From Vicenza in northern Italy and Strasbourg in France, Giulia and Apolline are both project managers and coordinators for the southern Mediterranean within ALDA (European Association for Local Democracy), which enables them to meet Mediterranean societies, particularly in Tunisia and Morocco.
Giulia comes from Bassano del Grappa, a small town in the heart of Veneto, in northern Italy. Her background says a lot about her passion for the societies around the Mediterranean. At the University of Venice, she opted for the cultural language and society section of Asia and Mediterranean Africa with Islamic and Arabic language courses, followed by an Erasmus master’s degree concerted between several universities including Barcelona, Venice, Sousse in Tunisia and Montpellier in France which included courses on inter-Mediterranean mediation, migration, political science, languages, culture, project management: « These are aspects that can link the two shores of the Mediterranean. I was then able to work in a center for asylum seekers to help them in their integration in the legal processes and in the hosting system » introduced Giulia. But the election of Matteo Salvini in 2018 and the enactment of anti-migrant laws have greatly reduced the rights and possibilities of assistance to migrants. « It was necessary to create other dynamics and find other European funds for inclusion, mutual aid and cooperation to be able to reach a common vision of the future for these people ». Her militant commitment with the Scouts dates back to her youth and allowed her to volunteer in refugee camps in southern Italy – where 400,000 migrants from the Libyan coast arrived between 2014 and 2018 – and in a juvenile prison. These were very strong experiences that guided her in her choice of professional studies. In the field, her experience as a youth educator questions her on the possibilities of educating citizens to build a society that is more just, more welcoming and more oriented towards the respect of rights accessible to all.
« I was told a sentence that struck me during this volunteer experience with minors: language is the key to opening the door to cultures, in order to getting to know each other better, and I realized that what happened to them could also happen to me one day ».
From Strasbourg, Apolline has also had a humanist career, specializing in law and directing towards the southern shores of the Mediterranean. Originally from Draguignan in the south of France, she sometimes feels closer to Tunisia than to the Strasbourg environment where she moved-in in 2018. « I find this city very symbolic, at the heart of borders that have been drawn according to territorial conflicts ». An equally symbolic link with her university course « law of state reconstruction in post-conflict periods », which is about « imagining how to rebuild a state of law after a dictatorship, with the help of transitional justice, with new texts ». In Tunisia, following the revolution and the adoption of a new constitution, Apolline worked on monitoring its implementation and developing legal tools. « We learned a lot, and made a comparison with Germany, whose institutional system seemed very outdated after studying this Tunisian institutional change » said Apolline. « This exchange of experience allowed us to see what is happening elsewhere and to learn, and that is why I love working for ALDA, which brings together many international experts from the Maghreb, the Middle East, but also from the Caucasus and the Balkans, where its first missions took place in 1999. For Giulia, « ALDA is kind of the end point of my personal journey that has led me to strongly believe that participatory local democracy is really an approach that I want to focus on in order to give my contribution ».
In the heart of the field
It is thus in the Maghreb that the actions in which they participated take shape. The two young women agree that going to see what is happening elsewhere enabled them to discover ingenious consultation tools in which citizens are fully involved. And to see that in some countries such as Egypt, the consultations were more complicated or even failed because of the low presence of women in the constituent assemblies unlike Tunisia or Morocco where women were highly represented and a diversity of topics such as gender and religion are taken into account.
As a result, projects focusing on women and gender equality have emerged since their arrival in the organization. In Tunisia, the integration of women in local politics was discussed with those who ran for municipal elections. Consultations have also expanded with civil society to integrate the gender dimension at the local level. « In Morocco, we even participated in the implementation of a pilot project called “Equal” on gender equality in local action which takes over the dynamics of a project on the involvement of women at the local level conducted in the province of Tetouan » continues Giulia.
Sustainable development and soft mobility are initiatives under development in Tunisia with the project Autrement. « This project too will be led with the participation of citizens for the construction of a soft mobility route such as walking and cycling with the development of bike paths to relieve congestion at school exits from cars and noise and air pollution ». In the city of Kairouan, where the mayor travels by bicycle, the consultation of citizens was fruitful and rather in favour of the proposal. «Indeed, it takes real political will to set up such projects and put citizen participation and participatory democracy at the center of discussions » says Apolline.
A topic turned towards the environment that fits perfectly within the themes that are addressed during the AJCM days, where the two women will lead a virtual workshop on “young voices of the Mediterranean” to enable young people from around the Mediterranean to ask questions to some Members of the European Parliament. They also plan a discussion on women’s entrepreneurship with the testimonies of Tunisian, Lebanese and French women who have jobs considered as reserved for men in order to overcome some fears and loosen the tongue!
Photo : Giulia and Apolline on mission in Chefchaouen, Morocco