- Algeria is slowly noting progress towards achieving real gender equality. New family and nationality codes are to provide more equality. However, in rural Algeria, "stereotypical sexist views persist," resulting in what government officials call "a rural exodus" of women seeking freedom.
Representatives of the Algerian government today discussed their country's achievements towards gender equality with international experts at the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women. A report made by the government had listed substantial progress, but the experts such as Egypt's Naela Gabr said she had "expected greater achievements in the promotion of women's rights in Algeria" since the country delivered its last report in 1999.
Although numerous articles of Algeria's national legislation provided for gender equality, the situation of women in the country was "hardly equal, particularly in rural areas, where stereotypical sexist views persist," the experts noted. Problems in rural areas included gender-related violence, male dominance at home and in the workplace and the appliance of traditional laws.
Responding to questions about rural women, an Algerian government representative noted what he called "a rural exodus in the past few years," as consequence of the poor position of women there. The percentage of women in rural areas was already down at 49 percent, he said, pointing to recent surveys.
Algerian women seemed to be revolting against the sexism and discrimination experienced in particular in rural areas. Their interest in moving on and liberating themselves from male dominance was also documented by recent statistics on education. While illiteracy rates among elder women in rural Algeria remain high - despite a large number of national literacy programmes - the new generations of women are becoming more educated than men of the same age groups.
Even in rural areas, school drop-out rates were now higher among boys than girls, according to the Algerian government. In 2002-2003, the drop-out rate was 6.7 percent total - 7.8 percent for boys and 5.7 percent for girls - on a national level. Women now constituted 54 percent of university attendance.
While legal reform was lagging behind, Algerian women and the press were moving society forwards to achieve more gender equality. For example, public debate on the issue of gender-related violence had opened up at the end of the 1990s and the provisions of the upcoming family code reform have provoked a heated debate in national media.
The new family code is to become the most important legal reform affecting gender equality in Algeria. Already in 2003, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika had instructed the Ministry of Justice to initiate a revision of the 1984 family code. The new law is currently being revised by the Council of Ministers and will probably be presented to parliament later this year.
The main changes proposed in the new family code included amendments aimed at removing discriminatory provisions against women in the areas of unifying the marriage age, mutual consent for marriage, the removal of guardianship for adult women when a marriage was contracted, and, in the case of divorce, guardianship of children given to the parent awarded guardianship. In the draft bill, a woman can simply state incompatibility as grounds for divorce.
In the current family code - which is based on shari'a law - a wife is considered legally subordinate to the husband. The old law, but also the new draft, accept polygamy. New conditions for polygamy would however lead to that most men would not opt for it, according to the Algerian government. A husband now would have to fulfil certain conditions before a new marriage could be allowed, including the need to request authorisation.
The Algerian representatives at the hearing were criticised by several experts for not addressing domestic violence in the country's legislation. International experience had shown that this needed to be addressed particularly. The Algerian government officials however claimed women had sufficient protection in the penal code, prohibiting all types of violence.
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