'Voices from the Border' is a filmmaking project with 16 young women from the border districts of Ghomrassen and Bir Lahmar, in the marginalised governorate of Tataouine, Tunisia.
This region is known for the immigration of its young men to France due to the absence of development and employment opportunities. Women in those two border districts suffer from school dropout rates that are often double the national rate and high unemployment rates, leaving women with precarious employment options.
"In Ghomrassen we have many emigrants. These emigrants are all young men…These emigrants have left their elderly parents, here in the country. They have no one to look after them," says Dalila Al-Kharashani, Director of Lina Life Care Center which provides health and social care to the elderly.
"Young people will wonder, 'What will happen when I get my degree? I will have no opportunity, no prospect of employment that will reward my efforts and my expenses.' So a lot of young people, including girls, are looking towards illegal immigration," says Hayat Souissi.
Through the eyes of women
Six short documentaries were created as part of this filmmaking project and were combined into one to highlight the perceptions of young women around issues concerning security and insecurity, the economy and their aspirations for the future.
"We have many examples of girls who are successful in many fields, whether in politics or society … My advice to any girl is that she must strive, be determined, and persevere to achieve her dreams," says Maryam Hosni, graduate in languages.
In a region regarded as underdeveloped and where women have little opportunities to engage with the wider public on their perceptions of insecurity, the project allowed us to work with young women using the unconventional method of filmmaking in areas where interaction has mainly been centred around artisanal training.
Previous experience of working with young people in Thala, Kasserine, on the documentary 'Stories of youth from Thala' has shown us the impact and extent of which filmmaking can be an impactful and powerful medium to address complex socio-economic issues and bring forward the views of citizens on these issues. Our aim was, therefore, to use filmmaking again to help bring to the forefront the viewpoints of women who are well-placed to portray their grievances, needs and recommendations to local authorities. This allowed them to start changing the narratives about the lives of women in this region and showcase a point of view not always heard.
Before, women here were disregarded, with a certain vision and ideal projected onto them but that vision has really changed.
- Fatiha ben Ayad from Ghomrassen.
"My position as Mayor is more a responsibility than a social status. It is a responsibility that gives you the obligation to serve with all your strength, to achieve something for the region, to be the first female mayor, and to be remembered and be successful," says Olfa Kaddidi, Mayor of Ghomrassen.
Over the years, while working in the region, we noticed that young women held particular views of their region and were eager to share their narratives on camera and more widely in their community. None of the filmmakers had held a camera before, put a story together or thought about how to frame a scene. However, with some basic training from professional filmmakers, these documentaries show that these women have strong artistic potential and more importantly, show an in-depth understanding of the local context, the challenges the community faces and potential policy recommendations that would help solve them.
"It’s the same for everybody in Tunisia, everyone suffers from unemployment. We study, we graduate, we get tired, and then we find ourselves unemployed. This is how it goes in Tunisia," says Samira Al-Sakraafi.
"It's the first time the youth of this region have united beyond their family ties and their differences. They gathered to defend the rights of this region," says Khafa Bouhaash, member of the El Kamor coordination.
The project started in March 2020 and all six films had to be finalised in the space of a week because of the COVID-19 outbreak within the governorate and the impending lockdown measures being put in place. While the pandemic changed the work plan for each group working on their film, it also created a strong sense of collaboration between the women, who were keen to finalise the filming of their scenes and interviews before the lockdown – so that they would not lose the opportunity to share their messages. Assia shares her advise to women:
I want to tell every woman: 'You are strong and beautiful. You are the pillar of society. From weakness you can draw strength.'
As you watch the film, you will see that it tackles a number of realities from the viewpoint of women, including issues such as irregular emigration, employment opportunities, the El Kamour social movement*, violence and political engagement.
10 years after the Tunisian revolution and in a time where Tataouine is potentially at the cusp of a third wave of protests about the socio-economic situation of the region, this film looks at what this all means for the lives of people, through the eyes of women.
Watch the full documentary:
* The El Kamour social movement was launched in 2017 by young people calling for development and employment opportunities in the oil fields that exist in the region. While the protests came to halt during the confinement, protests quickly erupted after the deconfinement with youth calling that the state respects its promises in the negotiated deal.