Equality Still Out Of Reach For Algerian Women
It’s 50 years since the Algerian revolution, the war which eventually led to Algeria gaining independence from France after nearly eight years of bitter conflict, terrorism and social disintegration.
By Deborah Cowan
Throughout this struggle for independence, the women of Algeria played a prominent role, fighting alongside their fellow countrymen as full citizens, and fully integrated into the war effort in both combative and non-combative roles.
According to academic Meredith Turshen in her paper ‘Algerian Women in the Liberation Struggle and the Civil War: From Active Participants to Passive Victims’, women functioned in a broad range of roles.
“Women participated actively as combatants, spies, fundraisers, as well as nurses, launderers, and cooks,” she writes, adding that women were no more spared the wartime practices of torture than their fellow male soldiers, with thousands being arrested and subjected to physical abuse.
Yet 50 years on, according to South African news website IOL, women’s position in society has once again been eroded to one of inferiority.
According to former independence fighter Zoulikha Bekaddour, the post war decline for women from positions of prominence to passive insignificance began almost instantly.
She said: “We realised that even though we had fought as full citizens, we had to return home and be quiet, which was hard to accept.”
As a result, a group of female war veterans called a rally in 1965 to voice their concerns. Thousands of women took to the streets of Algiers in response.
But, Bekaddour said: “We quickly saw that our struggle had been hijacked. We held a march that frightened the men.”
The role of women in Algerian life continued to deteriorate as time passed. “At the first constituent assembly there were 13 women; at the second there were only two. It was over. The regression had begun,” says Bekaddour.
She was right. In 1984, a family code was passed which once again designated women as minors, despite standing in direct contravention of the Algerian constitution, which protects men and women as equals.
Nevertheless, Algerian women continued their fight for equality, with a further feminist surge in the 1980s. However, this was overshadowed by other events which would once again plunge the country into civil war in the 1990s.
Today, the picture is more mixed, but equality is still a long way off. Fatma Oussedik, Algerian author and sociologist said that, although Algerian women constitute 53% of the population, no real progress has been made toward greater political participation or social equality.
Statistics show that, of Algeria’s 389 lawmakers, only 30 are women and only three of the country’s 1,541 mayors are women.
And according to the International Monetary Fund, unemployment among women is 19%, compared to the national average of 10%.
However, women are performing better in education, with 60 percent of school leavers being female. In employment, women also dominate in health, education and justice sectors.
Their presence is dominant in the judicial system, with 65% of judges being female. However, despite such a surprisingly high figure, none has presided over the bar since independence.
The problem with these gender gaps seems to be that, while women are now better educated and seem able to gain skilled jobs, they are still struggling to attain more senior positions.
Politically, the picture is about the same. In November last year, the Algerian Parliament passed a law which was supposed to facilitate greater representation of women in political life, initially announcing a 30% electoral list quota for women across the board.
A later modification saw this quota changed to between 20% and 40%, depending on the size of the constituency.
The fight has been a long and often bitter one for the women of Algeria, but it is a fight they are determined to continue.
“History shows that nothing has been handed to Algerian women,” Fatma Oussedik said. “Everything has been won through suffering.”