Acknowledging the threats of gender-based violence (GBV) and the pressing need to have well-trained lawyers to assist victims, the U.S. Embassy’s Assistance Unit worked with the American Bar Association Rule of Law (ABA ROLI) to implement the Safety and Women Advancement (SAWA) project to develop a network of lawyers to provide rapid legal assistance to women at low cost. ABA ROLI provided targeted training on the application of Tunisia’s anti-GBV law and protection measures for victims. The training helped the lawyers work more effectively with women centers and shelters throughout Tunisia, in exchange for a small honorarium covered by the SAWA project.
During the pandemic-induced confinement in spring 2020, SAWA personnel noted an increase in calls to the violence against women (VAW) hotline, and they found that 80% of those callers sought legal support. The project’s newly trained lawyers rose to the occasion and helped the victims obtain the protections the law provided. The network of lawyers also provided training and online resources for local government and civil society representatives to raise awareness about GBV in their respective communities.
Additionally, as a response to the increasing numbers of GBV victims during the pandemic, the SAWA project worked with the Ministry of Women, Family, Children, and Senior Citizens (MoWA) to extend the working hours of the VAW toll-free hotline to a 24-hour, seven days a week operation. SAWA also better equipped the call centers by providing additional human resources, capacity building, and technological equipment.
While the SAWA project ended in March 2021, the U.S. Embassy remains committed to advancing human rights and supporting the Tunisian government to combat GBV and support women victims of violence. Hence, the Assistance Unit launched in October 2021, the new “Tunisia Supporting the Inclusion of Vulnerable Communities (IDMEJ)” project with Humanity and Inclusion (HI). HI will work with MoWA to empower GBV victims by supporting victim shelters and women centers, improving the implementation of Law 58, granting victims better access to legal aid and other support services.