Tawhida Ben Cheikh – has not become a face on a banknote for nothing, a physician in the early 1900s. Though that might sound like a common occurrence in the third millennium, that was not the case in 1936 when she became the first woman physician in Tunisia.

Today, women empowerment and equality are raging topics, with every woman or girl fighting either for herself or for other women like her. Yet, in 1936, these issues were not open for discussion or even heard of by many echelons and families.

Tawhida Ben Cheikh did not just break barriers of education for women at a time when gaining a secondary education was near impossible. But broke even more barriers when she got her medical degree from a university in Paris. She did not stop there but went on to open her own medical practice – a free medical practice. Nothing could dissuade this strong woman and heading the maternity department in Tunis’s Charles-Nicolle hospital in 1955, was just another step. Ben Cheikh founded Tunis’s first family planning clinic.

Physician, pediatrician, gynecologist

“A physician, pediatrician, as well as a gynecologist, Ben Cheikh is renowned mainly for her work in women’s medicine, gynecology, and for her selfless work with non-profit organizations. She had been the Vice-President of the Tunisian Red Crescent and after family planning had been legalized in Tunisia in 1973.” Vogue

Did she stop there?

Definitely, not!

Her focus was to provide women access to contemporary healthcare – a pioneer in the medical field, and out of it, she also founded ‘Leila’ – the first French-language women’s magazine.

Her face was emblazoned on a ten-dinar note on March 27th, 2020 – and that is another first added to her name, the world’s first-ever banknote to feature a female doctor. That is the least that such an example of a woman who fought for #equality of women, #women empowerment – and that was long before the issues of sustainable development goals became a trending topic.

Tawhida Ben Cheikh is an example not just for women then but for women today.

Tawhida Ben Cheikh was backed in this journey by a woman who could be considered even stronger to guide her to such an amazing track record – her mother.

To quote, “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 doctor from the Louis Pasteur Institute of Tunis (Dr. Etienne Burnet), persuaded Ben Sheikh’s mother that she showed significant promise.” Wikipedia

To such a mother, we say, thank you.

About Salwa

Salwa is a writer and author. Weaving magic with words backed up with research and a natural flair for beautiful writing.


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