Election of female mayor in Tunis shows that progress marches on

The strides being made by Tunisia may help inspire women across the region
Souad Abderrahim, 54, flashes the V-sign after being elected as mayor of the Tunisian capital, Tunis, Tuesday, July 3, 2018. Souad Abderrahim of the Ennahdha party won the post in the second round of voting by the municipal council; the first time a woman holds the post. (AP Photo)

Tunisia's standing as an example of moderate Islam and women's rights in the Arab world was reaffirmed on Tuesday as its capital, Tunis, elected its first female mayor.

Souad Abderrahim, a former lawyer and women’s rights activist, will now focus on fulfilling her campaign promises to clean up the sprawling metropolis and make it more green. But her success is an important sign for a country blighted by unemployment and inflation that progress marches on.

Similarly, for the wider region it is a moment to savour, reaffirming the important strides towards gender equality being made elsewhere.

Speaking on the campaign trail, Ms Abderrahim said her party’s female candidates offered “a message aimed at reassuring the women of my country”. She will be aware that their significance stretches far beyond Tunisia’s borders.

Ever since independence from France in 1956 – when principles of gender equality were enshrined in its constitution – Tunisia has pioneered women’s rights.

Today it shows. In recent municipal elections, 47 per cent of elected candidates across the country were women. These results are empowering, encouraging women and girls in Tunisia and beyond to aspire to the very highest positions.

As fractures continue to emerge in Western societies, Tunisia offers a signal that it is intent on modernising and unifying.

It is not alone in making strides. Belgium's Dominique Mineur will soon take up her post as the first female resident ambassador to Saudi Arabia. It is another boost for Saudi women, where a decades-long driving ban was lifted last month as part of the kingdom's progressive Vision 2030 plan.

Ms Mineur was formerly ambassador to the UAE, which was ranked as a regional leader in gender equality by the World Economic Forum in 2016. Today there are nine women in the UAE cabinet, among them the world’s youngest minister.

Certainly, there is still work to be done. But the examples being set by Tunisia, the UAE and others are likely to empower women across the region.