Conditions of Women
The People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria is on a self-described “gradual” transition to gender equality. In the 1999 filing of the initial two-year progress report on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Algerian government argued that improving women’s status must be balanced against deeply-held social attitudes.
Law of Personal Status
Women’s groups in Algeria have largely focused on improving women’s social welfare and reforming the 1984 Personal Code. The Personal Code dictates that women must appear in Islamic court under Islamic law to settle affairs, while the rest of the Algerian legal system is based on French civil law. A husband is a wife’s legal guardian under the personal status code. Women receive less inheritance than their male siblings. In their 1999 report to the UN, Algerian officials expressed hope that the Personal Code would be reformed soon. Reform was under discussion in 2003. The Algerian parliament approved on March 14, 2005 a presidential decree which amends the Family Law of 1984. However, the amendments did not remove the requirement that every woman have a male guardian. The decree was condemned by NGOs that defend the rights of women because it did not meet their demand to abolish polygamy and grant women the right to divorce.
President Bouteflika appointed the first female provincial governor and the first two female presiding judges in Algerian history. Women examining judges were increased in number in August 2001 from 15 to 137, out of a total of 404. The most recent legislative elections, held in 2002, increased the number of female members of the People’s National Assembly from 13 to 25 (out of a total of 389 members). Constitutional amendments in November 2008 also provided women with a wider margin of participation in political life through committing political parties to allocate a certain proportion for women's representation. The exact ratio of that allocation will be determined at a later date by a law to that effect promulgated by elected councils at the national and local levels. All major political parties include women’s divisions. The government has implemented anti-poverty and contraception programs to improve the status of women. According to the World Bank, the total fertility rate (births per woman) has fallen from 6.7 in 1980 to 3.5 in 1998.
Algerian legislation has made special provision for the protection of women in the workforce. That Act also provides for wage and salary equality by specifying that men and women shall receive equal pay for equal levels of qualification and performance. Women comprised 36% of the Algerian workforce in 1997 according to the United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Report of 2000. The percentage of women in the workforce had continued to increase despite rising unemployment and a substantial recession. The largest sector of female employment is the civil service. Nearly one-third (28%) of women are employed as elementary school teachers, 24% are office workers, secretaries or salespersons, 12% have unskilled jobs such as household help, and 6% work at manual labour. Female illiteracy remains relatively high, 42% in 2001, but that is down from 76% in 1980.
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
Algeria acceded to the CEDAW in 1997 with reservations as to primacy of Islamic law over the convention when the two were in conflict. To fulfill its obligations under the CEDAW and the 1995 Beijing Conference, the government has established a Standing Committee under the Ministry of National Solidarity and Family.
The civil war between government military forces and the Islamic opposition resulted in substantial casualties, including women and children. In fact, some Islamic terrorist attacks used to specifically target women and their children. Islamic forces also killed women for failing to wear veils in public and as acts of political assassination. Dozens of rapes and kidnappings were reported to human rights groups, and there are still many cases of missing persons. Paramilitary forces supported by the Government had also been implicated in extra-judicial killings, sexual violence, and other acts of gender-based abuse.