The so-called ‘Arab Spring’ began in Tunisia, in January 2011. Despite living through some difficult events and changes, Tunisia appears best placed amongst the countries of the ‘Arab Spring’ to achieve a positive transformation.
In late 2013, a political logjam was broken with agreement on a new interim technocratic government, and this was swiftly followed (26th January) by adoption of its new Constitution by the National Constituent Assembly (NCA).
Between October 2013 and March 2014, Ai has been involved in work on both gender equality and decentralisation in Tunisia. Its co-Director Jeremy Smith was main co-creator, of the Charter for Equality of Women and Men in Local Life http://www.charter-equality.eu/?lang=en when Secretary General of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR). , The Charter examines all aspects of a local authority’s work from a gender perspective and invites local governments to sign up to its commitments.
It was a result of Jeremy’s wide experience of European local governance, and work on gender equality at European level that Ai was invited by the Canadian-based (and funded) Forum of Federations http://www.forumfed.org/en/index.php to participate in a forum on equality and decentralisation in Tunisia.
Addressing two workshops on electoral systems and on equality and decentralisation, Jeremy shared with Tunisian colleagues examples from several countries in Africa and Europe of different systems and their pros and cons. He was struck however, by how much we in Britain have to learn from Tunisia. The percentage of women in the country’s National Assembly – elected in 2011 – is higher (at nearly 30%) than the number of women elected to the UK Westminster Parliament in 2012!
Jeremy was also asked to create a “syllabus” for a 6-day course on decentralisation, and lead on its delivery (in French, of course!), for Tunisian civil servants from the regional development ministry, working with international and Tunisian experts.
Participants at a 6-day course on decentralisation led by Jeremy Smith of Ai.
The aim was not just to impart information, but to engage the participants proactively in group working and making presentations – which some had never done before – so that they could deepen their capacity to promote and explain decentralisation to their own colleagues and to the wider Tunisian public.
Amongst other things the course covered:
The course is backed up by an internet tool, allied with social media, whose purpose is to enable the course organisers to keep engaging with Tunisian participants on local developments in decentralisation.
In total, around 35 civil servants took part in the two courses. They came from the length and breadth of the country, and were very actively engaged and interested in the subject. Many of them went on to take part, with both international and Tunisian experts, in regional workshops held across the country. These attracted a mix of civil servants, businessmen and women and civil society.
“It was not an easy assignment, to create a course for civil servants in a diverse country like Tunisia, which faces huge developmental as well as political challenges. What is exciting is to see how all of them are really dedicated to making a success of their country as it goes through a process of sharing power more widely – even if some had genuine concerns about how decentralisation will work out in practice.
We underlined the need to take adequate time to prepare it well, and in particular, the need for a strong programme of capacity-building for everyone involved – civil servants and new councillors.”