New Algerian Law Finally Defines Sexual Harassment & Violence Against Women As A Crime

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Since it’s declaration of independence from France in 1962, Algeria has been a country in strife. It is the largest country on the African continent, and the 10th largest in the world, yet the daily struggles of its people are not common fodder in the international media.

Known as the gateway between Africa and Europe, due to Islamic insurgents and civil unrest and ethnic violence, Algeria has suffered. In the split from France in 1962, over a million people were killed. During political strife in the 1990s, it is estimated 100,000 Algerians died.

A change in constitution in 2008 by current president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has been in power since 1999, removed the 2 term limit on a president in order to potentially set himself up with a life-long presidency. In other words, carte blanche on what he wants to do with the country.

Amnesty International reports that the country has been declared in a “state of emergency” since 1992, which has greatly affected the state of human rights, and especially women’s rights. Where it is seen most is in the discriminatory divorce laws (where women can only file based on certain specifications, men can divorce for whatever reason), inheritance rights (women usually inherit half of a brother’s share), and violence.

Up until recently, the law did not define rape as a crime, but merely “an attack on honor” where a rapist could be absolved of any wrong-doing simply by marrying his victim, according to UNICEF. The killing of a female spouse was also excused by law if adultery was involved. The law also did not previously criminalize violence against women, marital rape, or sexual harassment.

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That is, until the end of January 2016, when a new law was finally signed into agreement, defining sexual harassment and violence against women as a crime. While the law is aimed specifically at male spouses, it does target perpetrators of street harassment toward women.

According to a report from AFP, if a domestic attack prevents the woman from working for over 15 days, the perpetrator faces two to five years in prison. If a woman is mutilated, or the violence causes loss of eyesight or a limb, or any sort of permanent damage, the law says the attackers could face from 10 to 20 years’ incarceration.

This is not only a major step forward for basic rights for women, it is also a major win for feminist groups who have been fighting for this legislation for years. There has been an increased number of violent attacks toward women in recent years, and with the law not holding attackers accountable, many women often haven’t reported their attacks.

Officials say the 7,500 cases of violence against women reported in 2015 represent only 20% of the real number, since women prefer to stay silent rather than bring shame to their family. This could now change with protective legislative measures in place.

Algeria had previously signed the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1996, but it has taken this long for the issue to be taken seriously. A report from 2012 on Algeria says it is a country of paradoxes, where it boasts a rather high percentage of women in government (30% thanks to an implemented quota) and female college graduates (60%) compared to the rest of the Arab world and other conservative Muslim countries, a lot of its advances are largely on paper, rather than a daily lived experiences for women.

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Which is why feminist activists have been fighting for equality laws especially in relation to gender violence. The Middle East Eye reports that in 2014 the judicial police registered about 7,000 complaints of domestic violence. Some women are even beaten to death. Between 100 and 200 women die every year because of violent abuse, the judicial police indicated.

Organizations such as SOS Women in Distress in the capital Algiers, CIDDEF, a women’s empowerment organization, the Algerian League for Human Rights (LADDH), Amnesty International Algeria, and Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) have been raising awareness and their voices in order to pressure government to criminalize violence and harassment toward women.

In March 2014, just days before International Women’s Day, the National Assembly passed an act banning domestic violence against women, but it was the second chamber that took their time agreeing on the reform as it was widely criticized by certain sectors of society.

Some Islamists believe the law is contrary to what is outlines in the Koran (and Algeria is a Muslim country) and seeks to “break up the family”. Some even claimed it “takes revenge on the husband and on the man in general”, and said “it threatens family unity”. Wow…

However, Justice Minister Tayeb Louha defended the Islamic orthodoxy of the law, concluding that “koranic verses protect the honor of women and do not permit” violence against them.

Though there are many in favor of the new law, including the the ruling National Liberation Front party, Amnesty International want to see one particular clause removed, as they believe it is a loophole for offenders. The clause allows the survivor of domestic violence to pardon the perpetrator, which the human rights group says sets a dangerous precedent in a patriarchal, conservative culture.

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“The provision fails to confront the reality of the power relations and inequality between men and women. A failure to withdraw it could expose women who come forward to report domestic abuse to serious risks of violence or coercion to force them to withdraw a complaint,” they said.

Algerian feminist Soumia Salhi echoed that, saying the “pardoning clause is a problem because it “negates the word of women and is a message of impunity to the authors of violence.”

Oudjdane Hamouce of the Socialist Forces Front said “with the introduction of the pardon, the law loses its essence.”

While it is a step in the right direction, there is still work to be done, and elsewhere in the world also. There are 19 countries in the world which currently do not have laws criminalizing domestic violence.

China recently took a huge leap forward by introducing domestic violence legislation for the first time in its history which feminist activists have been protesting about (and some were even arrested and jailed), yet there are criticisms their law doesn’t go far enough to protect LGBT couples.

There may be further progress on the Chinese as well as Algerian anti-domestic violence and sexual harassment measures, but it is clear that thanks to the work of feminist and human rights activist groups, the voices of women are beginning to be heard louder than ever before.

To read about other countries which sadly and shockingly still have no laws criminalizing acts such as rape, beating a woman, killing a woman, and abducting a woman, click here. There is much work to be done in the fight for gender equality globally.

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  1. Pingback: The Law May Have Changed, But Sexual Harassment Is Still A Daily Reality For Women In Algeria - GirlTalkHQ

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