Muslim Lawyer Defends Women's Rights

Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Nasr Eddine Lezzar (Asia News)
Northern Africa

Based on Islamic law and tribal traditions, Algerian law discriminates against women in terms of marriage, children's custody and education, divorce and more. Here is an in-depth analysis by an expert.

On the occasion of International Women's day, celebrated yesterday, Nasr Eddine Lezzar, an Algerian lawyer expert in social issues, said that women in Algeria are victims of profound discrimination, and that the country's Family Code (adopted in 1984 and changed in 2005) is unfair and has “perverse effects” to the extent that it represents one of the “darkest stains on the status of women in Algeria”.

Nasr Eddine Lezzar made his views public in an article published in the al-Watan newspaper. In it, he shows what hardships and suffering women have to endure in predominantly Muslim nations, where religion and tribal customs work together against the rights of women.

The author notes that whilst Algeria is a signatory of all United Nations international conventions, it has not signed any of the conventions that touch upon the status of women (political rights, nationality of married women, age of consent and marriage as well as elimination of all forms of discrimination). Only in 1994, did Algeria ratify the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination. However, the national parliament has not yet turned the convention into domestic law and the Family Code remains “a vile and dreadful recipient of all the gender inequalities found in Algerian law.” In particular, Mr Lezzar notes some gross inequalities:

  1. In marital negotiations, the groom is free to act on his own behalf, whilst the bride must rely on a guardian (father, relative or judge) to ensure that the terms of the marriage contract are just and fair. In practice, this means that women have no say in the decision since the absence of a guardian invalidates the marriage.

  2. Under Algeria's Family Code, polygamy is an unfettered right for men. Husbands are only required to inform their wife or wives about their decision. Even if a wife disagrees, she can resign herself to it or file for divorce and leave the marital home.

  3. Husbands can file for divorce for any reason or no reason. Wives can only file for divorce under certain circumstances (non-payment of alimony, husband's absence for a year and a day without justification, disability preventing the consummation of the marriage as intended, husband's refusal to share the marital bed for four months or more, husband's conviction for shameful crimes and serious moral errors).

  4. Children's custody is also a cause for discrimination. Only fathers can make legal decisions on their children's behalf. Mothers can do it only if a judge authorises it, and this only as it applies to children's housing, food and medical treatment.

  5. A woman with custodial rights does not automatically have right to the marital home. This can happen only if the husband owns two homes and the wife does not have parents who can take her in. In light of Algeria's housing crisis, this means that mothers and their children can find themselves homeless or forced to move to substandard housing.

  6. In mixed marriages, mothers have custody of their children only if they live in Algeria. For example, a French woman married to an Algerian but living in France cannot have custody of her children without their father's consent (which is very rare).

  7. Fathers (not parents as required by international conventions) choose their children's education. Non-Muslim women married to Algerian Muslim men do not have a say in their children's education.

Nasr Eddine Lezzar notes that the “wretched” Family Code was changed in 2005, without any positive change. The only improvement affects the marital home. Under the old code, courts would award women the marital home under two conditions. Under the new version, they have to ensure that women's right “to a decent home” is upheld.