In Tunisia, a new femicide highlights the shortcomings of the law against violence against women

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When Wejdane Essbii, 33, receives a call from his brother on October 29 from their hometown of Le Kef in northwestern Tunisia, he does not immediately understand the drama that has just unfolded. “There was a fire in our sister’s house, you have to come”, Told him. This one, Wafa, a 40-year-old teacher, was beaten and burned alive by her ex-husband, whom she had just divorced four days earlier.

“The medical examiner told us that he hadn’t suffered any burns because he was apparently already unconscious from the beatings when he set him on fire.”explains Wejdane Essbii in a shaky voice, still unable to conceive “this unimaginable act”.

The family says they are not aware of the violence within this couple, parents of two teenagers. Wafa Essbii had announced a year before her her intention to divorce her husband, a customs official, but without giving any explanation. “She was very discreet and asked us to respect the fact that it was a private matter. I think she tried to preserve her children to the end.”insists his sister, a doctor from SAMU in Tunisia.

an emblematic case

This murder aroused a wave of anger among the Tunisian feminist organizations that organized a white march in Le Kef on Saturday, November 5. A tribute to the victim but also an expression of weariness at the deficiencies in the application of the law on violence against women, approved in 2017. In the Kef region, this is the third femicide in a year. In May 2021, the death of Refka Cherni at the hands of her husband when she had just filed a complaint for violence had sparked a nationwide protest.

read also “You withdraw the complaint or I’ll slaughter you”: in Tunisia, a femicide revives the debate on violence against women

Karima Brini, president of the local Women and Citizenship association in Le Kef and present at the November 5 march, which brought together around fifty women and a handful of men, laments the lack of change since the death of Refka Cherni. “There is always a problem in the application of the protection mechanisms provided by law”, she specifies. She admits that the case has, however, improved the prosecution’s responsiveness: “The Assistant Prosecutor quickly initiates provisional emergency protection measures and about 75% of the requests from victims that pass through us are processed,” she adds.

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