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Translated by Rim Othman

In the coming weeks, Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly will be voting on a new electoral law that will govern the country’s upcoming elections. These visualizations offer a look back at women’s political participation in the country’s last elections, including the progress and limitations regarding women in politics and the 2011 electoral law.

During Tunisia’s unprecedented revolution in 2011, women were at the heart of the nation’s demand for change. Participating in demonstrations and advocating for equal opportunities, women turned out in large numbers as voters and some as candidates in the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) elections, encouraged by the new electoral law that required a nomination quota to ensure gender parity on candidate lists.1

% of women's Political Participation

During the 2011 elections, women comprised 46 percent of actively registered voters, and 48 percent of all candidates on running lists. Though there were nearly equal numbers of men and women running for political office, women now hold only a quarter of the seats (27 percent) in the NCA. While this percentage is higher than the world average (19 percent in 2011), it is lower than the 28 percent of women in parliament before the revolution.2

In the 2011 elections, many female candidates missed the opportunity to represent their constituencies because of how the nomination quota was applied. Decree law 35, article 16, states that 50 percent of each candidate list must be women, 50 percent men, and these candidates should alternate throughout the list (known as the “zipper” method). The law did not mandate that women candidates be placed atop the list.3

Only 128 out of 1,518 lists (7 percent) were headed by female candidates. Because most parties only won a single seat in different constituencies, and women were often second, fourth, sixth and/or eighth on lists, most of the elected were men. Most political parties had just two to four lists with women at the top, an exception being the Democratic Modernist Coalition (PDM) that applied a vertical and horizontal parity with 16 women and 17 men as head of the lists in all 33 constituencies.4

Only the Ennahdha party won several seats in multiple constituencies, which allowed 40 of its female candidates – more than any other party – to win NCA seats. Ben Arous was the only electoral district where the parity required in candidate lists was evident in the results, with 5 out of 10 seats won by female candidates. The challenges were more formidable for women in the interior regions of the country. For example, in the districts of Jendouba, Kairouan, Sidi Bouzid, and Kebeli, there were no lists headed by female candidates.

Recognizing the integral role youth played during the revolution, the new electoral law required all lists to include at least one person under 30 years of age. Thirteen of the 75 heads of lists under 30 were women, in other words about 17 percent. This age group had a greater percentage of female heads of lists than any other age group, highlighting that there is an interest particularly among young women to seek political office.5

Since gaining independence in 1956, Tunisia has long been a leader among Arab countries in progressive women’s rights laws, however despite these provisions and the recent revolutionary shift, there remains a gap between legislation and reality for many Tunisian women seeking greater political participation. Nomination quotas – as opposed to representation quotas – do not necessarily ensure representation in a closed-list proportional system. “There is the obligation of getting results,” said Nejib Chebbi, the founder of the Progressive Democratic Party. “Parity is one thing, but the reality is another.”6

As the political transition continues, women play an active role in civil society and in the NCA, where in January 2014 a new constitution was adopted recognizing equal rights for men and women. As the NCA finalizes a new electoral law in the coming weeks, the 2011 election results offer lessons on how to further increase women’s participation in the next government, recognizing the vital role women have played in Tunisia’s transition to democracy.

Please see the infographic below for additional visualizations of women’s political participation in Tunisia.


1 As opposed to a representation quota, which mandates that a number of seats be reserved for women in parliament, a nomination quota merely establishes a legal requirement that women be nominated as candidates.

2 Mission d’Observation Electorale de l’Union Européenne (2011), Rapport Final Élection de l’Assemblée Nationale Constituante. Retrieved from http://eeas.europa.eu/eueom/pdf/missions/rapport-final-moe-ue-tunisie-2011_fr.pdf

3 European Parliament (2012), Gender Equality Policy in Tunisia. Retrieved from   http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/note/join/2012/462502/IPOL-FEMM_NT%282012%29462502_EN.pdf

4 Mission d’Observation Electorale de l’Union Européenne (2011), Rapport Final Élection de l’Assemblée Nationale Constituante.

5 Instance Supérieure Indépendante pour les Elections (2012) Rapport relatif au déroulement des élections de L’Assemblée Nationale Constituante. Retrieved from http://www.isie.tn/Ar/image.php?id=762

6 Huffington Post (2011), Tunisia Elections: Women Struggle To Run  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/21/tunisia-elections-women_n_1024170.html