UN Special Rapporteur on gender-based violence, Rashida Manjoo, is visiting Algeria through Saturday (November 20th) to meet with women in cities across the country.
Manjoo plans on meeting with senior officials and producing a report on instances of violence against women.
The rapporteur said this week that the Algerian government has met its international obligations to secure women's rights, but there are a number of areas that need improvement.
The preliminary report praised the mechanisms adopted by Algeria to reduce violence and discrimination against women. Manjoo recommended elevating the minister delegate in charge of family and women's issues to a ministry itself. She also welcomed the initiative establishing a Centre for Studies on Women, Family and Children.
However, the UN official stressed the lack of a dialogue between government and civil society, in addition to the absence of accurate statistics about the cases of violence against women. The report will be discussed at the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva in July 2011.
The UN visit was based on a report of dozens of violent attacks on female workers in Hassi Messaoud over the past year, according to working women's organisations chief Khalfa Fadhila. There were also reports that some 300 heavily armed men attacked and burnt a group of women.
The special rapporteur visited the region along with a representative of Human Rights Watch in order to probe the circumstances surrounding the 2001 attacks. Manjoo said she "obtained conflicting information during the visit", adding that there will be a thorough investigation.
Manjoo also met with Minister Delegate for Family Affairs Nouara Djaafar who presented the policy of Algeria to combat violence against women. The minister claimed that during the last two years there has been a decrease in violence. Nevertheless, she emphasised the need to involve other ministerial sectors and civil society and work to minimise the phenomenon.
"Based on a study of violence against women carried out by the ministry in 2009 on a sample of 2,000 families, only two out of 10 Algerian women have been subjected to violence," Djaafar said. "Algeria is ranked among the least prevalent countries of the phenomenon of violence against women."
Messoudane Kheira, head of the Children Protection Office in the Public Directorate of Security, said that physical assaults were at the forefront of forms of violence against women with 4,191 victims, followed by ill-treatment with 1,313 victims, and sexual violence with 186 victims. Seventy-four cases of sexual harassment were recorded, in addition to five murders.
However, the Algerian organisation Wassila ("means"), reported significantly higher numbers, with 7,419 women victims of violence. The group's numbers on sexual violence and other crimes were also higher than official statistics. Wassila even reported cases of honour killings as well as burns and severe beatings resulting in death.
Khadija, 54 years old and one of the women victims of domestic violence, said she contacted one of the organisations that are active in the defence of women's rights seeking help.
"At first I hesitated to contact this association that advised me to file a complaint before the court, which I did not do fearing for my four children's fate", Khadija said. She added that she "hated the marital home because of her violent husband who turned her life into an unbearable hell".
"Violence in our society always has a male connotation, whether it is a husband or a brother or a father," said 37-year-old Fatima.