Sihem Badi, the Minister of Tunisia’s Women and Family Affairs has raised a great deal of controversy in the government with her fiery statements—there was even a vote to withdraw confidence from her in the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) this past March. 

Sihem Badi, the Minister of Tunisia’s Women and Family Affairs has raised a great deal of controversy in the government with her fiery statements—there was even a vote to withdraw confidence from her in the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) this past March. 

In the period extending from 1992 until 2008, Badi lived in exile in France after she was sentenced to two years in prison because of her activism as a student in the Faculty of Medicine of Tunis.  She is a member of the Congress Party for the Republic (the party of President Marzouki,).  On December 24, 2011 she was appointed as Minister of Women and Family Affairs in the Hamadi Jebali government and she remained in the same position in the government of Ali Larayedh. Despite the controversy, she still holds this position today.

Minister Badi, you are one of the government members raising lots of eyebrows because of your statements. Most recently you made contentious statements in Cairo about the situation in Egypt; not to mention your picture in Rabea al-Adawiya Square. 

Until now, no official body has sent me any letter on the backdrop of what I said or on the backdrop of my stances. I was in Egypt at an event organized to select the best research in the field of women.

As for my statements, all freedom fighters and political activist resent the egregious crimes against humanity committed in Egypt. For me, there is nothing that could justify the violence taking place in this country. There is an acknowledgment that the Muslim Brotherhood abused the administration of the transitional period in Egypt, but this does not give anybody the right to kill them and exclude them.

What happened in Egypt is a coup and I said that the situation is not moving forward. This is my position and I thank God because freedom of expression was guaranteed after the revolution. Audacity sometimes causes a lot of problems. I always say what I believe in straightforwardly and without any beauty powders. I take the full responsibility of what I say even if this will prevent me from entering Egypt or if it leads to removing me from my position in the government.

You have been accused of financial corruption? How do you explain these accusations? 

When you are a strong opponent and your enemies want to fight you but they do not have enough reasons to defeat you, they resort to ridiculous issues. Now we are approaching the end of the transitional phase and I will soon leave this ministry.

There was no criticism about my performance or on the ministry’s programs because the parties that can criticise us are our partners and we let them participate with us in all our programs and in our work. I consider this a success that should be appreciated.    

Moreover, these parties failed to find evidence to convict me of having relations with the former regime such as a picture with the old ruling party or any other evidence. In this period, everybody was watching the performance of the government. I believe that we do not have the right to make mistakes because any mistake will be considered as an early political suicide. 

The opponents, when they fail in finding logical reasons, they resort to creating baseless, deceitful and dirty issues. 

Unfortunately, I spent days denying these lies in the news, in newspapers and on radio stations instead of devoting this time to doing my work at the ministry, which requires lots of efforts.

For example, I was accused of wasting the state’s fuel and that I was getting more fuel than the quantity I need. This is nonsense because I am a minister who continuously moves around in inland areas.

A picture of you was published with the president of the republic when he visited your family and there was another picture of you with a journalist who is close to the Ennahda Movement in one of the pensions. 

Media and pictures is a very important topic. Journalists should know, in addition to their right to access information, their duties. In my picture at one of the pensions, together with a Tunisian journalist near the pool, I was not alone. My daughters were with me and one of them is 11 years old. I believe that it is not allowed to take pictures of children without the permission of their parents. What happened is a crime against my daughter who was badly hurt when the picture was circulated on social sites with insults and curses. She cried a lot and she was very upset but I promised her to file a lawsuit against those responsible for this incident.

Some say that you are still living under the cover of your party as evident in your statements and that you act as if you are not a minister for all Tunisians and the Tunisian state.

This is what they want to see. In my latest statements during a recent popular gathering at the Habib Bourguiba Avenue in the capital city, which caused an uproar, I was supporting legitimacy, the legitimacy that came with elections. It is just natural to find people who are not happy with my performance and my statements and to find others who oppose them and who consider that I do not represent them. This is a natural thing to happen in all democracies.

There is a prolonged mutual hostility between your ministry and some women’s organizations active in the field of women such as the Organization of Democratic Women and the National Union of Tunisian Women (UNFT).  How do you explain this hostility?

