Gender Equity & Women's Issues – Algeria

PROFILE:  Algeria

 

Country

Total area: 919,590 sq mi (2,381,741 sq km)

Population (2009 est.): 34,178,188 (growth rate: 1.2%); birth rate: 16.9/1000; infant mortality rate: 27.7/1000; life expectancy: 74.2; density per sq mi: 36

Capital and largest city (2003 est) :  Algiers, 3,917,000 (metro. area), 1,742,800 (city proper)

Other large cities: Oran, 752,200; Constantine, 530,100; Batna, 278,100; Annaba, 246,700

Monetary unit: Dinar

 

Country History

After more than a century of rule by France, Algerians fought through the 1950’s and finally reached indepence in 1962. Algeria’s primary political party, the National Liberation Front (NLF), has dominated Algerian politics ever since.

Algeria’s first national legislature was formed in September 1962 under the constitution drafted by the Ben Bella regime but was suspended in 1965. For the next ten years, the Council of the Revolution ruled Algeria; there was no independent parliament. By 1976, with power consolidated in his hands, Boumediene commenced a series of reforms to establish formal political institutions. One of the first measures was the recreation of a national parliament.

The 1976 constitution described the APN as a unicameral, elected, representative legislative body. Under the 1989 law, deputies are elected for five-year terms, and all Algerians “enjoying full civil and political rights” and over the age of twenty-five are eligible. Elections occur by secret, direct, and universal ballot. Until the country’s first multiparty elections in December 1991, all candidates were drawn from a single party list, approved by the FLN, although multiple candidates could compete for a single constituency.

In April 2007, about 35 people were killed and hundreds wounded when suicide bombers attacked a government building in Algiers and a police station on the outskirts of the capital. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the attack. The terrorist group struck again in December, killing as many as 60 people in two suicide attacks near UN offices and government buildings in the capital of Algeria. The bombings occur within minutes of each other. It was the worst attack in Algeria in more than 10 years.

In June 2008, President Bouteflika replaced Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem with Ahmed Ouyahia, who had served twice as premier.

At least 43 people were killed in August 2008, when a suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden car into a police academy in Issers, a town in northern Algeria. The next day, two car bombs exploded simultaneously at a military command and a hotel in Bouira, killing a dozen people. No group takes responsibility for the attacks, but Algerian officials said they suspected Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was behind the bombings.

In November 2008, Parliament approved constitutional changes that allow President Bouteflika to run for a third term. The opposition criticized the move, calling it an assault on democracy.

Bouteflika went on to win re-election in April 2009, taking more than 90% of the vote.

 Government

Algeria is governed under the constitution of 1976 as amended. The executive branch is headed by the president, who is popularly elected for a five-year term and is eligible for a second term. The prime minister, who is the head of government, is appointed by the president. The bicameral parliament consists of the 389-seat National People’s Assembly, whose members are elected by popular vote to five-year terms, and the 144-seat Council of Nations, whose members are appointed by the president (one third) or elected by indirect vote and serve six-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into 48 provinces.

President: Abdel-Aziz Bouteflika (1999)

Prime Minister: Ahmed Ouyahia (2008)

PARLIAMENT  ( 2 Sectors)

National People’s Assembly – 389 Seats.

Council of Nations – 144 Seats.

* 30 Women in Government.

Gender Equity

The situation for women in Algeria is difficult, largely as a result of the country’s history and the influence of Islamist movements over the past 20 years. Conditions for women are closely linked to the provisions of the 1984 Family Code, which is based on Islamic Sharia Law.

Feminist NGOs are working to change this situation, with some success. In 2003, the government amended the Family Code in favour of women and created a Ministry of Women’s Affairs. Progress is slow, however, due to the moderate Islamist movement, which is one of the main political components of the current regime.

Family Code

According to the Family Code, women cannot marry without the consent of their guardians (who are always male). More positively, women cannot be married against their will. The minimum legal age of marriage in Algeria is 21 years for men and 18 years for women, and the age of marriage in urban communities is rising regularly, which has the positive effect of increasing the national average. A 2004 United Nations report estimated that only 4 per cent of girls between 15 and 19 years of age were married, divorced or widowed. However, early marriage is still prevalent in rural areas where family traditions prevail. The code prohibits women from marrying men who are not of Algerian nationality.

Polygamy is lawful according to the Family Code, which follows Sharia law and allows Muslim men to take up to four wives. Recent amendments to the code enforce procedures that make the practice more difficult and polygamous marriages are increasingly rare.

