Tunisia Celebrates Female Doctors with a New Banknote

A timely ode to the Arab pioneer of women’s medicine

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You’ve probably never heard of Tawhida Ben Cheikh but Tunisia is making sure her legacy is never forgotten.

Ten years after her death, the late doctor is now the face of a Tunisian banknote—marking the first time a female doctor has received an honour like this in the world.

Tunisia has long been a leader in women’s rights movements, and this move couldn’t come at a better time. With a pandemic taking over the world, the new note featuring Dr. Ben Cheikh is a significant tribute to the healthcare workers on the frontlines of the battle against covid-19.

The doctor, born in 1909, was the first woman to earn a baccalaureate degree in Tunisia. Cheikh went on to study medicine in Paris, graduating in 1936 and returning to Tunisia to become the nation’s first female physician at 27-years-old.

She was not only known for her efforts as a physician – her philanthropic efforts are just as impressive. Ben Cheikh was the vice president of the Tunisian Red Cross. She was also involved in the establishment of several childcare organisations, with particular focus on orphans.

Tawhida Ben Sheikh during her awareness campaigning for family planning in TunisiaTawhida Ben Sheikh during her awareness campaigning for family planning in Tunisia

Most significantly, Ben Cheikh was a leading figure in the legalisation of contraception and abortion in Tunisia. With a specialty in gynaecology, Ben Cheikh founded the first family planning clinic in Tunisia, making her a pioneer in the region’s feminist movement.

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