Promoting sexual and reproductive rights in Tunisia for UNFPA

The Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994, is the first international paper that explicitly includes “sexual and reproductive health” and “reproductive rights” in human rights’ protection.

The document states that reproductive rights imply that “people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so. Implicit in this last condition are the right of men and women to be informed and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of family planning of their choice, as well as other methods of their choice for regulation of fertility which are not against the law, and the right of access to appropriate health-care services that will enable women to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth and provide couples with the best chance of having a healthy infant.” (VII.A)

Tunisia is recognized as one of the most advanced countries of the Arab world in this field. Among other significant milestones, gender equality was established in 1957, the abortion legalized in 1972 and the country stated a policy of family planning since 1967.

The United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, plaid a key role in this process. It has been providing support to the country for nearly 40 years where it knitted numerous relationships with the major structures working in these areas. However, UNFPA today has to deal with a number of challenges in its relationship with its historical partners. On one hand its institutional partners were very marked by years of the dictatorship from Ben Ali and turned out to have lost much of their impact capacity. On the other hand, the Jasmine Revolution has brought a number of profound changes including the arrival of many international players as well as an explosion in the number of civil society organizations. Moreover, the elections organized after the revolution have brought to power an Islamist party which openly pro-natalist discourse threatens institutions working on issues of sexual and reproductive health. At the same time, professionals in the field increasingly fear steps back on issues that seemed as being definitely acquired as gender equality or youth sexuality.

In this context of profound change, UNFPA has requested CAD to develop a partnership strategy that allows the organization to adapt and respond to new challenges that it is facing today. This work, conducted between October 2012 and March 2013, involved an analysis of the main current and potential partners in the field of sexual and reproductive health in Tunisia, including civil society and public, private and international organizations, as well as the organization of a cross sector workshop, that eventually led to the development of a comprehensive partnership strategy adapted to the specific situation of the country and the organization.