5-6 JUNE 2018 / Tour & Taxis / Brussels

Leaders of change in the Maghreb

Promoting female leadership in the Maghreb

Lab debate
Tuesday, June 5, 2018
09:30 to 10:45

The debate session will be structured around three axes:

1) The inclusion of women in municipal policies (eg specific policies: transport, security, education ...)

2) Women's participation in local politics (local elected women, representativeness, legal provisions favoring parity ...)

3) Women leaders, leaders of influence and change in the Maghreb.

Key points

  • International Labour Organization (ILO) statistics show that women represent 24 % of employers worldwide, but only 6 % in the Middle East and North Africa.
  • Equality of inheritance for women, long a taboo subject in Tunisia, is now being debated and may well be voted into law soon.
  • Many women are unaware of their potential. Mentoring programmes and associations open the way for them.
  • Farming cooperatives need support to help them compete with industrial interests able to invest in more sophisticated production technology.


This session examined how promoting the leadership of women is changing the social fabric of the Maghreb. There was a particular focus on the importance of women’s participation in the political system. Even though there has been much progress in access to education, the economy and political representation, many obstacles still hold back women and girls from reaching their full potential in the Maghreb region.

Women needing their own careers is a major topic in the Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly (ARLEM) report that was published in February by the Committee of the Regions. The report examines how regional and local government can empower women and how the EU can facilitate that process.

Access to information and education are vital. This is particularly problematic in rural areas, although digital technologies can potentially give a maximum number of women and girls access to content. Regional and local authorities have a central role in education and should integrate professional training for women into local employment development strategies. Microcredits should also be explored as a way of empowering women.

A further issue is a lack of affordable child and elder care. Such support services, along with those for women suffering from violence, must be resourced at local government level.

In the 1990s, women in Tunisia were still not allowed to get anywhere near Parliament, let alone ask elected politicians awkward questions. But this has changed. Political will is in tune with civil society, a prime example being legislation regarding violence against women.

A network across the region of leading women is not just about building their businesses, but also about enhancing their private and cultural lives. Being actively involved in local government underpins private-public partnerships, while the perspective of the whole region enhances prospects for urban development projects. One Tunisian initiative to bring young people together for a digital festival is being taken up by Tripoli in Libya.

A women’s farming cooperative managed to overcome tremendous prejudice to start making food and cosmetic products from the oil of the argan tree, or Moroccan ironwood. It was hard to make a case for the project when initial discussions were held among the men and women in separate rooms. But with aid from organisations, including the EU, literacy classes and training in the relevant production standards, the cooperative managed to dominate the market for several years.


Greater access to education in Ireland helped change attitudes over the 35 years since the first referendum on abortion. Many people are now less under the influence of the Church and in May voted to legalise abortion. Although this has been legal in Tunisia for the past 45 years, the country’s long struggle against traditions for other reforms continues.

Organised by


Farida KEBRI
programme analyst
Fatima Amehri
Bochra Bel Haj Hmida Ep Sahli
Member of Parliament
National Assembly of Tunisia
Mary Freehill
Dublin City councillor
European Committee of the Regions
Cyrine Ben Mlouka
Réseau des Femmes Leaders du Maghreb