Protests denouncing the high cost of living, unemployment, housing shortages and widespread corruption have multiplied in recent years. In January 2011, after a staggering increase in food prices and spurred by revolts in neighbouring countries, riots broke out and were followed by demonstrations demanding the end of the regime and democratic reform. However they failed to gather the momentum of demonstrations in other countries in the region.
In an attempt to ease tensions, President Bouteflika proposed a series of reforms, including a law on the representation of women in elected bodies. However, the quota adopted fell far short of expectations. As of March 2012, there were 3 women in the 38-member government.
Women's participation in protests
At the end of January 2011, civil society groups, including women's rights and human rights organisations, established a coalition to call for political and social reforms: the National Coordination for Change and Democracy (NCCD). The NCCD organised a series of protests but demonstrations were on a small scale. Memories of the conflict of the 1990s in which 100,000 people lost their lives and thousands were forcibly “disappeared” remain very present.
“We were prevented from protesting by the mass deployment of security forces. But Algerians revealed their thirst for change. In the 1st of May Square, an old man said to me: I'm afraid, I'm trembling, but I'm here, so that my children live in a better Algeria”. Nassera Dutour, Spokesperson, Collectif des familles de disparus en Algérie (CFDA), Interview El watan, 18 February 2011
Women participated side-by side with men in demonstrations, including as leaders. Women were among those arrested and beaten by police. Several women activists were specifically targeted by the authorities.
In February, in the face of protests, Bouteflika announced the withdrawal of the state of emergency and promised increases in wages in several categories of public service. In September 2011, draft laws on association, political parties and information, containing provisions further restricting civil liberties, were submitted to parliament. A bill on the representation of women in parliament was also presented, containing weak measures on the proportion of women candidates to be presented on electoral lists. Civil society actors, including many women's rights organisations, campaigned, unsuccessfully, against the adoption of the bills and the laws came into force in January 2012. The law on associations prohibits associations from receiving foreign funding.
Timeline of key events
2011 3 Jan: Riots erupt in Algiers and several other cities. 13 Jan: Mohsen Bouterfif, 32 years old and unemployed, sets himself on fire in Boukhadra, provoking further riots. 21 Jan: The National Coordination for Change and Democracy (NCCD) is established by several civil society organisations. 7 Feb: In Oran, a demonstration organised by the NCCD is dispersed by riot police. 12 Feb: Despite a ban on protests, the NCCD organises a demonstration in Algiers. Thousands rally in the 1st of May Square demanding democratic reforms. About 25,000 police officers surround protesters and prevent them from accessing the city centre. Supporters of the Bouteflika regime attack demonstrators and about a hundred people are arrested. 24 Feb: The state of emergency in place since 1992 is lifted, however laws adopted upon this basis remain in force. The powers of the army are increased. Demonstrations are banned in Algiers and other large cities. 5 Mar: Dozens of protesters, activists and journalists are arrested in Oran before a demonstration organised by NCCD-Oran. 16 Mar: Dalila Touat, representative of the National Committee to Defend the Rights of the Unemployed, is arrested in Mostaganem for distributing flyers calling for a rally. She is tried on 28 April 2011 but after a strong reaction of civil society and the international community charges are abandoned. 15 Apr: Bouteflika promises constitutional reforms. No steps are taken. Dec: Laws on association, political parties and information imposing further restrictions on freedoms are passed by Parliament. A law on women's representation in elected bodies is also adopted.
Women's participation in political life: opportunities and obstacles
Although women won the right to vote in 1958, they remain largely under-represented in the political and public spheres. In 2005, the CEDAW Committee expressed concern at the weak representation of women in decision-making positions at all levels. These concerns were reiterated by the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women in 2011.
Women participated massively, alongside men, in the war that led to Algerian independence in 1962. The Constitution, adopted in 1963, affirmed equal rights for men and women (art. 12) and required that the State "accelerate the freedom of women in order for them to become involved in the governance and development of the country”.
