Tunisia’s Central Bank has issued 10-dinar notes bearing the image of Tawhida Ben Cheikh, a highly respected gynecologist, one of the first female doctors in the Arab world, and a principal figure in the history of female emancipation. To commemorate Ben Cheikh’s life, Jeune Afrique has listed noteworthy facts about her life.
Born in 1909, Ben Cheikh lost her father when she was quite young. Her mother encouraged her to pursue a medical degree in France while also instilling in her a strong feminist militancy. Her uncle, Tahar Ben Ammar, was one of the key figures in the Tunisian liberation movement. As prime minister, he negotiated Tunisia’s independence and ratified it on March 20, 1956. After Ben Cheikh obtained her degree in 1936, she returned to Tunis but was denied the right to practice medicine in the public sector. Undeterred, she opened up her own private practice, free to the public.
Outside of her medical work, Ben Cheikh also became editor in chief of Leïla, the first Tunisian feminist magazine written in French. She also helped educate young Tunisian women and was involved with several women’s organizations, including Le Club de la Jeune Fille Tunisienne, L’Union des Femmes Musulmanes de Tunisie, and the Tunisian Red Cross, where she served as vice president. Ben Cheikh was also the first to introduce family planning and birth control to Tunisia. She passed away in 2010 at the age of 101.
Why It Matters
In the field of medicine, there is a general failure to acknowledge contributions made by women to the field, especially women from outside Europe and North America. Honoring pioneers like Tawhida Ben Cheikh reminds people of the influence and contributions women have made to the betterment of not only women in Tunisia and elsewhere, but also of public health in general.