PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
Kalthoum MEZIOU DOURAÏ
First Woman Dean of Law in Tunisia
By Bouthaina Jhimi & Rym Ben Salah
Dr. Kalthoum Meziou Douraï is a Tunisian lawyer and the country’s first woman Dean of Law. She was born on the 15th of September 1946 in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia. She lost her mother at two years old, while her older brothers were only five and three. Since her father did not remarry, and it was up to her grandmother to raise her and her siblings. Now, Douraï is married with 3 children and 6 grandchildren.
Kalthoum Dourai’s schooling began at the age of four when she started kindergarten at Notre Dame de Sion School. She graduated high school and obtained her baccalaureate degree in 1964. Highly inspired by her father, Ahmed Dorrai, a lawyer and a judge, Kalthoum chose to pursue a career in law. Dr. Meziou attests to the significant role her father played in her life, as he was a dear friend to Tahar El Haddad, a famous Tunisian author, scholar, and activist. Her father transmitted his feminist, innovative and daring approach to her before they were expressed in his book “The Complete Works “, published By Beit Elhikma in 2019.
Following in her father’s footsteps, she started her higher education in the faculty of law and economic Sciences of Tunis (University of Tunis), where she earned her Bachelor of Law degree in 1968. Dr. Meziou would obtain not only a Graduate Diploma in Private Law in 1970 but a Graduate Diploma in Criminal Sciences only two years later. These feats prove her strong will and determination, especially knowing that she achieved them while married with children.
Meziou’s professional career started as an Assistant Professor in the same faculty she graduated from. This new position did not slow down her academic growth as she completed her Ph.D. in “Relations in Private International Family Law between the Tunisian and the French systems” in 1982. Dr. Meziou has proven to remain an extraordinary asset to the field. Her strong work ethic and professionalism made her an exceptional lawyer. For decades, Dr. Meziou continued to share and publish her research and studies of national and international law. All without sparing any effort empowering and motivating the future generations.
Since the early eighties, she has been engaged in the “Community of Law.” She wrote two books in French about the issues of drug offenses in her work “Les infractions en matière de stupéfiants, C.E.R.P. 1979” and wrote about International Private Law in “Les relations en droit international privé entre les systèmes tunisiens et français: Le cas du divorce des couples mixtes, Thèse d'Etat, Tunis, 1982.”
Meziou also published many articles, most of them reflected her feminism and engagement against discrimination and inequality such as "Féminisme et Islam dans la réforme du Code du statut personnel du 18 février 1981 “an article about feminism and Islam in the reform of the Personal Status Code. She also wrote about women in corporate spaces with "Le travail des femmes dans l'entreprise. Ethique et pratique, Perspectives Maghrébines”.
With an unbeatable level of engagement, Dr. Meziou was involved in many projects and aspects of research; she was a member of different reform commissions, from the Reform Commission of the Tunisian Personal Status Code of 1981/1993 to the Preparation Committee for the Code of Private International Law of 1998, where she remains an added-value to her nation. Besides researching and writing about numerous legal matters, Dr. Meziou became Head of the Department of Private Law and Criminal Sciences at the Faculty of Legal Sciences (University of Tunis 2) from 1991 to 1996. Three years later she became head of the Faculty where she served until 2002.
Certainly, being the first woman Dean of Law in Tunisia is no easy task. It is a prestigious position that requires genuine know-how, great dedication, and specific skills to not only acquire the position but to be effective and innovative while leading. The Deanship was not just a title, but a complex job where she had to ensure and supervise the work and courses of the administration of the Ministry of Higher Education and other ministries that interfered occasionally. It was a very rich networking opportunity where she met colleagues from all over the country and the globe, allowing her to gain insight into new experiences, knowledge, and various points of view.
The establishment of the Master’s degree of Common Law, the first and only one in all the Tunisian Law School is the achievement she’s most proud of. Providing the best possible teaching staff, installing a special library that provides access to legal textbooks, law journals, and periodicals, and creating an enabling environment for the students was not easy, especially with very limited means.
Aside from that, the achievements of Dr. Meziou go even beyond creating new masters’ degrees programs and enriching legal studies. She helped pave the way for future female lawyers to prove themselves. She empowered young girls aspiring to innovate and create change.
The role model that Dr. Meziou became contributed to the establishment of a gender-diverse environment that helped install the culture supporting equal opportunity and treatment within the Tunisian university systems. Being the Dean of one of the most reputable law faculties in the country did not detract her from reality, as she managed to maintain her involvement in civil society. She became a member of the Tunisian Economic and Social Council from 1999 to 2003, continued her academic contributions that solidified her participation in the inaugural conference of the UNESCO Chair, Women and Change Crédif with “Femmes et changement, le Code du statut personnel et ses réaménagements: une stratégie du changement par des réformes juridiques” and "La communauté des biens entre époux", De la modernité par le droit”.
Dr. Meziou dedicated her life to her community and being the first woman Dean of Law School in Tunisia didn’t change that. On the contrary, enhanced it. After her experience as a Dean was over, Dr. Meziou insisted to continue on the same path. She wrote her third book in 2007 in collaboration with Mr. Ali Mezghani (Professor of International Private Law at the University of Tunis 2) about Equality of Inheritance between men and women. “L'égalité successorale entre hommes et femmes”.
In 2004, she published two articles, one of them was published in Brussels about Feminism and Islam in the Personal Status Code of Tunisia “ Féminisme et Islam dans le Code du statut personnel tunisien", “La pensée et les hommes, Editions Espace de libertés.”; while the other article discussed the topic of equality between women and men in the Constitution “Constitution et égalité hommes et femmes", “Droit constitutionnel et principe d'égalité.” Dr. Meziou occupied different positions.
Becoming the Director of the Research Unit on International Private Relations: Trade and Arbitration, Migrations in the Faculty of Legal Sciences, a member of the Academy of Comparative Law (2007) was not her last time in leadership. In 2017, Meziou became President of the commission created for Tunisia's accession to The Hague Conventions, as Tunisia had acceded in her mandate to the three conventions proposed by the committee. She was also the president of the reform commission of the Code of Private International Law (2018-2019).
Although she wrote about diverse topics in Law, Arbitration, and Conflict and occupied various positions nationally to internationally, Meziou dedicated the majority of her work to the sake of women's interest defending their rights and demanding legal and social reform. Throughout her entire career, Dr. Meziou has not lost track of her vision and beliefs which made her not only an exceptional lawyer but also a pioneering woman and dedicated human rights advocate.