Address by Mrs Leïla Ben Ali
at the closing of the electoral campaign
Le Kram, October 22nd, 2004
In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate
We meet in this large gathering of women, at a time of a presidential and legislative electoral campaign taking place in Tunisia, within a jubilant atmosphere and a special context of democracy and pluralism, which illustrates the degree of maturity reached by Tunisian men and women and their awareness of the importance of voting as a right to be exercised and a duty to be accomplished .
We meet at a time when our country is making headways on the path of invulnerability and prosperity in all fields, especially that the reforms, achievements and gains of the Change have covered all sectors, that peace and serenity prevail, and that citizens-both men and women-have been devoted to diligent action and hard work, prompted by a sense of consensus, cooperation and solidarity.
The human being has always been the pillar and supreme objective of these reforms. Tunisia has indeed managed to consecrate the principle of equal education opportunities for all children, so that all school-aged boys and girls have access to school.
Tunisia has also offered children a comprehensive protection, through legislations, institutions and mechanisms preserving the rights of children and endeavoring to promote their capabilities and knowledge, and to instill in children the sense of civilized behavior and the acquisition of the most modern skills.
The building of the knowledge society being a fundamental element in the policies of the Change, our country has witnessed, over the past years, the establishment of a large number of higher education institutions in all the regions of the country and in all disciplines and areas of specialization, so that our sons and daughters can keep pace with knowledge developments and with the changes occurring in the job market and in occupations.
Thanks to the social choices which have accorded the health sector a particular attention, Tunisia has managed to achieve a quantum leap in the field of health coverage. Hospitals as well as healthcare and prevention centers have, in fact, been established in all parts of the country, the number of medical and paramedical cadres has increased, and private investment in this sector has been developed.
Today, Tunisia offers its sons and daughters a large network of youth, culture and leisure centers, where they can make best use of their free time, practice their hobbies and increase their knowledge. This in addition to the multi-disciplinary sports installations and complexes that prompt our youth to promote their talents and confirm their aspirations for excellence and distinction.
As part of the choices and orientations of the Change, Tunisia has made of culture a right for all Tunisian men and women. It has offered intellectuals, from both genders, propitious conditions for creativity, within an appropriate context of freedom and constant support. This has made it possible to enhance the literary, intellectual and artistic production, to promote the level of cultural contents and to reinforce their propagation at the national and international levels.
The regions that used to be isolated and marginalized now enjoy the basic facilities and have been integrated within the economic mainstream. This can only confirm the fact that solidarity constitutes the strong social bond uniting all Tunisian men and women in all situations and conditions.
The system of social security protection has been widened to reach a high rate within a short lapse of time, thus reinforcing the foundations of justice and serenity for all.
Today, persons with special needs, including the disabled and the elderly as well as low-income people and those lacking support receive special attention and great presidential care. To all these, the gates of hope and the prospects of effective socio-economic integration have been opened up.
Our country has been keen on establishing a constant contact with its sons and daughters abroad, by closely following up their conditions, defending their rights, reinforcing their attachment to their national roots, and deepening the channels of dialogue with them, especially with the emerging young generations.
Tunisia has placed stakes on the promotion of the information and communication technologies, the dissemination of their culture, and the generalization of their services in all circles and sectors.
Tunisia is also making firm strides on the path of human, social and economic development. In this regard, it has held a high rank among Arab, African and Mediterranean nations, and has won respect and consideration for its positions concerning the major world issues.
This is Tunisia in the era of Change and reform; Tunisia of modernity and progress; Tunisia of devotion and diligence; Tunisia in which the promotion of the life of Tunisian men and women is a priority in all fields, and in which the fruits of development are distributed among all individuals, social categories and regions; Tunisia in which the practice of democracy and pluralism is continuously anchored, and in which rights and individual and public liberties are preserved, within the context of the rule of law and the values of the republic.
One of the major sources of pride of the New Era consists in the special care, the high status and the renewed confidence offered by President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to women.
Indeed, never before had Tunisian women been in a better situation or in a higher status.
Equal chances and opportunities are now offered to men and women in all fields. Their roles have become complementary in all positions of work and responsibility. For indeed, the conditions of society can be set right only if the conditions of women are tackled. Besides, the process of reform and modernization can be enhanced only when women are an essential element in its stimulation and consolidation. Moreover, development can be equitable and comprehensive only if both men and women share its efforts and fruits.
Considering that reluctance to adopt a clear and audacious approach to women's status still constitutes a major obstacle impeding the progress of several societies in the world, Tunisian women deserve to be proud of the fact that they have transcended the stage of liberation and the claiming of rights, and have attained the stage of full-fledged partnership with men in the management of the affairs of the family and of society, in political action which is an integral part of the rights of citizenship, and in commitment to serving the public interest, especially in light of the prospects offered to them by the New Era to participate in the Chamber of Deputies, in municipal councils and in regional councils.
Tunisian women have, in fact, been offered a coherent system of rights, measures and initiatives that has consolidated their presence in all fields and placed them in a higher status within our society, a status that many international experts consider an excellent example worth following in various regions of the world.
While it represents for Tunisian women a source of pride and honor, this prestigious status invests them with further duties and responsibilities, as they are always required to prove that they deserve this honor and all the decisions and encouragements offered to them by the President of the Republic, to improve their conditions and reinforce their integration within the dynamics of development.
The status of women is essentially measured by their constant awareness and competence in all the functions, positions and responsibilities with which they are entrusted.
