Only a short time ago, commerce in Algeria was an almost exclusively male activity. Where once it was rare to encounter even a female sales assistant, today it is a common sight to see women-run businesses.
"The situation in Algeria has changed rapidly, much faster than was expected, in fact. All the stereotypes we held have now disappeared," Nasreddine Hammouda, a statistician at the Centre for Research into Applied Economics (CREAD) told Magharebia.
"We realised, for example, that women were returning to work after marriage, or even after having children. There's an attitude of 'I'm here, and I'm here to stay'," he said. "A professional career has become an important aspect of their lives. They are gaining financial independence from their husbands or families."
A study by the National Business Register Centre (CNRC) released in March 2010 confirmed the growing number of women in business. In 2009, the number of women retailers had reached 113,543, compared to 105,255 at the end of 2007. Businesswomen now make up 8.4% of all retailers. Nearly 97% of those women work alone while there are 3,728 women-owned corporations in Algeria.
"Why business? This is the sector which is developing. There are greater opportunities. In services, for example, they tend to recruit women for anything which involves dealing with the public, because it is generally also the women who deal with such matters and spend the money. There were women business owners before, but most often they were working with others as a figurehead. This is no longer the case today," Hammouda said.
These businesswomen are mainly in the wilayas of Algiers (8%), Oran (6%), Constantine and Tlemcen (4% each). There are also significant numbers of female-operated companies in Chlef Batna, Tizi-Ouzou, Sidi Bel Abbes, and Tipaza. According to CNRC, half of the women-operated businesses are in the retail sector, with a more than a third in services and 10.4% in crafts.
The level of women in business is "reasonable", according to CREAD researcher Abderrahmane Abdou. He said it was "right in the middle of the range of estimates of the proportion of working women".
"It would have been strange had it been higher than that," he said. "The proportion of women running businesses is currently around 7%."
"These days, women are better educated and demand their rightful place in the economic sphere, and we have seen more of them moving into the service sector. This movement is being encouraged by public policy which encourages greater involvement by women in the country's social and economic life," Abdou said.
"Furthermore, we have seen that the entry of women into the labour market is not conditional upon age. In the past, women would seek work before marriage and then leave work shortly afterwards. This is no longer the case. Over the past 20 years, there has been radical change in society. Both radical and unexpected!"
Abdou added that "women are taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the market and state aid mechanisms. The most educated women have realised that they have to build for a more comfortable and independent life for the future, whilst the less well-off in terms of their education are driven by the fear that this could be storing up some nasty surprises for them in the future, and they want to guard against this by building a professional career."
Algerian women are moving more and more into the world of work. In the past, they would to choose to become doctors, teachers or lawyers. Today, no area is closed to their ambitions.