Toiling in Tunisia

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Women do most of the backbreaking work in Tunisia, while the men sit in cafes. Giovanni Cocco

It’s been nearly three years since a revolution deposed Tunisian dictator Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali, and more than two since the country’s first free elections were held. But for Tunisia’s thousands of female workers, nothing has changed.

Almost all of Tunisia’s agricultural output is the result of hard labor done by women -- they account for 70 to 90 percent of the country’s farming workforce -- who see very little of the wealth derived from their efforts. A woman in Tunisia may receive around five dollars for an entire 10-hour workday, despite playing a crucial role in the country’s agricultural industry, and in fighting poverty and hunger.

The outside world pictures Tunisia’s female revolutionaries as bloggers, demonstrators, and activists. But it is the country’s female workers who are doing the hard, unsung labor, with little help from their husbands. 

Text by Marta Bellingreri

02_tunisia_women_laborers In northwest Tunisia, women work in the countryside near the city of Jendouba. Giovanni Cocco

03_tunisia_women_laborers In northwest Tunisia, women work in the countryside near the city of Jendouba. Giovanni Cocco

04_tunisia_women_laborers Planting strawberries that will be exported to foreign markets, these laborers earn less than $5.30 for an eight-hour day. Their recruiter, center, checks their work. Giovanni Cocco

05_tunisia_women_laborers Two women, bundles of wood strapped to their backs, take a break. Not only do women labor in the fields, but they must work at home too, doing tasks like collecting firewood. Giovanni Cocco

06_tunisia_women_laborers On their way home, these women virtually disappear behind the bundles of wood strapped to their backs. Giovanni Cocco

07_tunisia_women_laborers Hadda, sitting on her bed, is the sole breadwinner for a family of five. Her husband is sick, and her three children are unemployed. Giovanni Cocco

08_tunisia_women_laborers The mother-in-law of a woman named Hania stands in front of her house in a neighborhood in Jendouba. Her family shares a room of around 215 square feet, and the roof is close to collapsing. In the hot summers they are forced to sleep outside, and in the winters, when it rains, the roof leaks. Hania earns just over $3 a day as a laborer, and her husband (right), suffers from emotional problems. Giovanni Cocco

09_tunisia_women_laborers Seven people will share this meager meal. Most laborers in Tunisia eat bread with olive oil and fruit, and sometimes pasta. Giovanni Cocco

10_tunisia_women_laborers Laborers in the countryside near the city of Jendouba. Giovanni Cocco

11_tunisia_women_laborers Catching a ride back home to their villages, these women have spent the day working on a farm owned by Nizar, who’s driving the truck. At right is Sawa, age 30. Giovanni Cocco

12_tunisia_women_laborers Women who don’t have anyone to care for their children are forced to bring them to work with them. Giovanni Cocco

13_tunisia_women_laborers Collecting firewood in the Ain Draham forest, near the city of Jendouba. Giovanni Cocco

14_tunisia_women_laborers Men sit in a Jendouba café. Giovanni Cocco

15_tunisia_women_laborers A street scene in the city of Jendouba. Giovanni Cocco

16_tunisia_women_laborers Sharing the close quarters of the back of their boss’s pick-up truck, these women are on their way to work. Giovanni Cocco

17_tunisia_women_laborers Nizar (in the near distance, pointing) examines the work done by his farmhands. Giovanni Cocco

18_tunisia_women_laborers In the Ain Draham forest, a watchman stands by as women collect firewood. Giovanni Cocco

19_tunisia_women_laborers Stooped low to the ground, three women weed this potato field in the countryside of northwest Tunisia. Giovanni Cocco

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