Algeria was resolved to adopt a progressive approach to the restoration of rights to Algerian women, but the road travelled since its independence had displayed only modest results, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was told this morning, as Algeria presented its first-ever report on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women.
The Algerian Government needed to make up for centuries of backwardness and restore women to their proper place in society, the Permanent Representative of Algeria to the United Nations, Abdallah Baali, told the 23-member expert body which monitors compliance with the Convention. Algerian women had played an active role throughout the country's history. Most recently, they had fought in the resistance movements in the mountains and cities of Algeria, side by side with men. They now had joined in a new struggle for democracy and pluralism.
As elsewhere in the world, Algerian women had suffered from male domination, exacerbated by illiteracy and ignorance, he said. Through adoption of a revised Constitution in 1989, the country had entered a new qualitative stage of its development, and remarkable strides in the field of education would prove to be the most decisive factor in the emancipation of Algerian women. The doors of "modernness and universality" must be opened wide, and the Government had reaffirmed its determination to do so, he added.
Following the introduction of the report, Committee members commended recent bold efforts by the Algerian Government, but questioned the primacy of international law in a country where the personal status of women was governed by a Family Code steeped in religion. Women's equality needed to be in the forefront of political regimes with an even greater vigour and urgency in societies where the challenge of retrogressive Muslim fundamentalist movements existed, one expert said.
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Another expert noted that Algeria was being watched by the world, and particularly by Muslim women, with some anxiety. It was in a unique position to demonstrate its determination and commitment to implement the women's convention without delay. That would not only ensure women's human rights, but also help liberate the Muslim religion from its position as hostage to the demands of deviant fundamentalists. One expert expressed her certainty that in the face of that daunting challenge, Algerian women would confront their struggle for human rights with the same courage with which they had taken up arms for independence.
The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. today, to continue its consideration of the report of Algeria.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to begin its consideration of the initial report of Algeria (document CEDAW/C/DZA/1 and Add.1, submitted under article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. That article provides for States parties to submit reports on legislative, judicial, administrative and other measures adopted to give effect to the provisions of the Convention. (For background on the session, see Press Release WOM/1003 of 15 January).
The report, the first since Algeria ratified the Convention in 1996, reviews actions undertaken by the public authorities to give effect to the rights of women in Algeria. Prepared by a number of ministerial departments and institutions, it provides an overview of the current status of Algerian women and the practical measures that have been taken since the Convention came into force. The first part covers the general context in which efforts to overcome discrimination against women are being pursued in Algeria, while the second provides specific information on each of the Convention's provisions.
The report points out that since it regained its independence in 1962, Algeria has been engaged in building a social State based on popular political participation and respect for human rights and freedoms. Successive constitutions have enshrined such universal principles, but the move to a multi- party State in 1989 accelerated Algeria's accession to international human rights treaties. Since 1988, the Government has had to consolidate a State based upon the rule of law and pursue a transition on two fronts: political democracy; and economic liberalization.
The report suggests that the overall status of women in Algeria since 1962 should be viewed in the context of the country's political, economic, cultural and social progress. As in all Arab-Muslim societies, the legal status of Algerian women presents a dichotomy. The constitutional principle of gender equality is scrupulously respected in the context of civil and political rights, where women enjoy the status of full citizens. With respect to their personal status, they are governed by the Family Code, which is based in part on the Shariah.
According to the report, the most seriously contested provisions of the Family Code by human rights organizations are the retention of the legal recognition of polygamy and the formal nature of the daughter's obligation to seek permission for her first marriage. The conclusion of marriage for a woman is the responsibility of her legal guardian, either her father or a close male relative, and the judge acts as guardian in matters relating to marriage for those who have no other. The father may oppose the marriage of a daughter who is "bikr", or a young nubile woman, if that is in the interest of the daughter.
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The report describes the dowry as a unilateral gift made to the future wife upon signature of the marriage contract, and a constituent element of marriage under the Family Code. Without payment of the dowry, the marriage is declared null and void. The practice is widely accepted and religiously motivated and has gone unchallenged by women's movements in Algeria. They do demand, however, that the dowry's value be set by law at a symbolic level. Divorce occurs at the will of the husband, by mutual consent, or on the petition of the wife. If the wife chooses to separate from her partner without giving one of the accepted reasons, she must pay her husband an agreed amount of reparation, which shall not exceed the value of the dowry at the time of the court's judgement.
