Mediterranean Development Initiative (MDI) Conference on Women’s empowerment in Tunisia, Building Momentum


The Mediterranean Development Initiative (MDI) is a Tunisian not-for-profit
organization, born after the Revolution, headquartered in Tunisia and partnering with
the Center for Transatlantic Relations of the Johns Hopkins University SAIS in
Washington DC. MDI aims at increasing prosperity and opportunities for the people
of the Mediterranean region by contributing to its economic and social development
through innovative and sustainable projects, and through synergies and strategic
cooperation with other think tanks in the Region and beyond.
As part of its activities to support women and women leadership, the MDI is
organizing jointly with the Presidential think tank ITES (Institut Tunisien pour les
Etudes Stratégiques) and ODI, the London-based Overseas Development Institute, a
conference on Women Empowerment in Tunisia. The event will take place on
October 1st & 2nd and will discuss the recent Report elaborated by ODI and funded by
the Bill Gates Foundation: “Building Momentum, Women’s Empowerment in
Tunisia”, the progress achieved, the factors driving change, the challenges but also the
lessons that can be learnt from others experiences.
The objective of the conference is to use the recent ODI report as an entry point to
generate discussion around whether the mechanisms which explain women’s
empowerment to date in Tunisia (as outlined in the report) can be
exploited/used/drawn upon to reflect on how further progress can be made towards
women’s empowerment in general, but also in business and entrepreneurship. There
will be a focus on identifying where there are specific barriers to further progress in
women’s entrepreneurship in Tunisia and an open discussion around how and if the
mechanisms identified can be used to address them.
The conference will bring speakers from political, social and economic horizons in
both the private and public spheres, at different levels (national, subnational) to reflect
the multi-dimensional concept of Women’s empowerment.
The conference will try to answer what is holding women back from leadership
positions in 21st-century, bringing compelling models for what female power should
look like. The women situation should considerably improve globally as more women
manage to break into leadership roles.
For many decades Tunisia has been considered as a pioneer country in the Arab and
Muslim world in terms of women’s rights. Since independence in 1956, the country’s
constitution, legislation and policies have evolved in ways that promote the principles
of gender equality and eliminate gender-based discrimination in relation to health,
education, labor conditions and political representation. The country’s Code of
Personal Status, introduced in 1956, made far-reaching reforms to family law –
granting women equal rights in marriage and divorce, abolishing polygamy and the
practice of immediate divorce by men, and giving children born to Tunisian mothers
and foreign fathers the right to Tunisian citizenship. Women obtained the right to vote
in 1957 and have had the right to seek an abortion without the need for their
husband’s permission since 1973. Tunisia has also been advanced in signing up to
international commitments, including ratification of the Optional Protocol to the
United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against
Women (CEDAW) in late 2008.
Since the events of the Arab Spring in 2010 its political system has changed
significantly and while the introduction of political liberalism has improved political
freedoms more broadly it has also been accompanied by the emergence of more
conservative views about women.
The conference aims at highlighting potential areas of interest to policy makers and
the private sector for the future and any knowledge gaps which could be filled by
future research. The proceedings will be published in the form of a short briefing.
The MDI in cooperation with ITES, ODI and the Ministry of Women and Family
Affairs will also draw a list of recommendations in order to devise concrete programs
that will answer the needs identified during the conference. This conference aims
more than just Tunisian women and has the ambition to seek similar initiatives in the
Arab region and link them in a dynamic action-oriented network.



08:30 – 09:00 Registration

09:00 – 11:15

Plenary Session 1: Welcome and Opening Remarks
– Ghazi Ben Ahmed, MDI Managing Director

– Samira Merai, Tunisian minister for Women and Family affairs
– Hardy Ostry, Director KAS
– Mohamed Ennaceur, President of the Parliament (not confirmed)
Keynote speech
– Heli Järvinen – Member of the Finnish Parliament
– HE Mrs Nagma Mohamed Mallick, Ambassador of India
– H.R.H. Princess Basmah Bint Saud Bin Abdul Aziz Al Souad (not confirmed)

11:15 – 12:45 Plenary Session 2: ODI Report Presentation and discussion

– Vikky Chambers – ODI

– Professor Emna Ben Arab (discussant)

– Professor Riadh Zghal (discussant)

Moderator:– Mariem Belkadhi (to be confirmed)

12:45 – 14:00 Lunch debate

Facts and Figures by Hassen Zargouni – Sigma Conseil

14:00 – 15:30 Plenary Session 3: Women Leadership in business, challenges and lessons learnt

– Leila Belkhiria – Chef d’entreprise

– Neila Benzina – CEO Technological firm

– Wafa Laamiri – CJD

– Boutheina Ben Yaghlane Ben Slimane, Secrétaire d’Etat aux Finances (NC)
Moderator: Aymen Talbi

15:30 – 17:00 Plenary Session 4: Women Empowerment, the way forward

– Amira Yahyaoui – Civil Society

– Wafa Makhlouf – Member of the National Parliament

– Nigel Bellingham – Director of the British Council Tunisia

– Habib Kasdaghli – Doyen de la faculté des lettres Mannouba

Moderator: Hedi Mechri

17:00 – 17:30 Closing Session

– Samira Merai, Tunisian minister for women affairs and Family

– Ghazi Ben Ahmed – Managing Director of MDI

– Hardy Ostry, Director KAS.