Supporting an Open Society in Tunisia
“Open societies are crucial building blocks in a sustainable international order, modelling inclusive, accountable and transparent governance” (UK Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy).
In Tunisia, the system of public governance has undergone profound changes since 2011 and has seen the gradual establishment of a new relationship between citizens and the public administration. Despite the considerable progress made, the uneven and partial implementation of the legal and institutional frameworks for democracy and open society as well as recent development may jeopardise these democratic gains, and cause a decline in terms of gender equality, youth empowerment, or civil society dynamism.
This project thus contributed to strengthen open society in Tunisia, with a specific focus on supporting civil society, youth empowerment and gender equality, as well as a more transparent, accountable and inclusive governance.
The project action was designed and implemented in cooperation with the Tunisian government, and especially with the Ministry of Family, Women, Childhood and Seniors (MoW), the Ministry of Youth (MoY), the National Authority for Prospective and Support to the Decentralisation Process, as well as local authorities and CSOs. The project was funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the United Kingdom.
The project supported Tunisian authorities and civil society to promote a more open, inclusive and transparent society.
The project achieved this by focusing on 4 priorities:
Gender equality and women’s rights
The 2020 OECD Ministerial Council Statement highlighted the importance to foster an inclusive recovery and to address the social and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially on women.
Indeed, beyond the crucial issue of equity, ensuring gender equality in all its forms is an essential component of a functioning democracy and a sustainable society. Although Tunisia has made remarkable progress in its legal and regulatory framework to strengthen equality between genders, women still face numerous challenges.
Through this project, the OECD supported the Tunisian Ministry of Women to promote gender equality, through efforts aiming at preventing gender-based violence and at promoting societal changes on women’s access to leadership positions.
Preventing Gender-Based Violence:
Building on the 2014 Constitution, the organic law No.58 was adopted in 2017 to develop a legal framework to prevent violence against women and promote gender equality across all sectors. Despite this important achievement, many challenges still impede women’s full exercise of their rights. The COVID-19 crisis saw an alarming increase in cases of domestic violence, and an estimated 47% of Tunisian women have been subject to domestic violence at least once in their lives.
The project supported the operationalisation of regional coordination bodies (ICRs) to prevent GBV. The ICRs were created by ministerial decision in February 2020 but were not functional. the project worked with the ICRs in the Siliana, Sfax and Zaghouan governorates and helped them identify their specific role and responsibilities, build their capacities and provide them with the following common working tools:
- job descriptions (in Siliana, Sfax and Zaghouan)
- mapping of existing services in each governorate (in Siliana, Sfax and Zaghouan)
- monitoring tool
- internal rules of procedures
The project also helped organise sensitisation campaigns on GBV and support services. Building on the achievements of a previous UK-funded initiative, the project strengthened the outreach capacities of ICRs in the Sidi Bouzid, Sousse and Tataouine governorates, through CSO-led communication campaigns to raise awareness on GBV and present existing support services in each governorate. Three types of communication materials were developed, in close coordination with the MoW, and shared by 6 local CSOs:
- Brochures to raise awareness about GBV and disseminate contact details of support and emergency services accessible for survivors/victims of GBV in each governorate (in French for Sidi Bouzid, Sousse and Tataouine and in Arabic for Sidi Bouzid, Sousse and Tataouine)
- Address booklets with contact details of the main support services in each governorate (in French for Sidi Bouzid, Sousse and Tataouine and in Arabic for Sidi Bouzid, Sousse and Tataouine)
- Posters to inform survivors/victims of the emergency numbers and sensitise local communities on the importance to report cases of GBV to emergency numbers (in French and Arabic)
Supporting women’s access to leadership positions:
Gender-balanced leadership is a crucial element to ensure inclusive growth. Women’s full participation in decision-making is thus essential to adequately reflect the priorities and needs of all parts of society and to generate greater citizen confidence in public institutions.
However, the notable progresses made by Tunisia towards reaching gender equality in the access to leadership positions also appear to have halted in recent years. In particular, the 2019 legislative elections saw the number of women elected decrease and their share drop from 36% to 26% in the Assembly of People's Representatives. While Tunisian law guarantees the principle of non-discrimination in the public sector, women have less opportunities to reach senior positions.
