Amel Mannai: Holding the line for women’s leadership

As part of this year’s celebration of BWI Africa and Middle East Women’s Holding the Line series of articles, we tell the story of Amel Mannai, a Tunisian worker and member activist of the Fédération Générale du Bâtiment et du Bois (FGBB) union.

Born in Tunisia, Amel began her union work 13 years ago. In 2015, she became an active member of FGBB and participated in various trainings, seminars, and campaign activities provided by the General Academy of the Tunisian General Labour Union, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), BWI, and others. Through these activities, Amel’s trade union education, activism, and leadership developed. This eventually led to her election as the President of the North African Women’s Committee and her election as the first woman to join the FGBB’s executive office in 2018 at the organization’s General Conference.

“Having a seat at the main table does not guarantee respect from colleagues. It does not automatically mean that women's and gender issues are taken seriously. Throughout the years, I have had to raise my voice louder and raise my hands higher to be seen. I had to become a role model and a voice for the voiceless and a shield for the defenseless. I have had to over prepare myself before meetings, conferences, congresses, and similar activities. As a leader in my Federation, I have also had to create and strengthen strategic relationships with leaders toward a common goal. It has not been easy but necessary for the representation and progress of women in the MENA region,” says Amel.

Many times, women are placed in positions of leadership as a quota or box-ticking exercise, used as powerless chess pieces, and made to unknowingly feed into negative biases regarding women’s lack of inherent leadership capacity and/or capability. It is with this in mind and the desire for democracy that has pushed Amel to fulfill her duties, shine a light on the ‘women’s agenda,’ and contribute toward securing women’s rights to freedom of association, career advancement, bodily security, non-discrimination, etc., in the world of work.

“For me, ‘democracy’ means respecting the will of the majority as well as the minority based on the pillars of transparency and justice. Without relying on these pillars, we are unable to protect the most vulnerable groups in our workplaces and communities. Democracy in the workplace remains fundamentally linked to the general political and economic climate. It cannot be achieved without strong and independent unions where women are active and occupy (tactical) decision-making positions,” Amel continues.

Despite the complicated economic and political circumstances, Tunisian women continue to prove their competence and have become stronger, more resilient, and more determined to fight for their democratic future. On International Women's Day, the FGBB again expressed the legitimate call for democracy and women’s advancement. Together with BWI’s affiliates in Africa, the Middle East, and the world, Tunisian women pursue careers in transforming BWI sectors and in doing so, make history as they assume positions of leadership and assist others in similar positions.

Amel confidently affirms that “female leadership leads to better results not only at work but in society as a whole. Let us not be afraid of leading for it is through our leadership that women’s progress is almost certainly guaranteed”.