- Title: ALGERIA: Algerian politician says progress yet be made on women's rights
- Date: 17th May 2007
- Summary: BALLOON OVER HEADQUARTERS WITH RND INSIGNIA AND ALGERIAN FLAG
- Embargoed: 1st June 2007 13:00
- Location: Algeria
- Country: Algeria
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVAANJP1WJI5WMZNF88F3EBLMFWN
- Story Text: A prominent Algerian female politician said progress still be needed to be made in securing women's rights and ordinary Algerian women also expressed dissatisfaction with their position in society and government. A day before Parliamentary elections in Algeria, women in the capital expressed dissatisfaction with their position in society and the level of their representation in government, and said they did not believe the polls would effect change.
The elections are set to take place on Thursday and have been greeted with widespread apathy, with many observers predicting low voter turnout.
While many Algerians are concerned about fresh political violence and deep economic problems, there is scepticism that a new Parliament, set to be dominated by the ruling National Liberation Front Party (FLN) will have the power or will to solve Algeria's woes.
According to human rights groups and opposition figures, women in Algeria face discrimination both in law and in practice - particularly with regards to the "Family Code" that in many respects regards them as minors.
Women in Algerian society also frequently complain that they are not seen as equals by men, and they are under-represented in professional life and in government.
One prominent Algerian politician, Louisa Hanoune, whose Trotskyist "Workers' Party" (PT), has 21 seats in the 389 seat legislature, says that there are still legal barriers to equality.
"We are in Algeria, where women participated in the revolution, and where they are also represented in all sectors and the level of education is very high. But there is still something lacking in the social law and the social part should be taken into consideration," she said.
Hanoune, an ally of Algerian President AbdelAziz Boutflika, became the first Algerian woman to run for President in 2004, and says her party is trying to promote equality for women in political life.
"But we, with this election, we say that there is a possibility now to lift all the obstacles. We nominated 16 women who are leading the party list. In addition to which 42 percent of our candidates are women, which is almost equal to men," she said.
Female candidates may have found an equal place on the PT party list, but the raw statistics on their broader representation tell a different story. While women make up 52 percent of the Algerian population, they account for only 4 percent of MPs.
It is a statistic that strikes Amina, a young woman living in Algiers, as unfair.
"Women can give more, can serve more than men. And yet they are not well represented," she said.
The Family Code that is cited so often as preventing equality for women, was passed in 1984, with many analysts blaming pressure on the government by Islamic fundamentalist groups.
Up to 200,000 people were killed in political bloodshed in the 1990s between armed Islamist groups and government forces when an Islamist revolt erupted after the cancellation of a general election in January, 1992, which a now-outlawed Muslim fundamentalist party was poised to win.
Naima Hamdi, a teacher who lives in Algiers, said she was not going to vote in the election because her workplace was too far from the polling station. And she said that the elections would not effect change for either men, or women -who she said faced systemic discrimination.
"The Algerian political system prevents women from going very deep into political life. Even if one has a strong personality they wont' allow her to go deeper into political life -- any other sector, yes, but the political part no," she said.
While men and women are equal under Algeria's constitution -- the 1984 Family Code has been widely criticized for equating women in law with minors. For example the law obliges women to get the consent of a male relative before marrying. It also allows men to divorce more easily than women.
Some reforms to the law were made two years ago, however, with men now obliged to pay alimony and child support after they divorce.
In addition, the Algerian government can point to gains made in education, with, for example, more Algerian women now in University than men.
Nevertheless women who were interviewed in Algiers prior to tomorrow's vote were cynical about the chances that the legislature -- regarded by many analysts as a rubber stamp for the powerful Presidency - would come to their aid.
With a recent triple suicide bombing claimed by al Qaeda killed 33 in Algiers on April 11, raising fears of a return to 1990s-style violence, and unemployment at crisis levels, many Algerians are pre-occupied with their safety and economic survival.
In this context the rights of women in law is a peripheral issue in tomorrow's election. But for Algerian women, who have been staring up at a glass ceiling since Independence, the long-standing failure of the political system to address their concerns is yet another reason to stay at home when the polls open.
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