TBTM Global Ambassador, Maroua Nouira, writes about youth organisations and activities in Tunisia.
“We have been underestimated, we are continually being questioned and challenged by society and by the older generation, but we’re here to surprise them, to prove our full potential, and to show our motivation for change.”
- A civil society activist, Sousse Tunisia.
Since the Jasmin revolution in 2011, the Tunisian youth has been fighting. Fighting for an identity in society and fighting against unemployment, marginalization and the lack of opportunities.
Despite these challenges, young people in Tunisia are ambitious about a promising future, and are proving that positive change is possible and that it is actually happening.
Civil Society empowering Tunisian youth for change
Today in Tunisia there are numerous civil society organizations that address the youth issue as the main focus of their activities. Among them is Sawty Sousse (Sawty meaning “My Voice”, based in Sousse, Tunisia).
SAWTY Sousse is a local youth-led and youth-focused association founded in 2013 that focuses on youth empowerment, civic education, election awareness and government accountability and with the goal of supporting Tunisian youth during the democratic transition phase.
Youth, Local Governance and participation: successes and challenges
The participation of marginalized as well as under-engaged citizens in the decision-making process in Tunisia has been a high concern for various civil society organizations, including Sawty Sousse.
In order to raise election awareness ahead of the long-awaited municipal elections, which took place on May 6, 2018, for the first time since the Tunisian revolution, Sawty Sousse has conducted BUS17 and Intikhabet18 (Elections18) projects in three different governorates: Sousse, Zaghouan & kairouan focusing on the rural parts.
Bus17: Members going on a bus tour to raise awareness on municipal elections.
To learn more about these projects we interviewed Mahdi Laadhari, a 27-year-old civil society activist, the media & communication manager in Sawty Sousse, and the coordinator of Bus17 and Intikhabet18 projects:
Why these projects, and what was the goal?
"Following the Tunisian revolution, the political situation of our country has been marked by the abstention of citizens from the electoral process, particularly among young people and women.
Having said that, and along with municipal elections taking place this year, we decided to carry out BUS17 and Intikhabet18 during 2017 and early 2018 in three governorates in order to educate citizens on municipal elections and their importance, mobilize reluctant voters and encourage all society segments to actively participate in the political process."
What were the main challenges encountered?
"On one hand, the vast majority of citizens in these governorates didn’t truly understand the role of the municipality and its influence on public issues. On the other, they expressed their unwillingness to participate in the municipal elections because of their dissatisfaction with the previous electoral process. Therefore, communicating with them wasn’t very easy and effective at first. As we gained a better understanding of their perspectives, our work began to make sense."
What impact did these projects have on society and on the team members?
"Our persistence and consistency when raising awareness have allowed us to be better at communicating and influencing other people. In Sousse, Zaghouan & kairouan, citizens became more responsive and more willing to participate in the upcoming political process. Our projects had a greater impact when the people we influenced, started influencing their local communities and encouraged others to vote. As a result, the three governorates had the highest voter turnout. Just like with every project, the experience had an impact on all of us. The skills and knowledge we gain in each project help us grow personally and empower us to solve common issues."
A photo of a member of Sawty Sousse, communicating with a local citizen of Kairouan to raise awareness of municipal elections.
Youth Civic Engagement cultivating a positive and a growth mindset:
Civic engagement influences both society and young people and it empowers them to develop their skills and talents. We asked Sarah and Maissa, both Sawty Sousse members to evaluate the impact civil society had on them personally.
“When I was 18 years old, I was looking for an association to join. I just wanted to go out of the house and do something meaningful. Working with Sawty and like-minded people has been quite the experience; it has shaped me in many ways. Not only has it allowed me to believe that change is possible, but has also helped me become a more optimistic and a confident person."
- Sarah, Sawty Sousse member
“In our modern digital days, we oftentimes tend to avoid real human interactions. Civic engagement allowed us to reach out and connect to solve the social issues we face. In Sawty, we have come together to speak up for the right of youth inclusion in civil society and to promote social change at a grass root level. This experience has taught me that every problem has a solution if we reunite, and that it’s important to be a leader in my community.”
- Maissa, Sawty Sousse member
Striving for a more inclusive civil society and access to the decision-making process is an empowering journey for young people in Tunisia, which is positively shaping their future and that of their country.