Tewhida Ben Sheikh

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Tewhida Ben Sheikh during her awareness campaigning for family planning in Tunisia.

Tewhida Ben Sheikh (also Tawhida Ben Cheikh, Taouhida Ben Cheikh) (January 2, 1909 in Tunis – December 6, 2010)[1] was the first modern Muslim woman in North Africa to become a physician. She was also a pioneer in women's medicine, in particular contraception and abortion access.[2]

Early years[edit]

Tewhida Ben Sheikh was born in Tunis, Tunisia. Her early education was at Tunisia's first public school for Muslim girls, which was established by "Tunisian nationalists and liberal French protectorate authorities". While attending this school, Ben Sheikh was taught Arabic, French, the study of the Qur'an, and modern subjects.[3] She travelled to the School of Medicine in Paris to pursue her education, earning a degree in medicine in 1936.[4] Upon her return to Tunis, she was given a dinner in her honour by local physicians.[5]

Tunisia was a French colony at the time. Ben Sheikh came from an elite Tunisian family which was socially conservative, and her widowed mother was reluctant to allow her to go to France after secondary school; however, her secondary school instructors and a physician from the Louis Pasteur Institute of Tunis (Dr. Etienne Burnet), persuaded Ben Sheikh's mother that she showed significant promise.[4]

Professional achievements[edit]

Specializing in gynecology, Ben Sheikh directed a women's clinic in Tunisia.[1] In North Africa, Muslim custom forbade women from being examined by male doctors.[5] Ben Sheikh was an "active" supporter of family planning; in the 1960s and 1970s, she instructed doctors in abortion procedures.[6]

Ben Sheikh's daughter, Zeïneb Benzina Ben Abdallah, is a prominent Tunisian archeologist and Director of Research at the National Heritage Institute in Tunis.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "La doyenne des médecins tunisiens n'est plus. La famille médicale tunisienne en deuil". La presse de Tunisie (in French). December 7, 2010. Archived from the original on December 13, 2010. Retrieved October 26, 2012. 
  2. ^ Huston, Perdita (1992). Motherhood by choice : pioneers in women's health and family planning. Feminist Press at the City University of New York. p. 95. ISBN 1558610685. 
  3. ^ Nashat, Guity; Judith E. Tucker (1999). Women in the Middle East and North Africa: Restoring Women to History. Indiana University Press. p. 83. ISBN 9780253212641. 
  4. ^ a b "Women in World History: Primary Sources". George Mason University. Retrieved October 26, 2012. 
  5. ^ a b Sadiqi, Fatima; Amira Nowaira,; Azza El Kholy (2009). Women writing Africa: The Northern region. The Feminist Press at The City University of New York. p. 155. ISBN 9781558614376. 
  6. ^ O'Reilly, Andrea (2010). Encyclopedia of Motherhood, Volume 1. SAGE. p. 399. ISBN 9781412968461.