The project thus supported the Tunisian government in promoting gender-balanced leadership through:
- A compendium of good practices on women’s access to leadership positions in politics and public administration, which presents good practices from OECD countries and formulates recommendations for potential future action in Tunisia
- A high-level policy dialogue, gathering over 30 representatives of the public administration, civil society and academia. It constituted an opportunity to exchange on good practices and possible future steps to enhance gender equality in public life
Youth empowerment and participation
Engaging with young people and supporting their empowerment and participation in public life is essential to achieve a truly open and inclusive society. Young people aged 35 and below represent 57% of the Tunisian population. Despite considerable efforts from the Tunisian government since 2011, they continue to face significant obstacles to transition to autonomous life and be able to participate in public life.
The project supported a more democratic and effective governance of youth affairs through strengthening administrative capacities to deliver for youth, as well as through supporting young people’s skills to engage with policymakers and make their voices heard.
Strengthening the delivery of effective and youth-sensitive policies and services:
The OECD Review on the Governance of Youth Affairs in Tunisia insists on the need to deliver more youth-responsive services and strengthen the capacities of public institutions and officials with a youth portfolio at the regional and local levels. The project thus supported the MoY in strengthening the delivery of more youth-responsive public policies and services, by:
- Coaching 85 staff from all the MoY’s all 24 regional youth offices and central administration on adopting a strategic and participatory approach to design, implement and evaluate regional annual action plans and strategies for better youth policies and services at the local level
- Providing tailored assistance to the youth regional office in Nabeul in the design of its own regional action plan for local youth policies and services, through a step-by-step approach which included the organisation of consultations with all local stakeholders with a youth portfolio, and a support to the elaboration and finalisation of a first draft of an action plan
Empowering youth to participate in decision-making:
Many young people, especially from more under-served regions such as in the South and West of the country, have expressed in the past years a growing disinterest and mistrust in politics, and have regretted that they do not possess the necessary capacities and tools to effectively influence policies that affect them. The project thus also helped to empower youth and support their participation in public life for a more open and responsive governance, by:
- Coaching 24 young Tunisians from 22 governorates to improve their capacities to engage with decision-makers and inform them on the MoY’s main programmes and services, as a first step towards the creation of a formal network of youth representatives that would relay youth’s demands and advocate for more youth-responsive policies
- Sensitising high-level officials from the MoY on the necessity to establish a mechanism to improve dialogue and involve young people in the design and implementation of its programmes and services to better address their needs and priorities
Civil society engagement
In Tunisia, civil society in uniquely diverse, vibrant and active, and played a key role in the post-2011 democratic transition. CSOs are important intermediaries between citizens and the government. They also act as watchdogs to ensure government accountability and help promote a stronger state-citizen relationship by relaying citizens’ priorities and demands to government.
Nevertheless, local civil society organisations in Tunisia have recently been facing mounting obstacles and are under unprecedented pressure impeding the successful implementation of their essential work, notably tackling gender discrimination and youth empowerment.
In this context, the project empowered civil society organisations to design, manage and implement sustainable social action projects to promote gender equality and youth empowerment in 14 governorates by:
- Coaching 93 representatives of local CSOs on project design, fundraising and implementation
- Providing technical and financial support to the 19 selected CSOs in the implementation
The selected initiatives covered a wide range of sectors including online gender-based violence, gender mainstreaming in media content, as well as youth volunteering and civic education.
Responsive public service delivery
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing challenges in terms of responsiveness, accountability and equitability in the delivery of public services, causing a growing disaffection with public authorities. Involving civil society and citizens in monitoring public service delivery is thus essential to increase government accountability, build citizen trust and improve their capacities effectively keep their service providers accountable.
The project thus established local feedback mechanisms by developing citizen charters, a voluntary public commitment made by a service provider to uphold standards of quality, transparency and accountability. Three citizen charters were developed to promote effective and transparent service delivery and greater citizen trust in three key public enterprises:
- Citizen charter to improve the National Health Insurance Fund’s (CNAM) online platform e-CNAM
- Citizen charter to develop the national postal service’s online payment service D-17
- Citizen charter to improve the Housing and Land Agency’s (AFH) welcome/reception services
In order to support the generalisation of the citizen charters as a tool allowing citizens to exercise their watchdog function across regions and sectors, the project helped develop a guidebook detailing the official methodology to design and adopt citizen charters.
For more information about the project, please contact Amira TLILI, Policy Analyst and Project Co-ordinator, [email protected].
For more information about the OECD’s past cooperation with the United Kingdom in Tunisia, please visit the Good Governance and Anti-Corruption in Tunisia, the Youth Policy Shapers and the Supporting vulnerable groups and the continuity of local and critical services during the Covid-19 pandemic project pages.