The role of women activists has become increasingly important on the global scene. Women in Tunisia have traditionally enjoyed more freedoms than many other Muslim countries, but there is still room for improvement. Leila Hidri, a Tunisian activist living in Rome fights passionately for social justice and human rights.
Leila was only 11 years old when her mother’s sister, living in Naples and working for a powerful family, helped her to find a job in Naples. Eventually, she got a cleaning job and divorced her husband, thus escaping the misery that destiny, thus far, had reserved for her. Leila and her brother stayed behind with their older sister who had just become married. As a result, the brother and sister harbored a wish to join their mother in Italy and live what they thought was a glamorous life.
Every month their mother would send them money and beautiful Italian clothes, but deprived of her and desperately wanting to be reunited with her, they could only think of Naples. They received the invitation to join their mother in 2001, but before they left , as a supreme act of faith Leila gave away all of her Italian clothing in the hopes of buying more in the place that will be her new home.
Sometimes dreams are just that—dreams, which have no basis in reality, but instead are just beautiful wishes. Upon arriving in Naples, Leila felt her dreams shattered. The reality of Naples to the uninitiated can be stark, especially when she realized that her mother lived in a poor neighborhood and that her vision of Italy as the “promised land” was a mere distortion, the wishes of a young girl. Her mother felt the pain of her daughter’s disappointment and made it her daily objective to send her back to Tunisia where she felt she truly belonged and should be raised.
Leila explains that most North Africans, particularly Tunisians migrate to Italy to improve their economic lives’, but roughly only 20 percent actually achieve that objective. She claims that for most of them the Italian “dream” remains a mere mirage.
As she grew older she began working in a variety of jobs such sales clerk, hairdresser, house cleaner and others, until she discovered her interest in social justice and began working with various organizations as both an interpreter and mediator. Very slowly and with a lot of dedication and hard work, she built her CV, moved to Rome by herself and started her life there. Once established, she invited her family to leave Naples and join her in the capital.
During a summer visit to Tunisia, she met and fell in love with the man who would become her husband. She gave birth to two children and was determined to provide a stable future for them. She has great hopes for their education and future employment.
Leila has known her share of discrimination and hard times. As an activist she fights hard for the rights of others within the infrastructure of various human rights organizations. Immigration and social justice are the two areas, which are dear to her heart. She fully understands the plight of immigrants, their isolation and challenges and the resistance they often encounter in Italy.
When the “Arab Spring” began and the dictatorship of Ben Ali came to an end, her love of her homeland became rekindled, a new awakening of sorts, and she began to participate in activities with the Tunisian community that had arisen after the revolution. Today, she is the hard working president of the Patriotic Free Union (UPL) in Italy, a political party that began in Tunisia, founded by the billionaire, and former refugee “Slim Riahi”. The UPL positions itself in the center of the political spectrum and espouses economic liberalism.
Leila explains: “ I accepted this position because I am sure that Tunisia and Tunisians abroad are facing a big challenge—we need to keep thinking with a revolutionary mind —-we need a participative and active citizenship.” In fact, Leila says that she believes in a secular democracy in Tunisia, and one that can offer full and equal rights to women. She adds, “In fact, the Tunisian constitution has confirmed the equality between genders, and we are so happy about that.”
It is clear that Leila is a passionate and dedicated activist and human being. She is involved in many efforts that are designed to help immigrants in Italy to gain their rights. As well, with her new position, she has plans to help to change the quality of life for Tunisians in Italy. Her deep desire is to make people more aware of their rights and what they can contribute to both their new homeland and their motherland, Tunisia.
“ I see myself as a victim of destiny that has managed to make from weakness, something strong to begin the fight against prejudice and injustice.”