Najla Bouden: The Independent Geologist; Arab World's First Female PM

'Gendering' ministries and women ministering are not surprising for Tunisia, a democratic country, but the position of head of government is the distinguishing mark today in Tunisia and is subsequent to the continual controversies and great failures of the men who were named prime minister.

"For the first time in Tunisia’s history, a woman will head the country as prime minister," Tunisian President Kais Saied said in a video introducing Ms. Bouden which was posted to the Presidency's Facebook page.

In a historic step, Tunisian President Kais Saied named Najla Bouden Romdhane, a little-known university engineer with World Bank experience, as prime minister nearly two months after he seized power, becoming the first woman in Tunisia and the Arab world to hold this position.

Bouden will enter the headquarters of the government in Kasbah amid exceptional measures, burdened with economic and social crises in the country, fueled by tensions, political conflicts, and corruption that erodes all state institutions. Her mission will be to save Tunisia from this situation and improve public services for Tunisians.   She will also take on the challenge of demonstrating the ability of Tunisian women to take up the highest positions in the country.

While some wonder if Bouden could become the symbol of women’s progress and empowerment in Tunisia and the Middle East, others fear that President Kais Saied might exploit her limited political experience to his advantage, especially in economic policy. In contradistinction, others point to the experience that she gained as a person in charge of implementing World Bank programs at the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research in Tunisia, which may help her in managing the economic situation.

Najla Bouden is not politically affiliated or close to any political party, which may be in her favor. However, at the same time, it may pose more challenges to her, as the country is going through an exceptional political situation par excellence, after suspending major institutions such as Parliament.

It is not yet clear whether those affected by President Said's decision on July 25th will stand against Bouden even before she has a chance to prove herself, especially since the Tunisian street does not know much about its new prime minister, as she suddenly came out to public life after a long academic and administrative career.

Bouden, a Tunisian geologist and university professor, was born in 1958 in the old neighborhood of Houmt El-Bey in Kairouan to a well-known educated family which was keen on educating sons and daughters.

Her father, Mohamed Bouden, was director of the Alaoui Institute, one of the oldest scientific institutes in Tunis. Her mother is from the Qouta family, which is an old family from the Tunisian coastal region.

Bouden is an engineer by profession and a professor of higher education at the National Engineering School of Tunis at Tunis El Manar University, having specialized in geosciences. She has a Ph.D. from the École des Mines de Paris in earthquake engineering. Her work has focused on seismic hazards in Tunis.

In 2011, she was appointed as Director-General in charge of quality, then held the position of Head of the Purposes Management Unit in the Ministry of Higher Education, and in 2015 was assigned a mission in the office of the former Minister of Higher Education Shehab Boden.

A year later, Bouden was chosen to oversee a plan to implement World Bank programs in the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, a position she held before her new assignment.

She is known for her perseverance at work and all those who worked with her praise her efforts and the quality of her work, which gave her a strong reputation especially in the academic field.

In 2016, the late Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi awarded her a medal on the occasion of the National Science Day, along with a number of directors in the Ministry of Higher Education.

It is expected that in the coming days Prime Minister-designate Najla Boden will form a government team devoid of political parties, and will control and implement public policies in accordance with the directives and choices set by President Kais Saied.

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