The Family Code states quite clearly that men and women are not equals within a marriage: “The duty of the wife is to obey her husband”. Moreover, as parental authority is given only to fathers, husbands make all decisions regarding joint matters, especially those concerning finances and the education of children. The code also states that wives are minors under the authority of their husbands and must stay at home, yet this provision does not always reflect reality. In rural areas, women are under strong social pressure to submit to this condition and dare not dispute it for fear of being stigmatised within their communities. The situation is quite different in urban areas. In principle, married women need their husbands’ permission to work (or travel) outside the home, yet the percentage of women in the workforce has grown considerably in the past 30 years. These working women can acquire a certain level of independence within the household.

The code also treats men and women differently in the case of divorce. Men can divorce without any justification, but women can obtain a divorce only under certain conditions (which have become less stringent in recent years). Men who obtain a divorce keep the family house and can immediately evict their wives and children. In such cases, men are legally required to pay child support, yet many allowances remain in arrears. Even if the wife is given custody of the children, the husband retains control over their upbringing.

Sharia law applies in the event of inheritance. In general, for individuals sharing the same degree of relationship, the share women inherit is half that of men. Many families in urban areas disagree with the existing legislation and re-establish equality between their children by arranging donations or fictitious sales to their daughters.

Physical Integrity 

Women bore the brunt of violence and abuse during Algeria’s 15-year civil war, which lasted from 1991 to 2002. Rape, torture and murder, for the most part by armed rebel groups, were commonplace. Many of the women who did manage to find their freedom were subsequently abandoned by their families and by the state, and struggled to achieve a decent standard of living.

Even today, violence against women is evident in numerous forms in Algeria, and there is little in the way of legal instruments to protect women from it in their private or professional lives. Domestic violence and spousal rape are not considered crimes, nor does such violence constitute grounds for divorce. Women can press charges (they must obtain a medical certificate before calling the police), but social pressure often prevents them from taking any action.

In response to pressure from feminist associations, the government conducted a survey on the issue of violence against women in 2003. The penal system is making some progress, particularly in regard to sexual harassment in the workplace, but the government has yet to make any firm commitment on bringing an end to the various forms of violence against women.

There is no evidence to suggest that female genital mutilation is practised in Algeria. However, Algeria appears to be a country of concern in relation to missing women.

Ownership Rights 

Women face some restrictions in regard to their ownership rights. In particular, their access to land is limited by traditional provisions. By contrast, women are guaranteed the legal right to access to property other than land.

By law, women in Algeria have the right to access bank loans and are free to negotiate business or financial contracts. They are entitled to keep any wages they earn and to own personal possessions. However, these rights can be restricted by their husbands, who have authority to control how this property is managed. This attitude seems more common in rural areas and within uneducated families.

Civil Liberties

In general terms, Algerian women have freedom of movement, yet this freedom depends on the goodwill of their husbands, who have the authority to control where they go. If wives refuse to obey, they risk being beaten or temporarily confined at home.

Although women are legally granted freedom of dress, day-to-day attire is often dictated by social pressure, which has become stronger with the influence of fundamentalist Islamist groups. Approximately two-thirds of women wear the veil, a share that has grown significantly over the past 20 years. Generally, women feel pressure from two sources: family members (the husband in particular) may force women to wear the veil or women may feel compelled to wear it because of the hostile attitude of men in public places. Some women freely choose to wear the veil for religious reasons, which does not signify that they adhere to the traditional model of the subservient housewife. Many women with higher education and high-level jobs wear a headscarf. In more conservative regions in southern Algeria, women often cover themselves from head to toe.

Islamic Sharia Law

Sharia Law is the instrument by which Political Islam seeks to control the Muslim world. Whilst the Sharia may have been inspired by the Holy Quran, it has developed and evolved through time and through the efforts of men. The Sharia should be open to analysis, research and criticism like any other system of law, practice and belief. Its divine inspiration should no more shield it from criticism than Christianity should have been spared criticism for burning heretics or massacring unbelievers. The more pernicious interpretations of the Sharia today fall far short of the minimum standards of justice widely demanded by the international community and by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

The Sharia should be opposed for its imposition of theocracy over democracy, its abuse of human rights, its institutionalized discrimination, its denial of human dignity and individual autonomy, its punishment of alternative lifestyle choices, and for the severity of its punishments.

In the west, in countries that have a sizable Muslim population, there have been calls for the Sharia to be adopted for the Muslim community. These calls should be vigorously opposed; the Sharia conflicts with many basic human values, such as equality before the law, that punishments should be commensurate with the crime, and that the law must be based on the will of the people. The Sharia as it developed in the first few centuries of Islam incorporated many pre-Islamic Middle-Eastern misogynist and tribal customs and traditions. The Sharia was developed not only from the Holy Quran but incorporates legal principles from other sects. We may ask how a law whose elements were first laid down over 1,000 years ago can possibly be relevant in the 21st century. The Sharia reflects the social and economic conditions at the time of the Abbasids and has become further and further out of touch with later social, economic, technological, cultural and moral developments. The principles of the Sharia are inimical to moral progress, humanity and civilized values.

