Interview with Marwa Ben Abdallah
“Change is the factor that motivates me most, but it can be very slow,” says Marwa Ben Abdallah. During Marwa’s two years at CIPE, she has seen first-hand how slow yet meaningful change can be. As CIPE’s Tunisia Office Program Coordinator, she helps business associations in Tunisia and Morocco become stronger advocates for economic reform and provide better services to help members grow their businesses. Growing up in Tunisia, she joined CIPE after studying Cross-Cultural Studies at the Higher University of Languages in Tunis and working for a variety of international and local organizations, where she acquired knowledge on economic reform, public-private dialogue, and advocacy. Here, Marwa tells us more about the challenges of her work and what keeps her motivated.
What motivates you and drives the work you do at CIPE?
Change. Change is the factor that motivates me most, but it can be very slow. Sometimes it takes a long time to witness progress, but when we look at our partners and how they are evolving, it’s such an incredible feeling that pushes me to go forward. The environment in Tunisia is becoming harsher, but as long as we are making the slightest difference, it will keep motivating me.
Who are your role models, and why do they inspire you?
There is a Moroccan women’s business association called EntrElles that we’ve been working with at CIPE. The group of ladies leading it has been a source of inspiration to me. Their passion, fierceness and engagement to represent women’s small businesses in their region in amazing – they have been extremely inspiring and motivating for me.
What has been your proudest accomplishment at CIPE?
I haven’t been at CIPE for a long time – as a fellow and a staff member, it’s been less than two years. But my proudest moments here are when I report back to my team about our partners’ accomplishments. Usually, I’m in direct contact with the partners and learning about their progress or an action they took to improve the business environment makes me very proud. It’s not just the success of the partners – it’s everyone’s effort. The CIPE team and our partners combine to achieve these results.
Why is it important to represent and empower women leaders?
Women are substantial parts of the workforce and general population. I once read in Fortune 500 that companies with high percentages of women on their boards notably outperform companies that don’t. In the MENA region, we say that women are half of the society. If only one half is leading, there will be a huge imbalance and we miss out on a lot.
What progress have you seen on women’s rights and empowerment throughout your lifetime?
I think Tunisia is known in the Arab world as a country that’s very considerate of women’s rights and empowerment. Yet some progress has been seen on paper but applied less in real life. Throughout my lifetime, I’ve seen the rise of civil society, especially after the revolution in 2011. Civil society has played an important role in communicating to women what rights they have. Now more women are aware of the rights they can claim, which is an important step.
What is the biggest issue women face in your country?
In Tunisia, there is still a barrier between women and top leadership positions. Even though we have the first Arab woman as head of government, there is still a lot of work to do to achieve gender equality in high-level decision-making positions.
How do you see the future of women’s empowerment in Tunisia? What do you think are the top priorities for change?
I believe the future of women’s empowerment in Tunisia is headed down the right path, but only if the civil society remains strong and is not weakened by any kind of political intention. Education should play a fundamental role in developing a generation that believes in equality between genders. Additionally, leadership positions and top executive positions should not be monopolized by men. When women become leaders, they provide a different set of skills, imaginative perspectives, and structural and cultural differences that drive effective solutions.