The conservative government and society restricts the rights of women in Algeria.Many of the values upheld by conservatives stem from the country's official religion, Islam. As a result, the following are considered crimes and can be punished with fines or jail time.
- Attempting to convert a Muslim.
- Conducting unauthorized, non-Islamic public religious services.
- Committing acts "against the noble nature of the mosque" or acting in a manner "likely to offend public cohesion" (US Department of State's International Religious Freedom Report 2007).
Some aspects of the law and many traditional social practices discriminate against women. The Family Code, adopted in 1984 and amended in 2005, is based in large part on Shari'a and treats women as minors under the legal guardianship of a husband or male relative. Under the code, Muslim women are prevented from marrying non-Muslims, although this regulation is not always enforced. The code does not prohibit Muslim men from marrying non-Muslim women, but it prohibits them from marrying a woman of a nonmonotheistic faith. Under both Shari'a and civil law, children born to a Muslim father are Muslim, regardless of the mother's religion.In Algerian society, women often play the role of wife and mother. The percentage of women in the workforce is very low. France 24 English reports that women only make up 15% of the workforce. The Algerian woman I spoke to confirmed this. She told me how women generally stay home while the men financially support the family. However, this is quickly changing! Women are becoming more involved in all areas of society, including politics and education.
In rulings on divorce, custody of the children normally is awarded to the mother, but she may not enroll them in a particular school or take them out of the country without the father's authorization. Under the 2005 Family Code amendments, women no longer need the consent of a male guardian (tuteur) to marry. The code requires only that a chaperone (wali) of her choosing be present at the wedding. This change signaled a major step for women, as the role of a tuteur--usually a woman's father or other male relative--is to conclude the marriage on the woman's behalf, while a wali acts as a protector who is present while the woman concludes the marriage herself.
The Family Code also affirms the Islamic practice of allowing a man to marry up to four wives; however, he must obtain the consent of the current spouse, the intended new spouse, and a judge. Furthermore, a woman has the right to a nopolygamy clause in the prenuptial agreement. Polygamy rarely occurs in practice, accounting for only 1 percent of marriages. Women also suffer from discrimination in inheritance claims. In accordance with Shari'a, women are entitled to a smaller portion of a deceased husband's estate than his male children or brothers. Non-Muslim religious minorities may suffer in inheritance claims when a Muslim family member also lays claim to the same inheritance. Women may take out business loans and are the sole custodians of their dowries; however, in practice women do not always have exclusive control over assets they bring to a marriage or income they have earned. Females under 18 years of age may not travel abroad without the permission of a legal male guardian.
Even though their situation is rapidly improving women still face significant barriers to success, including violence, domestic abuse, and discrimination.
Many women are beaten by their husbands in Algeria. This is normal. People accept, and even promote, this practice.
In the report "'Your Destiny is to be with Him': State Response to Domestic Violence in Algeria", Human Rights Watch states that Algeria has an inadequate response to Domestic Violence. This is due to:
- The lack of protection for women. Women do not have access to restraining orders. Women also face difficulties locating and being accepted into shelters.
Manal is 31 years old and lives in an NGO-run shelter in Algiers. She left her companion after he beat her on her abdomen when she was pregnant but went back to live with him because she had nowhere else to go, she said. In June 2013, she left the house with her baby at night. She said she was walking along the street and did not know where to go, when a police car approached her. Police officials asked her what she was doing at night on the street, and she told them she had nowhere to go. They took her to a Dar al-Rahma facility for women, in a commune in Algiers. She described the conditions in the center as “horrible”:
"As soon as I entered the place, the shelter staff asked me to take off all my clothes, even my underwear, and they kept me naked in a room for one hour. I felt humiliated. Then they gave me a uniform. They took my cell phone. I didn’t have the right to leave the shelter, even during the day. I felt as if I was in a prison."
- Improper implementation of laws. Police will often side with men in domestic disputes. They will either turn away women and say that it is a family matter, take down a complaint and do nothing about it, or listen to the perpetrator's excuse.
“Salwa” is a 39-year-old woman from Annaba with two children and a long history of abuse by her husband. She told Human Rights Watch that he started beating her from the early days of their marriage in 2006. She said she endured this treatment for years and never went to the police because she was too afraid of him. In September 2011, he hung her by the arms to a bar in the ceiling of their house with an iron wire and stripped her naked. He took a broom and beat her with it. He then lacerated her breasts with scissors, she said.
Bleeding and screaming, Salwa fainted. When she woke up, she discovered that her sister-in-law had come in. She freed Salwa from the wire, gave her something to wear, opened the door of the house, and told her to flee. She ran until she came to a hospital. The police guarding the hospital escorted her inside. At the emergency unit, they gave her first aid care but told her she could not stay. The police at the hospital took her to a police station. She had visible bruises, blood on her clothes, and her face was swollen from his beatings. She filed a complaint and accepted the police’s offer to take her to a shelter. They first took her to a state shelter for homeless people. Finding the shelter “overcrowded, not clean,” Salwa went to another in Annaba, one run by a nongovernmental organization.
When she felt physically able to leave the shelter, she went to the police to inquire about her complaint. They told her, “we called your husband, he said you fell and that is why you are bruised.” The police did not conduct any further investigation, such as summoning her husband for interrogation at the police station or arresting him, Salwa said.
With the help of the association running the shelter, she hired a lawyer and filed another complaint against her husband for assault. She said that a court eventually sentenced him to a fine and six months’ suspended imprisonment.
She filed for divorce twice, each time on the grounds of physical harm. The first time, in 2012, the court rejected her request for divorce and ordered her to return to the conjugal home. A year later, the court granted her request for divorce and ordered her husband to pay alimony. When he did not comply, she filed a complaint against him. She said the court sentenced him to six months in prison and a fine, but he went into hiding and the police said they could not find him.
As of April 2016, Salwa was still living in the shelter with no other place to go, bitter about the state’s response to her ordeal.
- Inadequate laws. The punishments for domestic violence are not severe enough, and many men are not punished at all.
For instance, article 326 of the penal code provides that any person who “abducts or corrupts” a child under 18 years without using violence, threats, or deception or attempts to do so can be punished with imprisonment of between one to five years. However, the perpetrator can escape prosecution or conviction if he marries the child, unless the marriage is annulled. In effect, this can allow cases in which perpetrators who rape children escape prosecution by marrying their victims and use the forced marriage of girls to such men as a means of protecting honor.
- Societal pressure. Women are pressured to not report their abuse. They are told it will bring shame and break up the family. They are pressured to pardon the perpetrator and often lack the economic stability to leave. This is because very few women work, and the ones that do are often forced to quit jobs by their husband.
Survivors, service providers, lawyers, and psychologists interviewed by Human Rights Watch spoke overwhelmingly of a social atmosphere that contributes to tolerance of domestic violence and silences victims. Authorities conducted a Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) with the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in 2012-2013 to gauge attitudes towards domestic violence. The survey, conducted in 2012-2013, of 38,547 women across the country aged 15 to 49 years, found that 59% of them believe that a husband has “the right to beat his wife” for one or more of various reasons, including: if she goes out without his permission; neglects the children; argues with him; burns the food; shows disrespect for his parents; or refuses to give him her salary or to quit her job.