Jalel El Gharbi
A few years ago, the Tunisian coast-guards were dumbstruck to find a female young university graduate on one of the death boats used by the Haragas(*). The whole country was astonished: the young girl’s case indicated the seriousness of the situation, the urgency of dealing with these problems. Major cause: unemployment. What was put into question was above all the right of general education for all, considered to be Tunisia’s biggest achievement. Considered as a factor of upward social mobility by the majority of Tunisians, it doesn’t seem to play this role anymore. Thus, illegal immigration is not the privilege of boys that have failed their studies anymore.
The Tunisian socio-demographer Hassen Kasser carried out a survey among a representative sample of 375 Faculty of Arts students showing that nearly 60% of female students aspire to emigrate by all means. This percentage goes up to 70% when these young girls do not find a job once they graduate. These figures have been interpreted in various ways: paradoxically, some have seen a proof of the success of general education in Tunisia, the sign of a female emancipation. More and more emancipated, young girls take their destiny into their hands refusing to be the forgotten youngsters. They also undertake the big jump towards the other Shore. Moreover, young girls represent 60% of students in Tunisia.
Candidats à l’immigration
The others, those who don’t like the Tunisian experience since it deviates too much from tradition, have seen here an evidence of failure. The female infatuation for emigration has been largely tackled by the media and internet forums of fundamentalist allegiance: it is brandished to make visible the situation of women in the only Arab country outlawing polygamy and giving women a choice in life. Therefore, certain persons have the opportunity to fantasize on Tunisian women on this kind of forums. This is much more pernicious than it seems: all that can represent the failure of the options chosen by the country is heavily emphasized in order to suggest that this model – more of the Tunisians than of Bourguiba – can only lead to failure. This gives rise to comments inspiring Mr. Silvio Berlusconi’s jokes who last February the 14th – ironically happening to be Saint Valentine’s Day, the haphazard of diplomatic calendars – declares that Italy only accepts “pretty Albanian girls” in front of his Albanian counterpart. Therefore, one shouldn’t be surprised to see that the followers of these two interpretations increase figures of Tunisian emigration candidates on purpose. Some of them are proud to promote this equality of “opportunities” between the sexes while others are proud to stigmatize a model giving “too much” freedom to women. There is no access to official statistics. We have to settle with approximate indiscretions: 5% of the thousands of illegal immigrants arrested each year in Tunisia are supposedly Tunisian women and 10% of them would be African women. These vague figures do not include Tunisian women who emigrate through other channels in the Maghreb – that are more secure according to rumours…
Jeune migrante tunisienne
Tunisian women prefer a “clandestine” legal emigration: the number of convenience marriages is increasing. Once again, we have no official statistics but it seems that more and more Europeans of a certain age are becoming infatuated with Tunisians. In this respect, the Tunisians living abroad are the most popular parties.
Apart from convenience marriages, the number of Tunisian women married to a European man is increasing significantly. Usually they are French, Italians and German who have converted to Islam. This last detail enables them to circle the religious ban that weigh down on marriages. The women we have managed to question on the subject outline the fact that they have managed to find love with their European partner, free from traditionalist considerations that remain important to a large number of Tunisian men.
Of course, this is not the case of all Tunisian women married to foreigners. We have come across beautiful stories like that of the 31 year old Asma. She has married a converted Italian in 2007 and they have a child. Coming from a humble background, she has still had the opportunity to be trained as a secretary. She has worked in an off-shore factory in Cap-Bon. Her boss fell in love with her and they got married. She currently lives in Italy. It is certainly a love match but also a “good plan for the future”. She has also managed to move away from her rural area where she was really bored.
It seems that love is often the reason behind these weddings. Leila, 31 years old, married to converted Swiss man since 2002 confirms this. She has two girls and lives in Switzerland. She used to work in a pharmacy in Tunis where she met her future husband who was then a pharmaceutical laboratory delegate. They fell in love and she followed him out of love.
Let us close this gallery of portraits with Saïda, 27 years old, married to a converted French. She met her husband thanks to her maternal aunt who lives in France. She found love and above all, she has managed to free herself from her family problems. In spite of her father’s reluctance, who wasn’t very enthusiastic to see his daughter getting married to a newly converted, she did not hesitate to accept the new life that she was being offered. She lives in France.
We can see that employment problems are not the unique cause of this attraction for foreign lands. The boredom in rural areas and the need to live one’s life seem to be more crucial causes than unemployment. Maybe, these Tunisian women are above all looking for a better quality of life. It also seems that this attraction for other shores is irresistible for both Tunisian young men and women. This is why Europe is not the only destination that young Tunisian women dream of. Of course, France is always on the top of the list of dream destinations but the Golf countries follow immediately after. This does in no case mean that it is more pleasant to live in Koweït City than in Tunis. However the possibilities of a rapid enrichment thanks to
are quite tempting.
If these marriages are not marriages of reason, they are the result of a reasonable love. A love that enables people to go beyond social and national frontiers.
Jalel El Gharbi
Translated into English by Elizabeth Grech
-*) In Arabic,
means the ones who burn. Illegal immigrants burn their particulars when they arrive in Europe. So
refers to Illegal immigrants.