JEUNE AFRIQUE

Femicide In Tunisia: Why A New Law Couldn't Crack The Patriarchy

A recent spousal killing in El Kef demonstrates how vulnerable Tunisian women remain despite the introduction, four years ago, of a law specifically designed to protect them.

Social media post paying tribute to Refka Cherni, victim of domestic violence
Social media post paying tribute to Refka Cherni, victim of domestic violence
*Frida Dahmani

-Analysis-

TUNIS — Her name was Refka Cherni. She was 26 years old and had a whole life ahead of her when, on May 9, in the city of El Kef in northwest Tunisia, five shots fired by her husband snuffed out all her hopes and dreams.

Before falling victim to her husband — a national guard officer who used his service weapon to end a marital quarrel — this mother of three children was first a victim of those who refused to hear her.

Cherni had suffered from domestic violence for some time, just like an estimated one-third of Tunisian women. She even tried, finally, to put herself under legal protection by filing a formal complaint. That was three days before she was shot at close range.

"Although she presented a medical certificate and the attacker was an agent of the security forces, the deputy prosecutor on duty had not seen fit to arrest him," says Karima Brini, president of the Association Women and Citizenship of El Kef.

Since its implementation in 2017, Law 58/17 has aimed to eliminate violence against women and provide a protection tool available to all, one that police and legal stakeholders can't ignore. Better still, a specialized brigade including female agents is dedicated, in each delegation, to following up on cases.

Nevertheless, Cherni did not benefit from this system, and that's because all the laws in the world will not change the archaic and conservative mentalities that magistrates often display. The law banning violence against women has disturbed their established order: that of a patriarchal and macho world where the family unit must not be touched, even if it means that the woman will keep silent about abuse.

It's as if the wife, the mother or the sister has to sacrifice herself and be an accomplice of the silence that accompanies the domestic violence to which she herself is a victim.

It's an unmentionable disease enshrined in the texts of law.

The first to pave the way for these unspeakable acts are the women themselves. With incredible confidence, some women on social media advocate obedience to their husbands and castigate those who do not understand that the man is king and that the aggression of a husband is an act of love, even a benevolent one.

"He who loves well, punishes well" still has meaning for those who also have a role in influencing the younger generations.

It is on this foundation that values are biased, that society loses its compass in wanting to judge good and evil. But this is not what is asked of it. Some people get panicky and are embarrassed at the idea of condemning a practice that seems to them to be an ancestral custom, legitimized by time.

Social media tribute post to Refka Cherni — Source: Association Femme et Citoyenneté via Facebook

The magistrates, the investigating judges, the police and more generally all the representatives of the law are children of this society that uses and abuses denial so as, above all, not to recognize that it is sick and that its pathology is transmissible and potentially fatal.

It's an unmentionable disease masked by the emancipation of the woman which is, in fact, enshrined in the texts of law. The most devious will object that Tunisian women are lucky to be protected by the Personal Status Code (PSC). But after 65 years of existence, it needs a facelift in terms of equality and rights.

Refka Cherni is a victim of this ambivalence that is no longer hidden by common sense, as it has long been in Tunisia. Indeed, all Tunisian women are victims in this sense, albeit some more than others.

At fault is a conservatism fed with religious preconceptions by pseudo exegesis who in the media dispense clichés and calls to violence without being contradicted. Their words are even used in popular Ramadan soap operas, whose heroines justify the rape and aggression suffered by women.

This state of affairs is part of everyday life and does not bother anyone. On the contrary, some people consider it to be freedom of expression, an encouraging aspect of a democracy that is taking hold. No one denounces these increasingly widespread reflections, no one points out the absurdity, no one protests against an erroneous approach to religion and even less against the fact that crimes are absolved in this way.

What are they afraid of by simply enforcing the law?

Sooner or later, these issues related to Islam and society, which directly concern Tunisian women, or some 50% of the population, must be addressed. Is it because of these retrograde references that, too often, judges do not take into account the complaints of women who have suffered violence? In any case, they seem to confuse violence, which sometimes leads to death, with domestic accidents.

The main thing is to keep quiet, to diminish the importance of the facts, to reduce them to a simple incident. What are they afraid of by simply enforcing the law? These are questions that none of them answer, as they are so unseemly.

Refka Cherni"s blood has not yet dried and they already argue that she had reconciled with her husband and that only the peace of the household counts. None of them has the decency to keep quiet, especially since her murderer is a member of the National Guard who used his service weapon. To the preconceived ideas is added the corporatism which makes the representatives of the judicial apparatus of El Kef accomplices of a murder.

