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Celebrating Tawhida Ben Cheikh

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Today’s Doodle celebrates the Tunisian physician, magazine editor, and social activist Tawhida Ben Cheikh, widely credited as the first female physician in Tunisia. A feminist pioneer both in and out of the medical field, Ben Cheikh helped transform Tunisian medicine by providing women better access to contemporary healthcare. On this day in 2020, the Tunisian government issued a new 10-dinar note emblazoned with Ben Cheikh’s portrait—the world’s first ever banknote to feature a female doctor.

Tawhida Ben Cheikh was born on January 2, 1909 in Tunis, the present-day capital of Tunisia, at the time a French protectorate. Supported by her mother, in 1928 she became the first Tunisian female to graduate secondary school, but she didn’t stop there. In a break from traditional expectations of women, she went on to earn her medical degree in Paris in 1936 at the age of 27.

Upon her return to Tunis that year, Ben Cheikh made history when she opened her own free medical practice. With primary specialties in gynecology and obstetrics, she went on to become the head of the maternity department of the city’s Charles-Nicolle hospital in 1955. Then in the ‘70s, she founded Tunisia’s first family planning clinic. Ben Cheikh also contributed to numerous women’s organizations and founded Leïla, the country’s first French-language women’s magazine.

Here’s to a medical trailblazer who made huge strides for gender equality in Tunisia and beyond.

 

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