The problem for all of us is how to oppose the violations of human rights inherent in the Sharia without being accused of blasphemy or apostasy.

Legal and court proceedings

Traditional sharia judicial proceedings have significant differences with other legal traditions, including those in both common law and civil law. Sharia courts traditionally do not employ lawyers; plaintiffs and defendants represent themselves. Trials are conducted solely by the judge, and there is no jury system. There is no pre-trial discovery process, no cross-examination of witnesses, and no penalty of perjury (on the assumption that no witness would thus endanger his soul).  Unlike common law, judges’ verdicts do not set binding precedents under the principle of stare decisis, and unlike civil law, sharia does not utilize formally codified statutes (introduced only in the late 19th century during the decline of the Ottoman Empire, cf. mecelle). Instead of precedents and codes, sharia uses collections of non-binding legal opinions, or fatwas, issued by religious scholars (ulama); these can be made binding for a particular case at the discretion of a judge.

Sharia courts’ rules of evidence also maintain a distinctive tradition of prioritizing oral testimony and excluding written and documentary evidence, on the basis that it could be tampered with or forged, or possibly due to low levels of literacy in premodern Islamic society.

A confession, an oath, or the oral testimony of a witness are the only evidence admissible in a traditional Sharia court, written evidence is only admissible with the attestations of multiple, witnesses deemed reliable by the judge, i.e. notariesTestimony should preferably be from free Muslim male witnesses; testimony from women is given only half the weight of men, and testimony from non-Muslims may be excluded altogether (if against a Muslim). Non-Muslim minorities, however, could and did use sharia courts, even amongst themselves.

Sharia’s rules on written evidence necessarily diminish the utility of written contracts to structure economic relations, and Timur Kuran has noted the predominance of a “largely oral contracting culture” in premodern Islamic society.]

Sharia has been defined as :

  • “Muslim or Islamic law, both civil and criminal justice as well as regulating individual conduct both personal and moral. The custom-based body of law based on the Quran and the religion of Islam. Because, by definition, Muslim states are theocracies, religious texts are law, the latter distinguished by Islam and Muslims in their application, as Sharia or Sharia law.”

The primary sources of Islamic law are the Qur’an and Sunnah. Certain Sharia laws are regarded as divinely ordained, concrete, and timeless for all relevant situations. It also has laws derived from principles established over time by Islamic lawyers.

Mainstream Islam distinguishes between fiqh (deep understanding, discernment), which refers to the inferences drawn by scholars, and Sharia, which refers to the principles that lie behind the fiqh. Scholars hope that fiqh (jurisprudence) and Sharia (law) are in harmony in any given case, but they cannot be sure.  

We would suggest that the answer lies in a return to the Five Pillars of Islam.

The ‘Five Pillars’ of Islam are the Foundation of Muslim life:

  • Faith or belief in the Oneness of God and the finality of the prophethood of Muhammad;
  • Establishment of the daily prayers;
  • Concern for and almsgiving to the needy;
  • Self-purification through fasting; and
  • The pilgrimage to Makkah for those who are able.

 

Sources: 

Afrol News (n.d.), Gender Profile: Algeria, www.afrol.com/Categories/Women/profiles/algeria_women.htm.

CEDAW (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) (2003), Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women: Algeria, Initial Periodic Report of States Parties, Cedaw/c/dza/2, CEDAW, New York, NY.

Freedom House (n.d.), Algeria, www.freedomhouse.org.

UN (United Nations) (2004), World Fertility Report 2003, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, New York, NY

Algeria Government Statistics:   http://www.apn-dz.org/

Gevernment Overview: http://www.algeria-us.org/institutions/institutions.html

Gender Index:  http://genderindex.org/country/algeria

Women Under Sharia Law:  http://www.menorah.org/Women%20Under%20Islamic%20Sharia%20Law.pdf

 

A Celebration of Women

is speechless, and supplicates COMMENTS on the Status of Women in Algeria still today.

Comments

  1. Kirby Ahmann says:

    I truly appreciate this post. I have been looking all over for this! Thank goodness I found it on Bing. You’ve made my day! Thx again!

Speak Your Mind

*

Copyright 2014 @ A Celebration of Women™ The World Hub for Women Leaders That Care