In the elite Bizerta public school in Tunisia, only girls have a dress code. Boys don’t. Boys can wear whatever they like. The girls are obliged to wear the smock, a loose-fitting and long gilet, otherwise they are sent home. One morning, instead of turning up for class wearing the regulation navy blue smock, a defiant group of adolescent girls came to school in white T-shirts instead, demanding an “end to discrimination”.
A Terrible Message To Young Girls
18-year-old Sewar Tebourbi, along with her batchmates, took to social media to vent out their anger against the discrimination being carried out against them. She said the girls agreed to take collective action from the following day “to demand that this discrimination must cease”. Dozens duly turned up for class wearing white. Several boys did the same, in solidarity with their female classmates.
Monia Ben Jemia, head of the Association of Democratic Women of Tunisia, an independent feminist group, called the smock “a terrible message” to young girls, implying that their bodies can have a disruptive effect on their peers. The original idea of the school’s uniform is to remove differences between rich and poor, yet the students have raised the question why it only must be worn by the female students of the school.
Contradicting Their Belief That Men And Women Are Equal
Tunisia is a pioneer in North Africa and the Middle East in the field of women’s rights. Since 2014, the country’s new constitution called for equality between men and women. To have a rule that disagrees with this hopeful change in constitution is, to say the least, hypocritical. It shows that the conservative and traditional approach to a woman ‘s body and her dignity still have not subdued.
For Bizerte’s regional education commissioner Nabil Smadhi, discussion is the way ahead: “It is time to address this issue in a national dialogue, involving the educational ministry, parents, trade unions and civil society.” He adds that “this agitation is effective, not just in the public high school but in most establishments in Bizerte and in several high schools [across the country]”.
Meanwhile, Siwar Tebourbi and her friends still come dressed in defiance of their uniform to inspire future generations to fight for equal rights.