Tunisia: pandemic increases violence against women

The number of cases of violence against women, of any type, has sharply risen since the enactment of Governmental Decree 2020-156 of 22 March 2020, establishing total sanitary confinement aimed at minimising the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of 3 May, over 7,000 cases of violence had been reported on the toll-free number opened by the Tunisian Ministry for Women’s Affairs.

This increase in the rate of violence against women coincided with the decision of the High Judicial Council, on 23 March, to postpone all civil case hearings, including conciliation hearings. This decision also hindered women’s access to justice services such as courts dealing with family law cases or with cases of violence against women. These impediments to the enjoyment of a constitutional right in times of pandemic have threatened the physical and psychological safety of women victims of domestic and marital violence.

Faced with this situation, EuroMed Rights, its Tunisian members and partners, sent on 10 April an open letter to the President of the High Judicial Council, Mr Youssef Bouzakher, calling on him to take the necessary measures to deal with the flagrant increase in the number of cases of violence against women during the lockdown and to limit the damages caused by the decision taken on 23 March.

The recommended measures included authorising to ward off abusers from the family home, allowing victims of violence to lodge complaints directly with the Public Prosecutor’s Office without going through the specialised units of the police force, creating mechanisms allowing victims and witnesses to notify abuses directly to the Public Prosecutor’s Office through remote communication means – given the difficulty for victims of violence to travel – and enforcing urgent and provisional decisions taken by a family judge, such as alimonies.

This mobilisation prompted the High Judicial Council to publish two notes on 28 and 29 April. These called on family judges to take all necessary measures to better protect victims, guarantee their access to justice and tackle violence against women and children, as social categories that are even more vulnerable in times of pandemic.