Dissertation Abstracts

Women’s Movements During Democratic Transitions: The Case of Tunisia

Author: Maro Youssef, maro@utexas.edu
Department: Sociology
University: University of Texas at Austin, United States
Supervisor: Mounira M. Charrad
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Tunisia , civil society , democratization , feminism
Areas of Research: Human Rights and Global Justice , Political Sociology , Women in Society


My dissertation provides an account of the emergence, development, and impact of secular and Islamist women’s associations on gender equality during the ongoing democratic transition in Tunisia. I base the study on two women’s associations that emerged following the 2010-2011 revolution and remain prominent in the democratic transition today: Islamist Tounissiet and secular feminist La Ligue des Électrices Tunisiennes (LET). Engaging with the gender politics, social movement, and democratization literatures, I challenge previous claims that overall, democratization does not significantly increase women’s empowerment in the long term, despite short-term gains during revolutions and the very early years of democratic transitions. I also challenge claims that Islam and democracy are inherently incompatible. I draw on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in 2018 and 2019 in Tunisia and Washington D.C. with women’s associations, foreign donors and implementers, and Tunisian officials. The data revealed that as Tunisia, a Muslim majority country, moved towards democratic consolidation, Islamist and secular women’s associations secured more women’s rights by “doing democracy.” They used different strategies to engage the state such as protests and formal briefings, took on new issues that were beyond protecting women’s existing rights such as combatting violence against women and achieving total gender parity in politics, and further professionalized as organizations by using donor funds. Furthermore, while Islamist and secular associations promoted women’s equality together and separately, they still had to deal with issues where they disagreed—such as inheritance reform. They use a democratic framework that includes media engagements and conferences to discuss their differences.