ALGERIA: Algerian Women Optimistic on Eve of Presidential Elections

Monday, March 9, 2009
Northern Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 

Having battled for over twenty years against the Family Code, Algerian women now face a new challenge. Unlike their elders, whose aim was to get the Family Code amended, young Algerian women today are campaigning for greater political representation and equality of access to top jobs.

That many young women are focusing on their studies and careers and thinking less about getting married was confirmed by a recent study by the National Economic and Social Council. The average marriage age in Algeria rose from 18 in 1966 to 31 in 2008, researchers found.

Another cultural shift: women are also becoming involved in politics, despite the difficulties they face.

Although the constitution clearly forbids sexual discrimination, in reality the situation is very different. There are only 30 female members of parliament (7%). None chairs a committee, and only three government ministers are women.

Still, things could change with the April 9th presidential elections. The imminent introduction of a quota system will give women a greater presence, despite resistance from certain segments of the population. In November, the president added a new article to the constitution, Article 29B, which stipulates, "The State shall work to promote the political rights of women by increasing their chances of gaining access to representation in elected assemblies."

"It took us twenty years to get the Family Code changed. Modern women are now free from the duty to obey men, they can successfully seek a divorce, and they can be granted custody of their children in the event of separation," said Saliha Amrouche, a 60-year old supporter of women's rights.

"These things may seem trivial to the younger generation, but for us older women who had to obey the old law, it is a major triumph. It is the same with the new quota system. If political parties and society do nothing to help women gain greater political representation, then bringing in a quota system is the right thing to do. It's only fair that this should happen after we've fought for years," she added.

Myriam, a recent business school graduate, recognises that her generation has benefitted from women's struggles. "Our mothers suffered a great deal, and our grandmothers suffered much more before them. We are lucky enough to live in a somewhat more advanced society. People are now more accepting of women who pursue careers and do not think about getting married,' she said.

The fact that a female candidate is running in the presidential elections is seen by many as proof that society has made advances.

Louisa Hanoune, who has a reputation as an "iron lady", has called for further amendments to the Family Code.

Other candidates have made a variety of commitments. The two Islamist candidates, Djahid Younsi and Mohand Said, favour maintaining the status quo, while nationalist candidates Moussa Touati and Fewzi Rebaine see the contribution made by women to the War of Independence as a source of pride and believe that the law should be changed to bring about greater equality.