By Mégane Ghorbani
Article 46 of the new Tunisian constitution states that “The State shall take all necessary measures to eradicate violence against women” . Three months after its enactment, the May 2014 recommendations made in Tunisia by the mechanisms of the United Nations’ human rights system , stipulate that violence cannot be eradicated without reforming legal codes. These recommendations also emphasize the need to strengthen oversight of informal sector work.
Women in the informal sector
The economic crisis has intensified the growth of informal work globally . In Tunisia, informal employment, defined by researcher Nidhal Ben Cheikh as, “unprotected employment or the absence of social protection” , accounts for 54% of jobs. . According to the Tunisian Union of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA), the informal sector affects 85% of Tunisian enterprises .
While the population of working age “15 and over” is almost equally male and female , there are gender inequalities in terms of access to employment in the formal sector, notably an unemployment rate in the first quarter of 2014 of 21.5% for women, compared to 12.7% for men . This unequal access to the formal labour market pushes more women into the informal sector. A survey conducted in 2013 on informal workers in Greater Tunis shows that unlike men, all women are aware of their labour situation and some say “informal work is our lot in life” .
In the textile industry, a 2012 research project focused on violations of women workers’ economic and social rights in the coastal region of Monastir . The study shows that 86% of the workforce is female because of the perceived low wages; and it discusses cases of informality in sectors that are ostensibly formal. Twenty six percent of women workers surveyed did not have social protection and 12.7% did not even have a job contract. Seven percent of women workers are illiterate and only 46% attended primary school.
A multidimensional form of violence
Regardless of gender, informal workers are all victims of a form of systemic discrimination in Tunisian society because of their lack of social status recognized by the state; and their subsequent exclusion from social services, with no protection from National Social Security or National Health Insurance. Informal women workers, however, have to contend with other forms of gender-based violence.
Firstly, they experience gender-based discrimination because of the patriarchal system in Tunisian society. Research conducted on the situation of women in rural areas in 2013 shows that they have limited access to formal and informal financial support, especially when seeking investments, because “they are considered less creditworthy than men ” . In addition, because of the gendered division of roles within the family, some women do not control the money they themselves have generated. As one participant stated in a report on women’s work in agriculture, “Indeed, it is rare to see women sitting around doing nothing, when we gather to chat and whenever we have a free moment, we weave. Moreover, blankets and carpets are a true form of savings because whenever he needs cash, the head of the family can go sell them at the nearest weekly market and use the funds.”
Furthermore, violence in informal work places is pervasive and many women are victims of violence and sexual harassment. A survey by the Association of Tunisian Women for Research and Development (AFTURD) on full time domestic workers, of which 96.7%  have no job contract; also shows that 14.2% of respondents claim to have been victims of sexual abuse at the hand of their employers. Worryingly 16.2% young women say they were forced into sexual touching and 18.2% into forced sexual intercourse. In addition, many women workers in the region of Monastir claim their low social status leaves them vulnerable to street harassment . These attacks generally go unreported, as women in informal work have no legal protection. All of these factors undermine women’s rights and perpetuate gender inequalities in the society
Instruments to counter this violence
In Tunisia, workers are protected by various international and national instruments: the International Labour Organization (ILO) instruments, including Convention No. 118 concerning equal treatment in matters of social security; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and its Optional Protocol adopted by Tunisia, on which the reservations were officially lifted in April 2014, should ensure the principles of gender equality and non-discrimination, including stereotyped gender roles and prejudice (art. 5), rural women (art. 14), employment (Article 11) and bank loans (art.13) . The Tunisian labour code also regulates work relationships and conditions, as well as penalties for violations. The new Constitution , adopted in January 2014, establishes in its preamble the equality of all citizens, the right to work in decent conditions (Article 40) and the role of the State in the fight against violence and guaranteeing of women’s rights (Art. 46).
Gaps, contradictions and lack of implementation
Despite all these instruments ostensibly available to address violence against informal women workers, a major hurdle persists in Tunisia in challenging informality as a factor, due to some legislative gaps or contradictions within the new constitution. The Penal Code, specifically Articles 218, 227a, 226b and 239, does not provide an overriding law that criminalizes all forms of violence against women . Additionally, Tunisia has not yet ratified Convention No. 189 of the ILO on decent work for domestic workers to ensure the “right to a healthy and safe working environment” (art.13). Also, the Tunisian labour code does not mention gender based violence or sexual harassment.
In light of these loopholes, the ongoing development of a new legal framework – which was discussed during a December 2013 seminar hosted by the Ministry of Women’s and Family Affairs, the European Council and the United Nations Fund for Population Activities – should also take into account the aspect of informality of women’s employment to effectively address all forms of gender based violence.
In addition, organizations supporting victims of gender-based violence have a role to play on the ground, because as Saloua Kannou, AFTURD president, explained, “establishing a database on violence against women in Tunisia will limit the prevalence of this phenomenon” .
Constitution de La République Tunisienne, 26 janvier 2014.
The recommendations by the mechanisms of the United Nations’ human rights system in Tunisia, OHCHR Tunisia, May 2014.
Global employment trends for women, International Labour Organization, December 2012.
 Nidhal Ben Cheikh, “L’extension de la protection sociale à l’économie informelle à l’épreuve de la transition en Tunise », Centre de Recherches et d’Etudes Sociales”, May 2013.
Tunisia: Economic Challenges and Social Post – Revolution, African Development Bank, 2012.
Exploratory study on human trafficking in Tunisia, International Organization for Migration – Tunisian Republic, June 2013.
 Women represent about 150,000 more people in the first quarter 2014.Source: Evolution de la population en âge d’activité ” 15 ans et plus ” selon le sexe 2006-2014, Institut National de la Statistique.
 Taux de chômage selon le sexe 2006-2014, Institut National de la Statistique. Note that these figures are contested due to the obsolete calculation methods used by the official statistics institutions.
 Tunisian Inclusive Labor Initiative (TLILI) study, El Amouri Institute, January 2013.
 Violations des droits économiques et sociaux des femmes travailleuses dans le secteur du textile, Forum Tunisien pour les Droits Economiques et Sociaux, 2013.
Recherche sur la situation des femmes en milieu rural tunisien et leur accès aux services publics dans onze gouvernorats de la Tunisie, CEDR-Agricole, décembre 2013.
 Le travail des femmes dans le secteur agricole: Entre précarité et empowerment, Population Council, June 2011.
Les aides ménagères à temps complet. Violences et non droits. AFTURD, 2008-2009.
Violations des droits économiques et sociaux des femmes travailleuses dans le secteur du textile, Forum Tunisien pour les Droits Economiques et Sociaux, 2013
 Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women.
Constitution de La République Tunisienne, 26 janvier 2014.
The recommendations by the mechanisms of the United Nations’ human rights system in Tunisia, OHCHR Tunisia
 “Une base de données et une stratégie unifiée pour lutter contre la violence à l’égard des femmes”, Babnet Tunisie, 13 juin 2014 .