access to information about candidates’ policies.
One study last year put turnout among women in municipal elections at just 20 percent. Those who do cast a ballot are keen to make more informed choices.
“We don’t know who to choose,” says a woman at a table. “Women will often ask a friend who they voted for, and then just vote for the same one. Because she doesn’t know how to make a good decision alone.”
There are logistical hurdles, too. Rural regions don’t have much public transport, so the trip to the polling station can be difficult for people like Ranima.
“I often hitchhike, wait on the road until someone agrees to pick me up, but honestly it’s exhausting. It’s exhausting to go and vote in these conditions,” she says.
The government has discussed polling station accessibility at length, but is yet to find a solution. Women feel they’re not properly represented by politicians, and activists say paying lip service to their concerns is not enough.
“Unfortunately, it’s become a strategy for male and female politicians to play the women’s rights card,” says Sonia Ben Miled, a communication manager at Aswat Nissa advocacy group. “But we want it to be a priority and not just a card to play.”