However a series of legislative reforms in the 1980s and 1990s including the adoption of the Family Code in 1984 entrenched discrimination against women. During the decade of armed conflict in the 1990s, women paid a heavy price, victims of violence perpetrated by armed Islamist groups and of enforced disappearances perpetrated by State actors. The failure to establish the truth surrounding violations and to deliver justice, the impunity granted by the Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation adopted in 2005 and the absence of adequate victim support services remain further major barriers to women's participation in public life. In 2005, the CEDAW Committee underlined the inadequate state response to violence perpetrated against women by terrorist groups and to the situation of the wives of the "disappeared". In 2011 the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women called on the government to create an independent commission to investigate all forms of violence committed against women during the conflict. As of March 2012, this recommendation remained unimplemented.
In 2010 Algeria was ranked 121 out of 134 countries in which discrimination against women is most prevalent (Global Gender Gap Report).The National Liberation Front (FLN), the only ruling party since independence, regularly yields on issues concerning women's rights in efforts to appease the most conservative forces.
Efforts to increase women's political participation and to promote women's rights are hampered by general restrictions on freedoms of expression, association, assembly and peaceful protest. The law on associations, which came into force in January 2012, further constrains the activities of human rights organisations.
Representation in government
As of March 2012 there were 3 women in the 38-member government: Minister of Culture, Minister Delegate for the Family and the Status of Women and Minister Delegate for Scientific Research.
Representation in parliament
People's National Assembly (lower house): Following the 2007 elections, 31 of the 389 members of parliament were women, representing 7.9%.
In 2008 a revision of the Constitution paved the way for the introduction of a quota for the representation of women in parliament (art. 31 bis). In January 2012 a law establishing the modalities for increasing of the representation of women in elected bodies (Law No. 12-03) came into force. However, amendments introduced during the passage of the bill through parliament significantly weakened the text. Initial drafts included a quota of at least 30% women candidates and required them to have a specific position on electoral lists but the final text set variable quotas of between 20% and 40%, depending on the number of seats in each electoral district. The law does not contain any provision requiring male and female candidates to appear alternately or that women candidates be placed at the top of lists, nor does it impose a minimum proportion of seats for women within elected bodies. Although the law provided a mechanism for regular evaluation of its implementation, the Algerian Constitutional Council declared this provision unconstitutional and it was removed from the law as enacted.
UPDATE: In the 2012 legislative elections, women won an unprecedented number of seats, 143 out of 462 representing 31% .
Council of the Nation (upper house): Since 2009, the Council of the Nation, composed of 144 senators, includes 7 women, representing 5%. There is no quota for the representation of women.
Representation in local assemblies
In the 2007 local elections, women gained 13.4% of seats in the regional popular assemblies and 0.7% of seats in the municipal popular assemblies. The 2012 law fixes the quota of women candidates on electoral lists at 30% or 35% depending on the size of the region (wilaya). In elections for municipal popular assemblies, the quota is 30% for constituencies of over 20,000 inhabitants.
Representation in the judiciary
Women represent about a third of the 3,000 judges. Although few women hold high positions in the judiciary, in 2004, a woman was nominated President of the State Council. In 2007, there were 3 women presidents of higher courts, 29 women presidents of tribunals and 83 women presidents of sections.
Reservations to CEDAW
Algeria ratified CEDAW in 1996, with reservations to several key provisions. Article 2 (adoption of measures to eliminate discrimination), article 9 (2) (transfer of nationality to children), article 15 (4) (freedom of movement and choice of residency), and article 16 (equality in marriage and at its dissolution) apply only to the extent that they do not go against national law and in particular the Family Code. Algeria withdrew its reservation to article 9 (2) following reform of the Nationality Code in 2005. The other reservations remain in force.
The Constitution contains several provisions guaranteeing women's rights. It affirms that all citizens are free and equal and that discrimination on the grounds of gender is prohibited (art. 29). Equal access to public positions and employment is guaranteed to all citizens (art. 51).Article 31 guarantees equality in rights and duties of citizens and provides that institutions work to ensure equality by removing any barriers that prevent effective participation. Following constitutional reform in 2008, a provision was introduced on the promotion of the participation of women in political life and their representation in elected assemblies (art. 31 bis).
