Footage of politician ‘masturbating’ shakes up #MeToo rage in Tunisia

Photos of an MP allegedly masturbating in a car outside a Tunisian high school has sparked demonstrations within the North African nation

Footage of a recently elected politician appearing to masturbate outside a secondary school in Tunisia has provoked a #MeToo movement within the country.

Women and girls have come together to share their own stories on social media about the sexual harassment they have faced.

The video of Zoheir Makhlouf, a member of the Qalb Tounes Party, was shared by a 19 year-old student in October, she alleges the politician had been harassing her. Makhlouf has denied the allegations, insisting instead that he was about to urinate into a bottle due to his diabetes.

A public prosecutor has launched a civil investigation into the incident, but as a member of national parliament, Mr Makhlouf has legal immunity so is likely to be exempt from proper scrutiny.

Women gathered outside parliament earlier this month to demand an investigation into the case. The demonstrators wore t-shirts emblazoned with a #EnaZeda logo – which means #MeToo in Arabic – and waved placards with the slogan imprinted.

Non-governmental organisation Aswaat Nisaa, which translates as ‘Women’s Voices’, also created a private Facebook group where women can come forward to share their own experiences of sexual violence.

Now a 40,000 member strong group (and growing), the page has seen a wave of testimonies detailing allegations of rape, marital rape and sexual harassment against those in the police, military, university circles, family members and the press, with some men also posting about their own dealings with abuse.

Tunisia is considered one of the most stringent defenders of gender equality in the Arab world, after introducing legislation in 2017 which guaranteed protection for women wishing to report gender-based violence.

Stigma around sexual abuse remains rife within society, however, with a 2017 report finding that in 97 per cent of sexual harassment cases, the victim either does not report the crime or the accused perpetrator dodges punishment altogether.

Speaking to the Guardian, Dima Dabbous, director of Middle East and North Africa branch of Equality Now, a non-governmental organisation which aims to promote the rights of women and girls, said: ‘The international #MeToo movement did not take hold in the Arab region or spur similar women and girls to speak out, and this is for a number of cultural, legal and political reasons.’

She continued: ‘I am very happy that we are finally seeing an organised effort in Tunisia by many victims to talk about this phenomenon that targets women and girls, especially the most vulnerable ones – the young, students, those in low paid employment.’

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