The practical effect of the apparent contradictions should be neither exaggerated nor underestimated, the report continues. Rather, they must be regarded in light of the place and role of Islamic law among the legal instruments and jurisprudence of the country. That place and role is not only extremely limited, but is steadily diminishing, in light of the sophistication of present-day problems, inter-cultural influences, and the secularizing trends under way today in Algerian society. Since Algerian independence, the only juridical instrument that makes reference to the Shariah is the Family Code. Despite its literal adherence to certain provisions of the Shariah, the Family Code can be seen both in its form and in certain rulings as an attempt to restrict the role of Islamic law.
As Algerian society evolves and as the authorities pursue efforts towards greater emancipation of women, there is certain to be further progress in this area, the report states. For example, overcoming patriarchal practices is a concrete objective, but must be approached with caution and perseverance. It would be unwise to issue abrupt legal edicts that clashed so violently with social norms that they could not be enforced. That would undermine support for the rule of law and could lead to mistrust and conflict between the legislature and the citizenry, or even to open defiance of the public authorities, under the pretext of obedience to divine law. The importance of that aspect must not be underestimated.
The report states that a reinterpretation of the role of religion in society was necessary, which would demand patience and time and could only be achieved by raising the general cultural level. Thus, the Algerian Government intends to take a gradual approach to introducing elements of gender non- discrimination and equality, while ensuring that there was no backsliding with respect to the personal status of women. The wisdom of that approach was reflected in the irreversible advances already made, particularly regarding the right to work.
According to the report, Algeria's ratification of the Convention was part of the policy of gradual emancipation. That step aroused strong and conflicting emotions in Algerian society and elicited opposition from both the conservative and more liberal circles. The Government's position had been to accede to the
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Convention with certain reservations, with the implicit understanding that accession must be used as an argument for gradual changes in the country's social standards. Those reservations would be removed as the changes progress. Accession to the Convention would continue to inspire the introduction of concrete measures to promote the advancement of women in Algeria.
Indeed, accession to the Convention prompted the Government to envisage amendments to the Family Code. In that spirit, draft amendments to the Family Code were adopted on 24 May, and would be submitted for legislative approval during the current term of the legislature. In the political sphere, the commitment by Algerian women in the struggle for national liberation had naturally led them to participate actively in the country's reconstruction efforts. Despite the shifting nature of political events in the country, the general status of women had improved appreciably.
The report goes on to say that economically, the constraints resulting from the shift to a market economy have had negative repercussions on the living conditions of the population in general, particularly the women. In a country where women constitute half of the population, the current shortfall in employment was reaching alarming proportions. Working women in Algeria were concentrated in the services sector, with nearly one-third of them employed as elementary school teachers. One-third of employed women were under the age of 24, and more than half were under 30, which "suggests that many women leave the workforce after the age of 30, for social reasons".
The report states that some 86 per cent of working women have at least an elementary education, 41 per cent have had secondary schooling, and 22 per cent have had university education. During the 1980s, attendance by girls was declining between elementary and secondary school, but a decade later the proportion of girls in secondary school had grown to nearly 50 per cent. Generally speaking, participation by girls has been slowly progressing from one decade to the next. Yet, despite universal access to education in Algeria and encouragement of the gradual abandonment of gender- based prejudices and stereotypes, some negative attitudes persist, especially in rural areas, where parental authority over daughters remains more entrenched.
Algerian democracy has experienced difficulty differentiating between promoting human rights and establishing political mechanisms for that purpose, according to the report. Certain political parties have not always been sincere in their commitment to human rights. One of them, the Front Islamique du Salut (Islamic Salvation Front), now dissolved, has allowed systematic attacks on the most fundamental human rights to life and freedom of conscience.
Introduction of Report
ABDALLAH BAALI, Permanent Representative of Algeria to the United Nations, introduced that country's report. He said it was both a great honour and a heavy responsibility to submit the initial report. The international community
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would soon celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which crowned the hard struggle waged by women worldwide. Today, as the world community prepared to enter the third millennium, women's rights continued to be denied in many countries where behaviours had their roots in earlier times. Much progress had been made, which the Committee had accompanied and often provoked.
Scarcely two years since its accession to the Convention, his country had presented its initial report, signalling its commitment to the advancement of women, he said. Indeed, Algeria was resolved to adopt a modern progressive approach to the restoration of rights to Algerian women. In measuring the road travelled since Algeria's independence in 1962, one observed only modest results, with much remaining to be done. Since the long colonial reign during which Algerians had suffered the horror and denial of their most basic rights, the country had recovered its sovereignty and had endeavoured to restore those rights and build a strong State. It aspired to being in the forefront of the struggle for freedom and progress.
