Women constitute 3.2% of Tunisia’s prison population, according to October 2021 data from the General Committee of Prisons and Rehabilitation (CGPR). The statistic is cited in a study carried out by the association Beity and Lawyers Without Borders (LWOB) and entitled « No way out: Study on the social exclusion of incarcerated women in Tunisia ». Presented in April 2022, the report details the conditions inside prisons for women in Tunisia.

The low number of female prisoners relative to their male counterparts is a trend which reinforces the marginalization of incarcerated women. Historically and still today, the study observes, these women are perceived as witches, or as being hysterical. Female criminality is seen as « exceptional » in comparison with criminality among males.

« Defense of the sexual public order explains this dualism in the criminal treatment of violence committed by women and the fluctuation of sanctions between severe, clement or indulgent, according to whether or not the crime fits within gender stereotypes. Even more than the murder of a husband by his wife which shakes patriarchy to its core, what society simply cannot tolerate is parricide, then infanticide and any kind of sexuality considered « anormal », or which disrupts the purity of filiation (adultery committed by the wife) or procreation and passing on the family name, like homosexuality ».

Histories of instability and violence

Behind every incarcerated woman often hides a man who has pushed her into delinquency, or to purge a sentence in his stead. According to the study by Beity and LWOB, the logic behind this trend is patriarchy. Beity’s legal coordinator Halima Jouini describes the classic mechanism that is set into motion when a young woman loses her virginity and can no longer remain under her parents’ roof: « She runs away and falls into delinquency, even though she was the initial victim of stigmatization and social condemnation for a question of individual liberty ».