Image Courtesy: Google Doodle
Tawhida Ben Cheikh (2 January 1909 – 6 December 2010) was a Tunisian physician and activist who played a pioneering role in promoting women’s rights and gender equality in Tunisia and across the Arab world.
Life and Career
She was born in Tunis on 2 January 1909. Ben Cheikh was one of the first Tunisian women to receive a higher education. She studied medicine at the University of Paris and later became the first Tunisian woman to obtain a degree in gynecology and obstetrics.
Ben Cheikh returned to Tunisia in the 1930s and began working as a physician at the Charles Nicolle Hospital in Tunis. She was passionate about promoting women’s health and reproductive rights, and her work helped to break down social and cultural barriers that had long prevented Tunisian women from accessing healthcare services.
In addition to her work as a physician, Ben Cheikh was also an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and gender equality. She founded the Tunisian Association of Women’s Action in 1952, which became a leading voice for women’s rights in Tunisia and across the Arab world.
Ben Cheikh was also involved in politics and served as a member of the Tunisian parliament from 1959 to 1960. She was appointed as the country’s first Minister of Public Health in 1960, a position she held until 1970.
She died on 6 December 2010 at an age of 101.
Today, Ben Cheikh is remembered as a pioneering figure in the fight for women’s rights and gender equality in Tunisia and the wider Arab world. Her legacy continues to inspire generations of women and activists who are working to promote social justice and equality for all.
Award and Legacy
Tawhida Ben Cheikh’s contributions to medicine, women’s rights, and gender equality have been widely recognized and celebrated. She received numerous awards and honors throughout her life, including:
- The National Order of Merit from the Tunisian government in 1957
- The Medal of Public Health from the French government in 1958
- The International Planned Parenthood Federation Award in 1961
- The Florence Nightingale Medal from the International Red Cross in 1965
- The United Nations Population Award in 1984
Ben Cheikh’s legacy continues to inspire people around the world, particularly in Tunisia and the wider Arab world, where she is remembered as a pioneering figure in the fight for women’s rights and gender equality. Her work helped to break down social and cultural barriers that had long prevented Tunisian women from accessing healthcare services and participating in public life. Today, her contributions to medicine and social justice continue to be celebrated, and she remains an inspiration to activists and advocates working for a more just and equitable world.
On 27 March 2020, the Tunisian government issued a new 10-dinar note emblazoned with Ben Cheikh’s portrait—the world’s first-ever banknote to feature a female doctor.
On 27 March 2021, Google celebrated Tawhida Ben Cheikh with a doodle.