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Dr. Tawhida Belsheikh

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Country

Tunisia

Sector(s)

Known for Being

The first female medical doctor in Tunisia.

Major Accomplishments

Dr. Tawhida Belsheikh was the first female medical doctor in Tunisia. She received her Baccalaureate in 1928 from the Armand Valiere Institute, but only began her career path to the field of medicine upon meeting Ms. Burnet, the wife of French researcher and director of the Tunis Pasteur Institute, Dr. Etienne Burnet. With the help of Dr. Burnet, Belsheikh, only 20 at the time, was on her way to study medicine in Paris. Belsheikh faced many difficulties in convincing her family to let her study in France, even up until the last few minutes when the car was waiting to take her to the port. In the end, her mother ended the discussion by telling the family "my daughter wants to study and learn, and you know very well that this is required in Islam for both women and men".

In 1936, she received her diploma in medicine and went back to Tunisia amid great celebrations by her family and some political circles in the country, including a celebration by the Tunisian Muslim Women Association in early 1937. Belsheikh worked in her own clinic and eventually specialized as a gynecologist since many women would come to her. Although she claimed she was not interested in politics, she was part of the intellectual elite who fought against colonialism and contributed to building an independent state. After Tunisian independence in 1956, she joined the state's project for family planning and opened a special unit for family planning at the Charles Nicole hospital in the capital in 1963, becoming director of the family planning program in 1970. She also supervised and wrote under the pseudonym "Leila Mani" for the magazine Leila, which was the first Tunisian magazine in French. Today, the Tawhida Belsheikh Association for Medical Support in Tunisia continues to honor her legacy.

Last modified: 01/09/2019

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