The Democratic Women’s Organization was present with us in several programs such as the Elimination of Violence against Women seminar. It had serious interventions and we recognize its important struggles and what it had achieved for the Tunisian women in the era of Ben Ali.

Regarding the National Union of Tunisian Women, we as a neutral executive authority, receive complaints and numerous petitions about theft and manipulation of public funds during the reign of Ben Ali. We feel that this organization has so many problems and there are many lawsuits against it and against its old structures in the court.

Although the new structure of this organization is seeking reform and the provision of alternatives, we have opted to leave the issue to the judiciary first and to the prime ministry to decide on licensing this organization or not. 

These organizations and others are worried about the possibility that Tunisian women will lose their rights under the Islamic government.

Even if there are those who want to take away these rights from women, the MPs and especially female MPs and all spectrum of civil society will not remain silent.  Until now there should be no fear of Tunisian women losing their legal rights. At least now, the concept of full equality between men and women is enshrined in the Constitution. 

Now we are in the process of working on election laws so that women may not be absented or absent from contributing to the management of public affairs.

There is a committee composed of our ministry, the ministries of social affairs and justice and the Centre for Judicial Studies and Research and there are many parties involved in reviewing laws that still contain gender discrimination.

The Minister of the Interior shocked the nation by announcing the return of many Tunisian women from Syria who were coming home pregnant after practicing sexual jihad. Can you comment on this?

Tunisians were surprised to hear about this information, as it is alien to our society and our traditions. Immediately after this announcement, the Ministry created a crisis cell in order to help the girls who experienced this.

But we were surprised again because we did not receive one complaint about the existence of this phenomenon sparked by Interior Minister Ben Jeddo. He himself said the incidence of this phenomenon fell in number after he said it was in the hundreds or dozens and now says is limited.

I believe that the issue of sex jihad was intentionally amplified by the Syrian regime and is also funded by the media or its associated ideology.

We conclude that the Syrian regime may be the source of this and wanted to tarnish the image of Tunisia and Jihad, through some of its media and its subsidiaries and that the subject appeared in many of the Tunisian media and world without verification. In spite of all this, we are ready to bear all the responsibilities for these girls (should it exist).

Childhood in Tunisia today is facing several unprecedented challenges.   

Children are affected by the general situation of the country, especially when there is poverty, marginalization, unemployment, poor infrastructure, lack of respect for laws on children and a fragile security situation. The first to be affected by these conditions are children. 

Many families, under these difficult conditions, are abandoning their children because of poverty and these children are being raised in orphanages instead of living a normal life with their families. A big part of this issue will be resolved when the conditions in the country improve.

What about kindergartens, which are in a state of chaos and where did the ministry get in reforming this sector?

Regarding the chaos which has dominated this sector from February 2013 until today, we have monitored 700 cases. There are the kindergartens for which we have given them time to rectify their conditions and there are those which we have directly closed for many reasons, but mainly because they are not abiding by the conditions’ booklet or because of the improper programs and education provided for children. In order to ensure good supervision of their performance, we have increased the number of observers and doubled it and we also established the pedagogical advisor plan.

What about the spread of Koranic schools?

This topic was the focus of our attention. Some have accused us of fighting religious education, but we tried to make them understand that the diversity of education and of the educational curricula and programs is something we welcome and it falls within the democratic education and the creation of grounds for competition in this sector.

We have no problem with the teaching of religion in kindergartens but they should abide by the conditions’ booklet and the registration voucher given to the institutions, which puts them under our control and thus we have the right to monitor them.  

There are many associations created after the revolution and many of them are active in the field of early childhood. We have warned them all that they should abide by the laws and regulations of our ministry and this is why we informed them to abide by the conditions’ booklet. Moreover, we prepared capacity building sessions for them in order to put them under our control but it is the right of these associations to add some religious, artistic or language related activities. This is the right of all kindergartens who abide by the conditions’ booklet.

What about the three-year-old child who was raped by the kindergarten guard?

This issue has raised lots of anger and there were many opinions voiced. What I can confirm is that the judiciary found the guard innocent because it was proved that he has a disability and he cannot rape a child. I want to confirm that a member of the child’s family has committed this heinous act.