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Amplifying Citizen Priorities in Tunisia

This fall ushered in Tunisia’s third government in less than a year, led by its eighth prime minister since the revolution in 2011. The new government now faces the massive task of managing COVID-19 while also addressing the country’s looming economic crisis. To add to these challenges, it will also need to garner the support of citizens — who have little confidence in their parliament — and overcome years of dysfunction to address citizens’ needs. Recognizing the vital importance of improving government accountability, the International Republican Institute (IRI) has partnered  with civil society organizations (CSOs) on the ground across Tunisia to amplify popular demands and empower citizens to advocate for more responsive governance.

According to IRI polling, 75 percent of Tunisians believe that the parliament is doing “nothing” to address the needs of average citizens, while 62 percent feel the same about government ministries. Recognizing the danger that low public trust poses to Tunisia’s democratic development, IRI’s civil society partners are stepping in to shine a light on citizen priorities and connect local communities to their governments.

With the Al Hadhkin project, IRI civil society partner the Tunisian Union of Agriculture and Fisheries (UTAP) met with rural youth and women to identify and better advocate for their key priorities. To ensure their concerns were heard in government, UTAP facilitated meetings between local officials and marginalized groups on the specific priorities identified. After the discussions, authorities in several municipalities, including in rural Jendouba and Mahdia, told UTAP staff that they had never even had women attend their meetings before. The participants, many of whom were illiterate and most of whom had never attended municipal meetings or events, were able to communicate their grievances and directly impact their local government.

Using a similar approach, IRI partner WeYouth trained citizen journalists from each of Tunisia’s 24 governorates in video editing, journalistic standards and civic education, which was followed by journalist-led focus group discussions with citizens in several localities. The findings from these discussions informed the creation of social media videos to educate citizens on issues and advocate for solutions, covering topics such as the underfunding of parasports, the difficulties facing LGBTQ+ individuals and the need to develop the ecotourism industry.

IRI partner Tunisian Youth Leaders (TYL) harnessed the power of social media to empower young Tunisians to advocate directly with Parliament. Leveraging Facebook to reach young people who consume much of their news via social media, TYL produced short informational videos in Tunisian dialect explaining parliamentary functions and procedures. To reinforce its digital approach, TYL also conducted a series of discussions and debates that delved deeper into these procedures and their connection to advocacy work. Likewise, Tunisian Youth Impact (TYI) provided extensive training to a group of 21 young activists to develop their understanding of the mechanisms within Tunisia’s legislature and of advocacy work more generally. Using these skills, the youth activists drafted several policy papers on issues important to them that were then submitted to Parliament, government officials and relevant ministries and institutions.

IRI partner CSOs are fostering a culture of accountability and engagement by helping Tunisians translate their concerns into advocacy work. Even amid the uncertainty of COVID-19, organizations like UTAP, WeYouth, TYI, TYL and others continue to empower Tunisians to voice their demands, while also adapting to a virtual environment in creative and innovative ways.