Family in Tunisia

Tradition - Role models - Arranged marriages


Traditional Family

The traditional, and to a certain degree, even each, tunisian family follows old historical patterns and is an essential, defining, element of the society in Tunisia.

In Tunisia, agricultural economy has a long tradition. Land was farmed by the family and the products were traded or sold to others.

Family members helped each other not only in the core family, but also in the extended family and the village tribes. The social relations circles were, therefore, always manageable and foremost characterized by economic profit.

Similarly, as in other societies of this kind,  family expansions through marriage were an economic enterprise and ideally accompanied by an increase of land, income and influence in the village community.

Essential elements of this historic structure are still preserved in Tunisia and have, especially in rural areas, a significant influence on the society.

Two of the most important elements that are still intact today, are  the arranged marriage and the family support.

Family support

While in Tunisia, there is today a social system in place, which, for example, provides child benefits and benefits for the needy, this system is, compared to European standards, barely developed or functional.

As it has been for centuries, the majority of tunisians are still dependent on their family to care for them - the siblings for small children and the young for the old. This is a very strong social imperative, a social constraint, which only very few Tunisians can or even want to avoid.

Money and benefits in kind of the children to their parents and even grandparents, if they are not already specified in law, are seen as a social duty and serve as the "reimbursement" for expenses that the parents had for the rearing of the children.

The daughter of a family is supposed to help her mother in household matters and by taking care of the smaller siblings and, if requested, of the children in the extended family, and this all often even after her own marriage.

Role Model

Throughout history, the following role model has emerged in the Tunisian society, especially in the rural areas and among families with lower social status:

The tunisian man is the head of the family. He has (also required by law) to provide for his wife and children the necessary things for life (namely housing, food, clothing, medical care).

The scope of a tunisian woman is the house. She - in return for the provision by the man - cares for the house and the children, which is, compared to western countries, a lot more time-consuming due to traditional methods and a lower level of electrification of the household.

The woman should, if she is able to, contribute to the family subsistence, but in reality, this often does not take place, and a woman usually decides freely on how to spent her earned money.

Children in Tunisia are treated differently according to their gender.

Sons are relatively free in their actions within the family and take a higher position than the female members. In the absence of the head of the family, they or the brother of the husband become head of the family.

Daughters are consistently prepared to fulfill their role in a family later and take up at an early age growing obligations in the parental home.

Both sons and daughters get an education, in which daughters tend to attend school longer and to pursue advanced degrees.

However, the study time is used by many girls to bridge the time until the wedding, and they will then switch into the traditional role in their own families.

In practice, this is facilitated by the fact that there are fewer quality jobs for women than for men available, so that, even if the woman wants to work after her education, she often has to look a long time for an adequate job.
Therefore, she decides often and early to take up the traditional woman's role.


Arranged Marriages

In Tunisia there are no forced marriages, but arranged marriages play still a big role, namely in traditional oriented regions and population groups.

In contrast to the "forced marriage", in an arranged marriage, the spouses have the right to decline the marriage with the suggested candidate. Otherwise, however, forced marriage and arranged marriage differ only in nuances.

The goal of such a marriage is to choose an appropriate partner for a family member, and since this is usually best achieved if both the prospective spouses already know each other and their families and come from a similar social class, the ideal partner is, in most cases, a member of the extended family.

Cousins are, therefore, the preferred candidate for a marriage in Tunisia.

According to traditional and religious setting "love" is an appreciated element of a marriage, but not a necessary element. Instead, phrases like "love comes in marriage" and "God will give love to a good husband and wife" characterise the common belief.

The idea seems understandable and logical, for initial  "love" disappears, but the partner remains. However, studies show that there is no difference in the long-term marital success between arranged and non-arranged marriages.

The main motive behind arranged marriages is to ensure that adequate partners are to be brought together, that the social background matches, that the monitoring and regulatory role of the extended family is maintained and the total assets of the extended family is not being diminished.

Of course, there are also marriages that are not arranged, and not only just a very few, and the interest in love marriages is increasingly rising among young Tunisians.
However, in many if not most cases, a marriage will not cross the limits of the extended family or local region.

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