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Mrs. Leila Ben Ali's interview to Lebanese "Assayad" magazine.

CARTHAGE, Dec. 13, 2010 (TAP) - First Lady Leila Ben Ali, chairwoman of the Arab Women Organisation (AWO), gave an interview to Lebanese "Assayad" magazine in its weekly issue NA 3449, of December 10, 2010.In this interview, the First Lady of Tunisia analysed the outcome of the Arab Women Organisation's Third Congress and spoke of her contribution to humanitarian social action in Tunisia, particularly through "Basma" Association for Promotion of Employment for the Disabled and "Saida" Association for Fight against Cancer.

In the introductory text, journalist Foutine Mhanna Saad, who conducted the interview, highlighted the significant change in AWO's performance during the presidency of Mrs. Leila Ben Ali, whom she characterised as "initiator of good works in several and various fields."

Thanks to her devotion, efforts and activism in serving humankind, as a whole, and women, more particularly, she underlined that Tunisia's First Lady is today "an example worth following, a success model, and the symbol of a distinguished lady."

Here is the full text of the interview which runs over six pages of "Assayad" magazine:

"Question 1: First Lady, I am pleased to meet you, and I would like to thank you for this interview as Tunis is still living through the outcome of AWO's Third Congress. How do you initially assess this event?

Answer: What I can say is that Tunisia hosted with great pride and honour the Third Congress of the Arab Women Organisation and I have endeavoured personally to ensure broad participation, through both the presence of Arab First Ladies and delegations, international and Arab organisations, as well as the quality of contributions and addresses to the Conference works, which recorded the attendance of a number of distinguished and reputable intellectuals and experts in sustainable development.

This reflects what is commonly shared by our respective countries and societies, namely the spirit of brotherhood, co-operation and enthusiasm to support Arab women's work systems in the Arab World and their development.

The theme of the Conference "Arab Woman, Essential Partner in Sustainable Development" is a highly important topic as sustainable development, I do believe, is a historical challenge and a human issue with interacting economic, political, social, political and environmental dimensions that dictate setting up policies and programmes which would help us benefit from natural resources according to a comprehensive approach aiming to secure a decent life to all present and future generations, build up Arab women's capacity and enable them to make use of the available opportunities. In this respect, equal opportunity with men is considered as a fundamental part of this approach.

Generally speaking, the Congress succeeded in fulfilling its goals and represented additional achievements to what has been done in terms of initiatives and goals for Arab women. I would like to seize this opportunity to thank all the First Ladies who honoured us with their presence and all those who contributed to the success of the Congress, which we wanted to be another landmark for collective serious endeavours and work to develop women and improve their situation to achieve global success for our societies.

Question 2: Participants and media reported with great admiration the ideas and theses of your opening address, namely the following two statements: "in hindering the work of women we lose half of society's potential" and "freedom from the trinity of fear, poverty and segregation are fundamental foundations of sustainable development." Did the Congress recommendations reflect the importance of challenges referred to in these quotations?

Answer: In fact, I have raised a number of issues which I believe are essential to enrich and stimulate reflection and reach visible and definite objectives. Since I have been honoured with the presidency of the AWO, I have sought to benefit from what is proposed in terms of ideas and guidelines to be transformed into practical action that contributes to the development of women's situation and achievements. That, I think, is essential to give the Organisation's work credibility and comprehensiveness.

The Congress recommendations are characterised by their practical aspect as they can find expression namely in the increasing collective will and awareness of challenges. I believe that the best way to achieve our hoped-for goals is to focus on the need to consolidate the legal reform process in Arab countries and bridge the gap between laws and practice. In so doing, we secure women's rights in public and private life and enhance their role as effective political, economic and social partners.

The dissemination of the culture of Human Rights and citizenship is the best way to achieve equality between men and women and drive back all forms of extremism and isolation. The need is therefore to have women represented at all decision-making levels and processes involving peace and settlement of conflicts.

Finally, improving the situation of women remains a daily shared process and mission, especially as Arab women have proved worthy of trust and encouragement thanks to their key role within the family and society and the burdensome responsibilities they have shouldered in development and education which are the foundations of social stability.

Question 3: In March, "Basma" Association for the Promotion of Employment of the Disabled, which you preside, celebrated its tenth anniversary. How do you assess the Association's work and its position in civil society in your country?

