We spoke with Youth Champion Lina Elleuch from Tunisia, who shed some light on the increasing violence against women and queer people since the inception of lockdown in the country

The world has been living on stand-by for a while now because of the pandemic that is frightening the world population. Everyone is locked up at home, everything is on a break, everything is postponed–studies, festivities, work (except the work that can be done at a distance). Parents find themselves ‘obligatorily’ reunited with their children, families find themselves in a situation of ‘forced cohabitation’ despite their differences and disagreements.
This situation has created tensions and aggravated phenomena such as violence. One of the most dramatic examples of how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated gender inequalities is the significant increase in domestic violence against women. I have chosen today to talk mainly about domestic violence in heterosexual couples (since homosexuality is penalized by the penal code and punishable by 3 years in prison, thus, due to these circumstances, the State only recognizes heterosexual marriage) and violence against the queer community in Tunisia. So in these actual situations, many women and queer people find themselves blocked with their executioners and have no other alternatives.

Tunisia has since the 1950s enacted laws on the empowerment of women, considered the most advanced in the Arab world. However, the laws are not fully enforced in a country where traditions outweigh laws, and a lot of women don’t report violence to safeguard their reputation. First of all, it must be said that the Tunisian State has provided a toll-free number for women victims of violence so that they can file a complaint, but of course there is no solution for queer people. Now we have just learned that the Ministry of Women’s Affairs has been able to open a shelter for women victims/survivors of violence and their children.
The rate of violence against women increased five times during this period of confinement, according to statistics from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. (225 cases of violence during the month of March 2020). Asma Shiri, Minister of Women’s Affairs said: “We have noticed that since 23rd of March, when the total confinement began, the number of alerts concerning cases of violence against women has increased. These alerts reach us through the Ministry’s toll-free number 1899, which has been strengthened to operate 24/7. From 23 to 30 March, this number increased five times to 50 cases of violence, compared to the same period last year. Some cases required medical or psychological intervention, others only required counselling.”

Regarding queer people, as a member of the ‘mawjoudin for equality’ association that defends the rights of the queer community, we have received several testimonies from people who cannot even talk with their friends freely because they live their sexuality in secret, and especially we must not forget the sex workers who can no longer work so they have no money and do not even have family support.

Civil society, for its part, is trying to make people aware of the seriousness of the violence, which is no less than that of the corona virus. For example the Democrats women Tunisian organization launched an awareness campaign on social networks and even the Ministry of the Interior has posted videos on its official Facebook page to encourage women victims of violence to file complaints and report it.

It should be mentioned that the Ministry of the State has created specialized units to fight violence against women, and since 2017 thanks to organic law number 58 of 2017 on the fight against violence against women. The media have also embarked on this campaign (TV, radio, etc.) and are broadcasting flashmobs where we see the toll-free number I mentioned.

But we need to do more and we need to do better.

We need strong political leadership that can recognize the need for taking action against the perpetrators and addressing the toxic masculinity which ides under the garb of religion/tradition/culture and keeps women and queer persons trapped in fear. After all, nothing justifies violence– neither lockdown, nor stress or anything at all. Violence is a crime which must be punished for. Fear must change sides.