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Professor Karima Bennoune Travels to Tunisia as Invited Observer for Oct. 23 Historic Constituent Assembly Elections

October 21, 2011 – 

Professor Karima Bennoune of Rutgers School of Law–Newark is participating in Gender Election Monitoring Mission Tunis, a first-of-its-kind election observation mission organized, headed, and run exclusively by women during Tunisia’s historic constituent assembly elections, which will be held on Sunday, October 23, 2011.

Bennoune in Tunisia
Professor Bennoune (second from right) and Head of Mission Sabra Bano (right), meet with candidates and national observers in Bizerte, Tunisia.

“The purpose of the mission,” Bennoune explained, “is to focus on and assess the participation of women – and obstacles to that participation – in this critical step in Tunisia’s transition to democracy. The ability of women to participate in full equality in this process is a crucial pre-condition to a transition which guarantees, and advances, their enjoyment of human rights.” 

The constituent assembly will be responsible for drafting a new constitution. “Moreover,” said Bennoune, “these elections are recognized as an important indicator – and symbol – of how the post Arab Spring transitions can and will develop. Therefore, the successful participation of women here can have profound significance throughout the region.”

The mission is the brainchild of Sabra Bano, director of Gender Concerns International, a Dutch-based women’s rights organization, who heads the mission. It is being carried out in close partnership between Gender Concerns International and local human rights groups, including the Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH), the Association of Tunisian Democratic Women (ATFD), and the Association of Tunisian Women for Research and Development (AFTURD), and with support from the Dutch Foreign Ministry. “Tunisian and international observers – all women – are working hard side-by-side,” Bennoune observed. 

In her capacity as an expert for the mission, Professor Bennoune has travelled across Tunisia meeting with elections officials, diverse women candidates, including women heads of electoral lists, women’s rights activists, and women who took part in Tunisia’s revolution. She is also participating in the training of observers. On election day, Bennoune will observe voting in polling stations along with Tunisian observers. Mary Orsini, a Rutgers Law School student in the Class of 2013, is providing remote technical and research support to the mission.

“I cannot sufficiently express how honored I am as an Arab-American international lawyer of North African heritage to be taking part in this mission with international and Tunisian colleagues,” Bennoune said. The author of the forthcoming book A More Courageous Politics: Muslims Confront Fundamentalism, Professor Bennoune teaches courses on international law and international human and women’s human rights.