In 2005, following a long struggle led by women’s rights and human rights organisations, the Family Code and the Nationality Code were amended. The Family Code no longer contains a provision requiring women to obey their husbands (former art. 39) and women have gained rights concerning divorce. The express prohibition on the marriage of Muslim women with non-Muslim men was deleted (art. 31) but the amended provision provides for the conditions for marriage between Algerians and foreign men or women to be fixed by regulations (as of March 2012, no such regulations had been adopted). The amended Nationality Code grants women the right to pass their nationality to their children. However, many provisions that discriminate against women remain in force.
"We managed to breach the sanctity of the Family Code, which was considered untouchable until then. The reforms must continue. Women must no longer have inferior status within the family, dependent on the authorisation of brothers and fathers". Nadia Ait Zaia, President of CIDDEF, FIDH interview, August 2011
Marriage: Women are required to have a legal guardian (wali), usually the father, present at the conclusion of the marriage contract (art. 9). The legal age for marriage is 19 years for both sexes (art. 11), however a judge can authorise the marriage of a minor (art. 7). Although since the 2005 reforms,the consent of both spouses to marriage is required, in the case of a minor the consent of the minor's guardian suffices. The Family Code allows polygamy (art. 8) on condition that the husband notifies his wife and future bride and obtains permission from a judge.
The Special Rapporteur on violence against women, in her 2010 report, expressed concern that the requirement that both parties to a marriage provide medical certificates is often used to require women to demonstrate virginity.
Divorce: While men can initiate divorce unilaterally and without any justification (repudiation, art. 48), women are required to prove strict conditions before a court (art. 53). Women can also initiate no-fault divorce under the Khula procedure, according to which it is necessary to provide financial compensation less than or equivalent to the amount of the dowry (art. 54).
Following a divorce or the death of the husband, a woman must observe 'Idda, a period of up to 4 months during which time she cannot remarry and must respect specific rules (art. 58 - 61). For example, she can be forbidden from leaving the family home. Certain categories of women are prevented from remarrying for a longer period of time ("temporarily prohibited women", art. 30).
Guardianship and custody: The father is the guardian of minor children; the mother assumes this role in case of absence or incapacity. Upon divorce, the mother can obtain guardianship of children on the decision of a judge (art. 87) and custody is first given to the mother (art. 64). The custody of male children ends when they reach age 10 and ends for girls when they reach marriageable age (art. 65). A divorced woman who has custody of her children loses her rights if she remarries (art. 66).
Inheritance: In general, the woman receives half the amount granted to a man (Book III of the Family Code).
The Penal Code criminalises rape (art. 336). Since reforms in 2004, sexual harassment is criminalised (Art. 341 bis). However, the crime of rape is defined in Arabic as hatk al'ardh (libel) and not ightisab (rape). There is no specific provision criminalising domestic violence. The act of adultery committed by a man is punishable only if he knew the woman was married, but this condition does not apply to women (art. 339).
CEDAW Committee, Concluding observations: Algeria, February 2012, www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/cedaws51.htm
Association AMUSNAW, Alternative report submitted to the CEDAW Committee, February 2012, www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/docs/ngos/AMUSNAW_Algerie_for_the_sessionCEDAW51_en.pdf
Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms Rashida Manjoo, Mission in Algeria, May 2011, www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/MENARegion/Pages/DZIndex.aspx
FIDH, LADDH, CFDA, Press statement, La révolte d’une population étouffée, January 2011, www.fidh.org/La-revolte-d-une-population
CIDDEF, Note submitted to the CEDAW Committee au Comité CEDAW, July 2010, www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/docs/ngos/CIDDEF_Algerie48.pdf
Marzouki, N., Women's Rights in the Middle East and North Africa, Freedom House, 2010, www.freedomhouse.org/report/women039s-rights-middle-east-and-north-africa/womens-rights-middle-east-and-north-africa-2010