Tunisian #MeToo movement gives voice to thousands of victims

The movement started after a politician was filmed allegedly masturbating near a school.

People attend a protest as a part of the #MeToo movement on the International Women's Day in Seoul, South Korea, March 8, 2018 (photo credit: REUTERS/KIM HONG-JI)
People attend a protest as a part of the #MeToo movement on the International Women's Day in Seoul, South Korea, March 8, 2018
(photo credit: REUTERS/KIM HONG-JI)
Video of a politician apparently masturbating in a car outside a high school in Tunisia have sparked the country's own #MeToo movement, prompting marches and an outpouring of stories of sexual abuse from women and girls.
In October, a 19-year-old schoolgirl posted video online of Tunisian politician Zouheir Makhlouf, a member of the Qalb Tounes Party, apparently masturbating in his car. Makhlouf has countered that he is a diabetic and was urinating into a bottle.
The video went viral causing an outcry, and spurring a public prosecutor in Nabeul to launch a criminal investigation into the matter. However, as an elected member of parliament, Makhlouf enjoys immunity.

Since then, the case has galvanized a new #MeToo movement under the banner #EnaZeda, which means "me too" in Tunisian Arabic. Hundreds of women wearing t-shirts and carrying placards featuring the #EnaZeda slogan marched on parliament last month in protest at sexual misconduct laws that, while progressive even by international standards, lack teeth.
Under a law introduced in 2017, the legal procedure continues to conclusion once a complaint is lodged, even if the alleged victim changes her mind. But lawyer Fadoua Brahem told the BBC that the law was still "in the transition phase of being implemented," while the culture surrounding sexual abuse makes seeking justice very difficult for victims.
"A victim needs to have the psychological and financial tools to seek justice – it's not set up to be available to everyone," Ms Brahem said.
The country's culture often means sexual abuse is shrugged off by relatives as well, "In Tunisia, the sanctity of a child's body is not respected," she added.
"We are families and a population that is very affectionate when it comes to touching and kissing. Maybe the parents now understand that there are things that should not take place, or that they need to be more vigilant."
One such case is that of an unidentified 36-year-old woman, who spoke to the BBC about her experiences at the age of 14 when she went to live with her aunt and uncle one summer.
"It started by kissing me on my mouth, he [her uncle] started touching my breasts," she said. "I didn't understand what he was doing because… I never saw myself as sexual, my body as sexual yet, because nobody had talked to me about it."
A few nights later, "he climbed on top of me; he tried to force himself, but I started to shout. So he was scared because my aunt – his wife – was sleeping in the other room," she said.
However, her family were dismissive. "My mother said: 'I lived through stuff like that, I do not think this is too bad.'"
Consequently, she failed to report the incident. "If I was to accuse him, even if it's my right, I would destroy a whole network of family – I didn't want to be guilty of that."
The woman is just one of more than 40,000 people who have joined a closed Facebook group set up by NGO Aswaat Nisaa (it translates as "Women's Voices") called #EnaZeda, where they can share their stories in a safe environment. Testimonies include numerous allegations of rape, marital rape and sexual harassment, with accusations leveled against people in the military, police, academia, the media, and relatives of the victims.
The group is not just for women, some men have also come forward to recount their experiences of sexual abuse.
Some allegations have shocked the moderators, who were not expecting such an outpouring of testimonies. Moderator Rania Said told the BBC that "Pedophilia and incest are more rampant than we would like to admit. Many, many families are hiding this, and many families don't even know how to deal with this."
"In the beginning especially there were so many stories about uncles, brothers, neighbors, the guy at the neighborhood corner store," she added.
The global #MeToo movement started in the United States two years ago, when women began sharing online their experiences of sexual harassment following a Hollywood sexual abuse scandal. It quickly spread abroad, being renamed #BalanceTonPorc, or "expose your pig" in France, while Italians used the hashtag #QuellaVoltaChe, or "that time when."