Besma Khalfaoui or a people’s thirst for freedom

Press release
ar en fr

Following the assassination of her husband and father of their two daughters, the lawyer and pro-democracy activist Chokri Belaïd, FIDH pays tribute to the courage and resistance of Besma Khalfaoui, member of the Association tunisienne des femmes démocrates (ATFD).

Those who, in Tunisia and elsewhere, have praised Besma’s response to the murder of her husband are right. Her response to this odious crime has been to remain upright, addressing his assassin with her arm raised in a sign of victory. Yes, they have killed Chokri Belaïd. No, they have not won.

Those who, over the past weeks, have seen in the images of Besma, a symbol of the “Tunisian exception” are right. Because beyond the personal courage that has kept her standing during this tragic time, these pictures embody the history of Tunisian women more than any words. The women of Tunisia are proud of their “exception” and will continue to defend it.

Besma Khalfaoui has the same age as the Tunisian feminist movement. She was only ten in the mid-1970s, when a group of women, taking up the torch of generations before them, met at the Tahar Haddad Club in Tunis to discuss how to increase respect for the rights of women in Tunisia. Since that first meeting, the movement has been unstoppable. In 1989, the Association tunisienne des femmes Démocrates (ATFD), of which we are proud to be members and which is now a member of FIDH, gained legal recognition, giving solid foundations to the feminist movement in Tunisia.

ATFD has never feared using that word. While the term continues to provoke stigma from those who are afraid of it, being a feminist means being in favour of total equality between the sexes; it means refusing to accept that biological differences generate sexual and social discrimination; it means believing that the principles of human dignity and equality before the law transcend cultural differences; it means refusing to accept that women are treated as inferior in the name of any religion.

ATFD has stood firmly by these principles, even in Tunisia’s darkest hours, refusing to allow the dictator, Ben Ali, to use the women’s cause to advance his own. Many ATFD activists have paid the price. Today, as Tunisia negotiates one of the most difficult periods of its history, Besma – in the spirit of her forebears – has demonstrated once again that the courage of one woman can embody a people’s thirst for freedom.

Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President
Sophie Bessis, FIDH Deputy Secretary General
Khadija Cherif, FIDH Secretary General

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