“The Sexual Harasser Does Not Legislate,” Demonstrators Chant in Front of Prime Ministry

A group of women demonstrating against sexual violence near the prime ministry in the Kasbah of Tunis on Saturday, December 14. Photo taken by Youssef Ben Ammar and republished by Meshkal with his permission.

On Saturday, December 14, around 100 women took part in a choreographed demonstration against sexual assault in the Kasbah, in the plaza between the municipality of Tunis and the prime ministry.

The demonstration was organized by the recently launched Falgatna campaign. “Falgatna” means “We’re fed up” in Tunisian dialect.

“We thought that it was high time we start acting outside of traditional structures, such as political parties and other civil society organizations,” Amal Bent Nadia, one of the organizers of the Falgatna demonstration, told Meshkal. “As individual citizens we should take charge of the defense of our rights and lobby against sexual violence in our country.”

Demonstrators replicated a Chilean anti-rape anthem entitled “A Rapist in Your Path” that went viral after it was initially performed in November. Tunisian demonstrators on Saturday tailored their protest to denounce gender-based violence in general and the “impunity” afforded to sex offenders by the Tunisian justice system and policy makers.

Blindfolded demonstrators pointed their fingers towards the prime ministry during their routine.

“The sexual harasser does not legislate” was one verse of the song demonstrators sang, a reference to Zouheir Makhlouf, a recently elected member of parliament for the Qalb Tounes party, who was photographed in October 2019 with his pants down and cream on his hands by a woman who claimed he had been following her in his car.

That incident sparked the #EnaZeda (#MeToo in Tunisian dialect) movement and its related Facebook page with over 20,000 members who have been sharing testimonies of personal sexual abuse, harassment, and violence.

Other lyrics chanted at the Saturday demonstration included “Patriarchy has ruled us since we opened our eyes,” “The fault Is not mine, neither in where I go nor in what I wear,” and “The rapist is you; he is a member of parliament and a policeman, he is a judge and president.”

In a press release on its Facebook page, the organizers behind the Falgatna campaign described themselves as “an independent intersectional feminist grouping for lobbying against patriarchy, discrimination, and violence inflicted on individuals who were either assigned by birth or identify as women.”

Falgatna aims to gather women with different ideologies and perspectives under the same umbrella to achieve a certain momentum for Tunisian women, Bent Nadia told Meshkal.

Simultaneously, a group of Tunisian women residing in Paris gathered and performed the same anthem, in support of the demonstration that took place in the Kasbah.

Asked by Meshkal about the future of the campaign, Bent Nadia said that the “intersectional” vision of the campaign means that “any Tunisian men or women belonging to this collective is free to initiate further actions in the future.”***

The Chilean song and performance replicated by Tunisian demonstrators on Saturday was initially composed by feminist theater group “Lastesis” as a protest against what they called “femicide.” The performance has since spread, with activists in several other countries in the world adopting and adapting the original format.

***UPDATE: After this article was published, Bent Nadia contacted Meshkal to correct her earlier statement, clarifying that the Falgatna campaign is “separatist,” i.e. it is not inclusive of cis-gendered males. She stressed that the campaign welcomes cis-gendered women, transgender women, and transgender men. Asked why they chose to make their campaign separatist, Bent Nadia explained:

“Because only women know what they want to demand. They want a safe space to organize themselves and what they want to say with no social restraints.”