Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


French Studies

Reader 1

Fazia Aitel

Reader 2

Nathalie Rachlin


This thesis explains recent accounts of discrimination and cutbacks in reproductive health spaces in Tunisia. Complicating dominant analyses, which attribute these events to the post-revolution political atmosphere which has allowed the proliferation of islamic extremism, I interpret these instances as a manifestation of a deeply rooted stigma against sexually active single women. I trace this stigma’s inception to the contradictory way that Habib Bourguiba conceptualized modernity after independence, and the responsibility he assigned to Tunisian women to embody that modernity. This responsibility remains salient today, and is putting Tunisian women in an increasingly untenable and vulnerable position.

After independence, Bourguiba instated a series of policies and programs aimed at demonstrating the modernity of Tunisia. The success of Tunisia’s modernization was determined, and continues to be determined by the woman’s social transformation and embodiment of modernist values. Bourguiba’s modernist platform was constituted not only by typically ‘Western’ values, such as economic prosperity, family planning, education, and gender equality, but was also deeply informed by the islamic and cultural values that hold the woman’s primordial role to be mother and wife, and expect her to abstain from sex until marriage. The modern Tunisia woman thus became expected to both obtain higher levels of education and actively participate in the public sphere, and also uphold virtues around premarital virginity, marriage, and motherhood. Her fulfillment of these tasks marked the independent nation’s progress and modernity.

Today, as more and more Tunisian women are increasingly empowered to fulfill one facet of their obligation and attend university, participate in the labor market, and make use of the growing contraceptive technologies available to them, they become more likely to postpone marriage and engage in premarital sexual relations. These latter behaviors transgress the second facet of the woman’s obligation, and threaten the very integrity of the modern nation. Women are thus becoming more and more subjected to societal punishment — stigma — which manifests in many forms, including discrimination in reproductive health care spaces.