Youssra is 25 years old and lives in Tataouine, located in the South of Tunisia and 6 hours of travelling away from the capital. Called “door to the desert”, this city overlooks sandy mountains scattered among 15th- and 16th-century Berber villages.
History and tradition have always accompanied Youssra’s life. Like other young women from the same area, she did not have a place in which she could meet other girls of the same age apart from her home, until a few months ago. In Tataouine, meeting places like cafés are almost exclusively frequented by men, who are the only people with a right to relax, drink a cup of tea and enjoy the company of other peers. This was an undisputed tradition until October 2019, when Youssra inaugurated Al Maqam (sacred place in Arabic), a tearoom without gender limitations at its entrance. Al Maqam is a social and cultural space which does not discriminate but invites people to meet each other and share their life experiences. At Al Maqam you can play, browse the Internet, listen to live music and taste typical products. The atmosphere is friendly and not disturbed by cigarette smoke.
Many women from neighbouring villages can refresh and rest there, while waiting for public transport, which does not have a fixed schedule.
“I am proud of this space, which has now become a refuge for women. We are changing the mindset of the people of Tataouine. This took a lot of courage, since this sector is dominated by men”, said Youssra. She has now become an inspiration for many women, who see her as a symbol of redemption and ambition. In fact, the path to women’s professional fulfilment is still filled with obstacles in this area. “If they run a business of their own, they have to work twice as hard as men to succeed. If they are employees, their employers exploit them with heavy workloads and low wages”, stated Selma Mkadmini, treasurer of the Italian NGO ARCS that helped create the tearoom. Youssra is one of the faces of the TER-RE project, co-funded by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation. Over four years, the agency has enabled hundreds of women who work as agricultural producers, artisans and natural cosmetics experts to create five cooperatives, improve the quality of their work and find a market for their products. This project brought the brand “TATAOUI” to life. It is not only a commercial label awarded by the Tunisian government in 2018, but also a success of tradition, innovation and female empowerment.
Youssra is just one woman among many others who demand social and financial inclusion. Youssra is a Tunisian woman who fights for real gender equality.