During the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962), Algerian women played a critical role in the country’s independence from French rule.
Urged by their unfaltering determination to liberate Algeria, women assumed various roles. They were fighters, nurses, cooks, agents de liaison, and purveyors. By engaging in such high-risk activities, Algerian revolutionary women such as Jamila Bouhired, Zohra Drif, Hassiba Ben Bouali, and Jamila Boupacha challenged the colonial paradigm of the obedient Algerian woman.
On July 5, 1962, the revolution ended, and Algeria achieved its independence. However, the hegemonic National Liberation Front (FLN) one-party state hastily ejected war survivors such as Bouhired and Boupacha from the sphere of politics. Drif went on to marry an FLN apparatchik.
Algerian women from all walks of life continued to engage in national politics in the years following independence. They wholeheartedly addressed women’s subjugation and systematic exclusion from politics by ex-fellow combatants whose objective was to restore old power hierarchies and expose Algerian women to various forms of violence.
The Algerian regime made substantial efforts to align its legislation with international women’s rights standards.
To address this dissatisfaction, the Algerian regime made substantial efforts in the 1980s to align its legislation in accordance with international women’s rights standards.
In 1984, the authorities promulgated the Family Code, an erroneous and reactionary interpretation of Sharia (Islamic canonical law) passed by the illegitimate and undemocratically elected Popular National Assembly.
Laws in the Family Code are prescribed to bolster men’s authority over women. These laws are at odds with Article 29 of the Algerian constitution, which states, “All citizens are equal before the law. No discrimination shall prevail because of birth, race, sex, opinion or any other personal or social condition or circumstance.” Moreover, the Family Code discriminates against women regarding inheritance, marriage, divorce, guardianship, and child custody.
It was the rejection of the Family Code that triggered the advent of women activists such as Salima Ghezali, Louisa Hanoune, and Khalida Messaoudi.
The rejection of the Family Code triggered the advent of women activists.
Though these three women had very similar views regarding the women’s rights situation in Algeria, they all ended up flirting with the military-backed regime.
Ghezali, editor of the now-banned French language weekly publication La Nation and president of the Association for the Advancement of Women in Algeria, was a staunch opponent of the authorities during the Algerian Civil War in the nineties. Around 200,000 civilians were killed – thousands of them women.
The civil war broke out in 1992 when the Algerian military top brass staged a coup d’état to stop the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) from winning the second round of what would have been the country’s first democratic and free parliamentary elections.
Yet, in 2017, Ghezali joined the Socialist Forces Front (FFS) and was elected as a member of the lower house. Six months later, she resigned claiming she found it very difficult “to change the nature of the Algerian regime from within.”
Louisa Hanoune is the head of the Trotskyist Workers’ Party. She was jailed by the regime several times prior to the legalization of political parties in post-October 1988 riots and was very popular among large segments of the Algerian population. But Hanoune fell into disgrace in 2019 when news broke out of her acquaintance with former president Abdelaziz Boutelika’s clan and the Intelligence Services.
Messaoudi, who has been vocal in denouncing the Family Code, ended up as the Culture Minister under Boutelika. She is now in prison for corruption charges.
In the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring, Boutelika’s government promulgated a new elections law regarding the gender quota system. The law instructs political parties to set aside one-third of its parliamentary and local council seats for women. This law improved women’s representation from 7 to 31 percent.
Boutelika’s government promulgated a new elections law regarding the gender quota system.
It should also be noted that this law enabled women representatives to be elected with no prior political experience. To be sure, many of the elected women had limited education and had, up to that time, worked in hairdressing salons. This earned the assembly the machos’ soubriquet “the coiffeur parliament.”
Despite all the socio-political hurdles Algerian women had to face, they stayed the course and remained socially and politically active. A case in point is their large and significant presence in the Hirak – the unparalleled mass protest movement which swept through the whole country and forced Bouteflika to put an end to his corrupt 20-year rule.
Joined by freedom fighters – including Boupacha and Bouhired, who were also seen marching alongside demonstrators – Algerian women are playing a significant role in galvanizing protesters and calling for the complete removal of the repressive political system that’s been in place since 1962.
This indicates that a new generation of Algerian women is finding impetus and motivation in heroic female freedom fighters from the great Algerian War of Independence.
A new generation of Algerian women is finding impetus and motivation in heroic female freedom fighters.
If women are still having to stand up for equality in Algeria – Africa’s largest country by area – it and all other Middle Eastern and North African countries must accept that women’s empowerment is the sine qua non of any socio-political and economic development.
The Algerian authorities must take the necessary steps to empower women and improve their economic inclusion. They can also engage with women’s rights advocates and civil society organizations to enact legal reforms that are gender-responsive and anchored in social justice.
Last but not least, the government must modernize the educational curriculum.
As the Arab nationalist, Islamic scholar, and one of the precursors of Islamic feminism, Sheikh Ibn Badis, affirms: “Women are the future. If you educate a girl, you educate a nation. But if you educate a boy, you only educate one person … It is she who preserves our values; it is she who preserves an entire society.”