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Safia Trabelsi

Tunisia • Communication and Partnership Officer, UN Women

MA-COEX '10

The Impact of Heller Alumni around the World: Tunisia

Safia Trabelsi returned home from Heller prepared to help with the transition to democracy.

Fall 2011

The wave of revolutions that swept the Arab world this past spring started in the flatlands of Tunisia -- and Safia Trabelsi was there.

A native of Tunisia, the smallest country in North Africa, Trabelsi returned home after graduating from the Heller School. Fluent in Arabic, French and English, she found that her communication skills were invaluable during the revolution. She helped cover the events for Al Jazeera International and CBS News and worked on a documentary for Al Jazeera English. Trabelsi's mother is from Egypt. "So I am a mix of Tunisian and Egyptian cultures, countries of the Arab Spring," she says.

A corrupt and ruthless dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, ruled Tunisia for 23 years; he was overthrown by a popular uprising in early 2011. Armed with her new education in coexistence and conflict, Trabelsi felt well prepared to help with the country's democratic transition.

Today, she is a communication and partnership officer for U.N. Women, an organization focused on promoting women's leadership and political participation. Founded in 2010, U.N. Women is the United Nations' entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women.

"It is a huge challenge to help shape a real democracy where men and women can participate equally and effectively to build the democratic institution," she says of her work in post-revolution Tunisia. "This is a lifetime opportunity to work with women's organizations throughout the country to push for equality and parity between the genders and to build capacity and support of this movement during a crucial time." Trabelsi came to Brandeis on a Fulbright International Student Scholarship. What she learned at Heller prepared her well for her current work.

"It was a great international experience to find people coming from all over the world with experience in development or conflict, and that was a great exchange opportunity," she says. "We had the chance to work with professors who had outstanding backgrounds and work experience."

In supporting the needs and efforts of Tunisia's fledgling women's movement, Trabelsi tracks the progress of women's political participation and the laws and actions taken by the transitional government in support of women.

"The biggest challenge today is to succeed with a common effort toward parity in the next elected council and to have women holding high positions," she says.

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