Therefore, Tunisian women should always be a constructive element and a force of generosity, at home, in the public service, in factories, in fields, as well as in the associative fabric and the components of civil society. They should contribute, with their intelligence, knowledge and creative and innovative skills, to stimulating the process of development in its various educational, pedagogical, cultural, social, health and economic sectors. They should also hold, with their high performance and efficient work, advanced leadership positions.
It is indeed a source of appreciation and pride that the Head of State has devoted, in his Electoral Program, an important place for women, the aim being to consolidate their presence in all areas of endeavor, in the political arena, and in decision-making and responsibility positions, where they will be offered new opportunities to confirm their competence and prove their capabilities.
While commending this choice as well as the pioneering initiatives included in the Electoral Program, particularly the establishment of a special system for mothers allowing them, if they wish, to work half-time for two-thirds of the salary, while retaining their rights in terms of retirement and social security cover, Tunisian women cherish the wish that in light of these initiatives, new prospects will be opened up for them, so that their presence in decision-making and responsibility positions can reach 30% by the end of 2009, and so that they can be represented in the Chamber of Advisors, including Tunisian women abroad, who, we hope, will be offered the opportunity to participate in matters of public concern, side by side with the other representatives of the various categories of the Tunisian people.
Working to explore wider fields and better methods to prepare women for promising occupations and for the recent modes of labor is the best means to help them achieve integration within the new economy, within the knowledge society and within the world of information and communication networks.
It is also necessary to enable women, before establishing business enterprises, to be further initiated to the various phases of project creation, in terms of conception, financing and implementation.
The changes and challenges characterizing our age, and the intellectual and behavioral modes that are foreign to our society's traditions and values and are disseminated by the modern means of information and communication, especially certain satellite channels, are deeply affecting the upbringing of our sons and daughters, as a result of the reduced presence of the parents at home and their inability to devote sufficient time to provide care to their children in a direct, comprehensive and permanent way.
The successive generations of our sons and daughters constitute our wealth with whom we lay the foundations for their future as well as for the future of their country. In large part, this future depends on the time we devote to offer them care and protection, to listen to their concerns, to follow up their studies, and to contribute to the organization of their time and the distribution of their activities. It also depends on establishing relations of positive interaction with them, based on dialogue, respect of their personalities and rights, and the reinforcement of their confidence in themselves and in their own capabilities, on stimulating their sense of patriotism and loyalty to their country, and on deepening their pride in belonging to the civilization as well as to the spiritual, cultural and social values of our people, while remaining open on the common universal values.
This is indeed a matter of crucial importance; for the future of our country depends on how we educate our young generations today.
I am convinced that establishing this new system for mothers, allowing them to work half-time, as provided for in the President's Electoral Program, will have a positive impact in this regard.
The family remains the basis for the building of a sound and balanced social edifice. This prompts us to make all efforts to foster the role of parents, so that they can devote more time to their children, and protect them against the risks of mimetism and westernization, and against all forms of laxness and excess in general.
We are a people whose civilization is deeply rooted in history, a people with a generous contribution, a fertile culture, rich relations and coherent components. Neither the foreign covetous desires nor the strange novelties have managed to obliterate its identity, as the Tunisian people has remained, all over the ages, steadfast and glorious, thanks to its firmly-entrenched identity and deep-rooted personality.
For loyalty's sake, we have to remain faithful to our national specificities, so that the path we will trace to our successors will be the same as that traced to us by our predecessors, while endeavoring to preserve our identity and to protect the authenticity, tolerance, openness and moderation characterizing our referential values, away from any form of excess or abuse.
This being said, I should like to stress the necessity to find optimum ways to strengthen cooperation and complementarity between the family, the school and the related organizations and associations, in order to intensify the care we offer our sons and daughters, and orient them toward all that can help them accomplish their duties and consciously interact with their environment and the culture of their time.
Proud of the rights and opportunities they have enjoyed during the past period and of the achievements and gains accomplished for their people and country, Tunisian women are fully aware of their duties and commitments which prompt them to step into the coming stage with all enthusiasm and competence.
This is, in fact, to preserve the inter-relation and continuity between the two stages, and to materialize women's attachment to the comprehensive and coherent civilizational project provided for in the President's Electoral Program, and to the objectives and ambitions included in it, which express the concerns of Tunisian men and women, and stress the fact that the process of change and modernization is a daily joint effort that constantly seeks innovation and development, according to the nature, conditions and requirements of each stage…
This Program has addressed the future of Tunisia with an ambitious prospective vision that draws up the guidelines of the next stage with precision and accuracy, prepares our country to keep pace with the current developments, to anticipate its changes and to meet its challenges, and offers Tunisian men and women a new opportunity for dedication and self-sacrifice for the sake of progress and prosperity.
That is why we shall all go to the polls on Sunday to accomplish our electoral duty and to exercise our right to choose; thus materializing our eligibility for a political life based on freedom, democracy and pluralism, where Tunisian men and women express their choice with conviction and after careful consideration, and within a context of fair and civilized competition among candidates from all parties participating in the electoral process.
By participating in large numbers in these elections, the citizens, men and women, will confirm their interest in their country's public matters, and their determination to contribute to it, within the context of the republican system, the rule of law, and the reference of the common national values in which they all believe and which they all work to disseminate and reinforce in all fields, so that they prove to the world their eligibility for an organized and developed democratic and pluralistic life.
Democracy is not a mere right practiced by citizens. More than that, it is a duty they accomplish with one another, with awareness, belief and civilized behavior emanating from a sense of responsibility and mutual respect, within a sound and serene political context encouraging all Tunisian men and women to compete to serve their country with loyalty, to defend it, and to elevate its status.
Thank you for your attention.