In fact, in the absence of an authority and a political will, small arrangements between friends are the order of the day, especially since they have a free hand; the system tolerates abuses and ensures impunity for abusers. And after all, why be indignant? When a woman is beaten or shot, no man is killed.



*Frida Dahmani is a Tunisia correspondent for the publication Jeune Afrique.

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Geopolitics

Erdogan And Boris Johnson: A New Global Power Duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too.

Johnson and Erdogan in NYC on Sept. 20

Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung

-Analysis-

BERLIN — According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. The agreement covers billions of euros' worth of military equipment, and the two countries have committed to come to each other's aid if they are attacked.

Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey.

Officially, the Turkish government is unruffled, saying the pact doesn't represent a military threat. But the symbolism is clear: with the U.S., UK and Australia recently announcing the Aukus security pact, Ankara fears the EU may be closing ranks when it comes to all military issues.

What will Aukus mean for NATO?

Turkey has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

Europe's approach to security and defense is changing dramatically. Over the past few months, while the U.S. was negotiating the Aukus pact with Britain and Australia behind the EU's back, a submarine deal between Australia and France, which would have been worth billions, was scrapped.

The EU is happy to keep Erdogan waiting

Officially, Turkey is keeping its cards close to its chest. Addressing foreign journalists in Istanbul, Erdogan's chief advisor Ibrahim Kalin said the country was not involved in Aukus, but they hope it doesn't have a negative impact on NATO. However, the agreement will have a significant effect on Turkey.

"Before Aukus, the Turks thought that the U.S. would prevent the EU from adopting a defense policy that was independent of NATO," says Sinan Ülgen, an expert on Turkey at the Brussels think tank Carnegie Europe. "Now they are afraid that Washington may make concessions for France, which could change things."

Macron sees post-Merkel power vacuum

Turkey's concerns may well prove to be justified. Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey, partly because it is an important trading partner and partly because it has a direct influence on the influx of migrants from Asia and the Middle East to Europe.

Merkel consistently thwarted France's plans for a stricter approach from Brussels towards Turkey, and she never supported Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU.

But now she that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

Ankara fears the defense pact between France and Greece could be a sign of what is to come. According to a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, the agreement is aimed "at NATO member Turkey" and is damaging to the alliance. Observers also assume the agreement means that France is supporting Greece's claims to certain territories in the Mediterranean which remain disputed under international law, with Turkey's own sovereignty claims.

Paris is a close ally of Athens. In the summer of 2020, Greece and Turkey were poised on the threshold of a military conflict in the eastern Mediterranean. Since then, Athens has ordered 24 Rafale fighter jets from France, and the new pact includes a deal for France to supply them with three frigates.

Photo of French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

Sadak Souici/Le Pictorium Agency/ZUMA

Erdogan’s EU wish list

It's not the first time that Ankara has felt snubbed by the EU. Since Donald Trump left the White House, Turkey has been making a considerable effort to improve relations with Brussels. "The situation in the eastern Mediterranean is peaceful and the migrant problem is under control," says Kalin. Now it is "high time" that Europe does something for Turkey.

Erdogan's wish list is extensive: making it easier for Turks to get EU visas, renegotiating the refugee deal, making more funds available to Turkey as it continues the process of joining the EU, and moderniszing the customs union. But there is no movement on any of these issues in Brussels. They're happy to keep Erdogan waiting.

Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU

Now he is starting to look elsewhere. At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense.

 Turkey's second largest export market

The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016. Unlike other European capitals, London reacted quickly, calling the coup an "attack on Turkish democracy," and its government has generally held back in its criticism of Turkey.

At the end of last year, Johnson and Erdogan signed a new free trade agreement, which will govern commerce between the two countries post-Brexit. Erdogan has called it "the most important treaty for Turkey since the customs agreement with the EU in 1995."

After Germany, Britain is Turkey's second largest export market. "Turkey now has the opportunity to build a new partnership with the United Kingdom and it must make the most of it," says economist Ali Kücükcolak from the Istanbul Commerce University.

Erdogan is well aware of this, as Turkey is in desperate need of an economic boost. Inflation currently stands at 19%, and the currency's value is consistently falling. Turks are feeling the impact on their daily lives: food and rent are becoming increasingly expensive, while salaries remain unchanged.

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