ALGERIA: Women Demand Expanded Rights in Algeria, Morocco

Friday, March 19, 2010
Northern Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Human Rights

Women's groups throughout the Maghreb are pushing to change national Family Codes, rejecting current legislation as insufficient and demanding greater freedom and protection for females across the board.

In Algeria, a number of women's organisations are leading the fight to change Algeria's two-decades-old Family Code. Activists have criticised the code's restrictions on divorce and its guardianship rules for women who want to marry.

"Girls whose mothers were dead have had great difficulty marrying because their fathers do not wish to recognise them. There have been numerous cases and this situation is unacceptable," Women's rights activist Cherifa Kheddar said.

Kheddar has launched a nation-wide campaign called Kif kif devant la loi ("All the same in the eyes of the law") to educate rural women on their rights under the Algerian constitution.

Also in the current code, abusive husbands may have to pay if their wives choose to leave under khol'e rules. Ferroudja Moussaoui, a member of the women's group Amusnaw, criticized other aspects of the code.

"Polygamy is still legal where a marriage has been consummated. The marriage of minors is indirectly legalised," she said.

Activists dismissed the 2005 amendments to the Family Code, saying government officials chose to pander to the more conservative elements of society at the expense of an improved legal status for women.

The main advance of the 2005 reforms was the secularisation of the Family Code by removing all mention of sharia from the text, Moussaoui said.

"Previously we didn't have the right to talk about the Family Code, on the grounds that we were touching something sacred," said Moussaoui, adding that the Family Code does nothing to protect the dignity of Algerian women.

Louisa Hanoune, the first-ever female president of the Workers' Party (PT), called Saturday (March 13th) for the Family Code to be repealed.

Solutions are needed that can "help women overcome the barriers that are imposed on them in all domains" so they can exercise their rights as full citizens, Hanoune said.

Meanwhile, neighbouring Morocco just celebrated the sixth anniversary of its landmark Moudawana law, which marked a sweeping expansion of women's rights.

Several provisions in Morocco's Family Code have yet to be adopted on a wide scale, however.

One reform enacted by the law introduced pre-nuptial agreements for couples preparing to marry. Spouses are entitled to sign a document detailing the property they own and how it should be divided should the couple divorce, according to Article 49 of the Moroccan Moudawana.

Notaries public, or adouls, are also required to advise both parties of the provisions at the time that the marriage is solemnised.

Activists say that local notaries are ignoring the new laws.

"Adouls are not advising new couples of these provisions," said Fatima Maghnaoui, an advocate of women's rights. "When a woman does ask for this document to be signed, a dim view is taken of her."

According to statistics from the Ministry of Justice, only 15.5% of couples who married in 2009 signed the documents, a drop of 22.2% from the number of documents signed in 2008.

As it stands, Maghnaoui said, ignorance of the law means women do not stand up for their rights while men now hesitate to marry for fear of losing their property.

Fatima Moustaghfir, who serves as both a lawyer and MP, believes the law is necessary to further entrench women's rights in Moroccan society.

"Women must have recourse to the courts, even those who do not work, to assert their rights," she told Magharebia.