Answer: I would like to say that Tunisia has adopted social policies whose main foundation is the promotion of all the components of human capital without exception, insisting on the need to ensure dignity, build up capacities in all sectors of activities and provide equal opportunities to the various social groups. It is important to note that the 1987 Change has given civil society's action and work great impetus which finds expression in the number of associations totaling over ten thousand presently.

The legislation and the various regulatory procedures developed played a large part in enhancing civil society's role, making associations a vital body supporting national development and plans of action. It has equally provided us with the effective means of creativity and efficient action in all fields and especially in the social one.

In this respect, the Government and civil society join efforts to promote the employment of people with disabilities within a global vision of Human Rights providing people with special needs with the required care within a society based on the principles of solidarity and equal opportunities between genders, generations and social groups.

This is Basma's mission within a Tunisian renewed approach of solidarity aimed at providing support to these groups but moving from the stage of passive aid to that of active integration into the economic and social channels.

Question 4: What are the key objectives of your Association?

Answer: As the name of the Association suggests--"Basma" means smile--, we have set a number of objectives which include, on top of the list people with disabilities, with the aim of integrating them, contributing to development efforts, benefiting from the fruits of progress and making the right to employment a reality. "Basma" has endeavoured to raise public awareness about the importance to give due attention and care to disability and fight against it through early diagnosis, medical care and assistance.

"Basma" seeks to provide support to this social group through education and capacity building in order to reach self-reliance according to mental and physical capabilities and training to boost employment opportunities.

"Basma" has been lending due care to people with disabilities in their respective environments seeking first of all to alter misconceptions and convince the immediate environment that people with disabilities are capable of being autonomous and responsible if they are provided with the adequate conditions to integrate the job market and contribute to the development process. The Association equally seeks to provide counseling to this group and spread the principle of initiatives through increased assistance and support, starting with training and education and ending with wage-earning or self-employment.

Question 5: To what extent has Basma managed to achieve these goals?

Answer: I think "Basma"'s success finds expression in the employment of people with disabilities, namely the self-employed among them who have not only ensured sustainability of their projects but also become a great support to the Association, providing training and employment to other people with disabilities. It is important to note that "Basma" has helped 1,350 people with disabilities get jobs, and it financed about 2,000 projects which employ today people with or without disabilities.

The Association has never stopped supporting them and holds fairs and exhibitions that put to sale their products, opening the way to markets in Tunisia and abroad. "Basma"'s action is not limited to these spheres of intervention. In fact, we have developed a comprehensive system to provide support to people with disabilities at a very early age. We provide the opportunity to disabled children to be educated in integrated schools, providing them with the right to live and grow up in an educational environment without any feeling of marginalisation or lagging behind.

"Basma" has equally set up a training and accreditation system which gives them the possibility to choose the training that best suits their choices and physical, intellectual and psychological capabilities, as well as the market needs.

The Association holds additional training sessions for job seekers aimed to ease their integration. We held training in ICTs for a number of university graduates, which helped integrate trainees into the public and private sectors. The Association established a specialised centre for training in ICTs for the visually impaired, as well as a distance services unit and a virtual shop for products made by people with disabilities.

In the light of rapid technological developments, "Basma" sought to provide people with disabilities with the means to access the digital world through co-ordination with the relevant parties, such as the ICTs centre for children with disabilities.

Question 6: Please allow me, Your Excellency, to note that this is truly a very positive result despite the fact that your Association is a component of civil society and not a governmental body. How do you finance your work?

Answer: The plans and programmes developed by "Basma" originate in the Government's social policies. Tunisia has developed a comprehensive regulatory and legal framework made up of procedures and mechanisms enabling people with disabilities and special needs to integrate working life and take jobs which meet their physical and intellectual capabilities without any form of segregation or exclusion.

"Basma" relies on the legal framework for the promotion and protection of the disabled. This legal framework is a comprehensive one as it involves all aspects of care and protection, integration and promotion of people with disabilities in all spheres of activity. It is equally a law that reflects the principles of the Tunisian leadership to guarantee fundamental rights, including the right to employment and better living conditions, and enhance the components of civil society. In this respect, "Basma"'s activities represent one of the practical aspects of achieving these noble goals and objectives of this legal framework.

