Community Updates

Community Voices: “We exist” – how one organization is raising awareness of Tunisia’s LGBTQ community

The Community Voices series highlights the work of our community — civil society organizations, governments, companies, human rights defenders, and startups — in the lead up to, during, and after RightsCon.

Mawjoudin is a Tunisian organization that provides LGBTQ individuals, allies and other marginalized groups with a safe space to express different identities, to share, discuss, and learn in “diversity-friendly” contexts. Ali Boussemli, the co-founder of Mawjoudin, describes how Mawjoudin transformed from a Facebook page for individuals to share posts and photos related to SOGIESC (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity & Expression and Sex Characteristics) rights into an organization that aims to raise awareness about SOGIESC related issues, including sexual and bodily rights.

In Arabic, Mawjoudin means “we exist” and the organization’s mission is dedicated to achieving that recognition in Tunisia. Through awareness raising, they seek to improve the well-being of the country’s LGBTQ community. The organization hosts a series of workshops and trainings around the country on capacity building, advocacy, human rights, and digital security with an emphasis on gender sensitivity. They also provides support through medical and psychological services, legal and digital aid, including a number the LGBTQ community can call.

In recent years, they have been leaders both online and offline for campaigns advocating for LGBTQ and marginalized individuals. These campaigns have led to the development of workshops educating participants about asylum and LGBTQ rights. These workshops highlight important support systems available within the Tunisian context.

One of Mawjoudin’s most exciting initiatives has been the creation of the Mawjoudin Queer Film Festival, an unprecedented screening program in Tunisia and North Africa, with hundreds of attendees. Already completing two editions and receiving international press coverage, the film festival focuses on the issue of non-normative gender and sexuality, confronting taboos and fighting against gender-based discrimination and repression.  

Mawjoudin’s next project is called LILO Connect, which will work to reach allies such as journalists, lawyers, judges, teachers, deputies and politicians to push for change in Tunisia, an exhaustive but important effort in a country that still criminalizes homosexuality.

There is hope on the horizon. The Commission on Individual Freedoms and Equality published a report on June 12, 2018. The commission proposed removing old laws that had long been used as tools of oppression. As a result, over 90 organizations and civil society groups issued a Pact for Equality and Individual Freedoms, calling for sexual freedom and gender orientation, as per Article 2 in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

Mawjoudin is leveraging RightsCon Tunis as a renewed opportunity to push for further change in Tunisia, as well as highlight the efforts of the local LGBTQ community. Ali looks forward to connecting with organizations from around the world for collaboration to strengthen their reach and momentum for change. You can check out their session challenging media bias in covering regional LGBTQ issues or visit them in the exhibition space of the RightsCon Community Village.

As one of our regional champions, Mawjoudin has been a trusted partner in how we are thinking about community safety and security for vulnerable groups. If you’re joining us at RightsCon and want to learn more about the environment for LGBTQ identifying communities traveling to and visiting Tunisia, please send us an email to [email protected] or [email protected] (encrypted) and we will be more than happy to share resources.

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