The social dimension of the Change remains the primary source of inspiration for "Basma" in developing its plans and activities, as well as intervention activities. But if your question is rather concerned with the material aspects of intervention for our plans and programmes, I must say that as a charity organisation, "Basma" relies on the principles of solidarity and volunteer work which are deeply rooted in the tradition of the Tunisian people. Solidarity is the crown of all virtues in New Era Tunisia.

President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali has given this human value an important spur making it acquire a constitutional dimension.

Question 7: What about Tunisia's efforts and its interaction with international initiatives in providing care to people with disabilities?

Answer: In fact, Tunisia was one of the first countries to ratify, in 1988 and 1989, two international labour conventions, namely Convention 142 relating to the role of vocational training in developing human resources and Convention 159 for professional accreditation and employment of people with disabilities. In April 2008, Tunisia was equally among the first countries to ratify the International Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and its appended Optional Protocol, as part of support to international efforts to assist people with special needs and improve services provided to them and means to integrate them.

Actually, I submitted the proposal to establish an annual international award for the best local association specialising in health and social activities and achieving important results in integrating people with special needs in working life. While insisting on the specificities of our approach in dealing with this social group and meeting their needs, and as part of Tunisia's openness onto other experiences, we have equally learnt from other international experiences enriching and supplementing them with our own. In this context, "Basma" has developed international relations to improve its performance and concluded co-operation agreements with specialised bodies.

Question 8: What are "Basma"'s plans for the future?

Answer: The chief objective of our Association is to achieve the social and economic integration of people with disabilities and secure income sources to fight need and guarantee "effective participation." Today, after ten years of continuous work, the "Basma" Centre for the Integration of People with Disabilities has enhanced our Association's noble mission. This achievement has crowned an on-going work during the last decade and opened up new prospects to consolidate achievements for the benefit of the disabled.

The Centre, which opened last October, provides cultural, sports, educational, health and recreational activities, as well as vocational training in a number of fields. I am deeply convinced that the Centre will be a new gateway in providing opportunities for training and achieving better living conditions for people with disabilities through increased integration opportunities and implementation of the principles of justice and equality.

The Association will focus, in the forthcoming stage, on what has been proposed by the 2009-2014 Presidential Programme in terms of new prospects for people with disabilities in all fields, such as employment, education, training, health, welfare, sports and entertainment, as well as the opportunity to integrate the knowledge society. This Programme renewed commitment of the State to provide people with special needs with the necessary care and attention to improve their situation. This is truly a very good incentive for our Association and all other associations operating in this field to look at the future with a positive and optimistic eye, while redoubling efforts to promote this group so dear to our hearts.

Question 9: We cannot end this interview without talking about the newborn, the "SaE[macron]da" Association to fight against cancer. Can you tell us about this association?

Answer: Cancer has become one of the major causes of death all over the world. Statistics show that it is at the origin of about 14% of all deaths, that is about eight million people. The number is expected to increase during the forthcoming years to reach 13 million people in 2030.

Developing countries represent 60% of new cases and 80% of deaths. This disease is becoming increasingly burdensome and costly, and it will have an important impact on social, economic and health developments.

These facts clearly show that the disease has become one of the burdens of the age. It is essential therefore to join efforts to fight against it. Tunisia has adopted a national plan of action to fight against cancer and will certainly need the support of civil society. In this context, founding "SaE[macron]da" Association aims at boosting national efforts to fight against this disease and limit its impact, as well as provide assistance in treatment during the early diagnosis phase to avoid its impact and repercussions.

Briefly, "SaE[macron]da" Association's objectives consist in raising public awareness about the risks of cancer which is taking annually the life of thousands of human beings, and providing support to those affected by the disease and their families, contributing to research for a better knowledge of the disease's causes and origins, providing support to care and means to alleviate sufferings. The Association will not limit its efforts to treatment but will work on promoting early diagnosis and protection from cancer and its increasing threats.

The construction of Ezzahraoui Institute will be the cornerstone in the work of "SaE[macron]da" Association as it will be a public institution with academic vocation providing comprehensive care in the treatment of cancer, namely early diagnosis and the use of modern developed technologies and methods, as well as scientific research relating to all aspects of the disease. The Institute will be ready in two years' time and ensure quality contributions to efforts to fight against the disease.

We will endeavour to make this Institute, as well as other activities, an emblem of national generous efforts to ensure the safety of our society from all threats.

Tap 2009

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Publication:Agency Tunis Afrique Press
Geographic Code:6TUNI
Date:Dec 14, 2010
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