Towards that goal, he said, the Government needed to be strengthened, hospitals and schools needed to be opened, and jobs must be created. It was essential to put in place the necessary infrastructure to instill hope in millions of Algerians. It was also necessary to make up for centuries of backwardness and restore women to their proper place in society. Algerian women had played an active role throughout the country's history. Most recently, they had fought in the resistance movements in the mountains and cities of Algeria, side by side with men. They had suffered, as elsewhere in the world, from male domination, exacerbated by illiteracy and ignorance. Thanks to remarkable efforts in the field of education, millions more Algerians -- both men and women -- had attended schools and universities.
Through adoption of a new Constitution in 1989, Algeria had entered a new qualitative stage of its development, he said. In a formidable movement, some 54,000 associations had been formed, including several human rights leagues and a national human rights observatory. Those had been quickly joined by a State Council, thus illustrating the growing attention to the protection of human rights and freedoms. An independent and rapidly expanding press supported such advances. Yet, with the appearance of an integrated society, terrorist violence had emerged. Algerian women, realizing what they had to lose, had joined men in a new struggle for democracy and pluralistic electoral institutions, the only bulwarks from sliding back into "arbitrary darkness".
As a result of the mobilization of millions of Algerians against terrorism, as well as the devotion of the country's security forces, that phenomenon no longer posed a threat and was being forced back into rare pockets of isolation, he said. Economic growth had returned and the overall human rights situation, particularly of women, was rapidly improving. The Government had recently reaffirmed its determination to work for respect for human rights, which was seen as crucial to Algerian women. The historical injustice they had
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suffered would have to be corrected by constitutional guarantees. Moreover, the doors of "modernness and universality" must be opened wide. The promotion of human rights for women, in particular their access to education and employment was critical to their ability to meet the challenges of tomorrow.
He said that, for a long time, Algerian women had been excluded and marginalized. They were now winning their proper place in society, and becoming necessary partners. Education was the most decisive factor in their emancipation. Illiteracy rates, at more than 80 percent in 1962, had been reduced to 31 percent today. In 1962, fewer than 800,000 students had attended school; today, there were more than 7.5 million students in school, out of a population which had multiplied 2.5 times.
He said the education of millions of women would open up their access to employment social services. It would raise their living standards and break down the prejudices and social obstacles to their development. The Government would strive to create an ever greater place for women in the framework of its development strategies, through concrete actions aimed at further improving access to education, health and training.
A new societal dynamism was emerging, alongside a clear women's movement consisting of hundreds of associations working towards the promotion of women's status and the realization of their aspirations, he said. The report summed up the situation of women as actors and beneficiaries of development, and offered a realistic appraisal of both the progress made and the inequality still observed. In a display of Algeria's commitment to the advancement of women, the report also reflected efforts under way to correct the existing inadequacies and to ensure better implementation of the Convention.
On article 1, which defined discrimination, a Constitution that had indisputably placed women at the centre of national concerns had been elaborated, he said. It contained new provisions relating to the pluralism of politics and trade unions, as well as the strengthening of freedoms of expression, meetings, information and direct and secret voting.
On articles 2 and 3, relating to the elimination of discrimination and the advancement of women, he said, citizens were equal before the law and there could be no discrimination based on birth, race, sex, opinion and so forth. The Constitution sought to overcome and eliminate any obstacles towards the full flourishing of all citizens. It also set forth equal access to functions of the State, including the right to work and equal access and right to justice. Clearly, Algerian legislation had ensured that there could be no distinction between men and women in the enjoyment of their rights in any area of life. Now, all civil, penal, administrative, commercial and electoral codes were aligned with the principle of gender equality, and any new law which did not rule out such discrimination could be annulled.
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Despite the rapid evolution of Algerian society, certain social obstacles remained, he said. Significant progress towards the advancement of women could be measured since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995. For example, a permanent committee designed to evaluate the promotion and protection of Algerian women had been established in June 1996. Its conclusions had already been submitted to the public authorities. In addition, a Ministry serving as the focal point for all efforts to promote women and the family was headed by a woman. Its main mission was to ensure the implementation of a consistent policy for such activities, as well as to ensure the realization of women's needs and aspirations in coordination with the Constitution and global strategies. Nonetheless, it would be incorrect to declare that gender discrimination had disappeared; that was far from the case, particularly regarding access to decision-making posts.
On article 4, on accelerating de facto equality, he said the Constitution contained specific provisions in the area of women and work, including a form of positive discrimination that sought to protect them from the dangers relating to certain jobs. Women also enjoyed the option to retire earlier than men, and legislation was in place which protected women with maternity or family concerns. Women were prohibited from working at night or on a day of legal rest, as well as in dangerous, unhealthy or harmful situations. Labour laws also protected the pre- and post-natal periods, and provided additional time off during the workaday for nursing mothers. Further, part-time work had been legally organized, and access to education had been expanded. In the past, girls were not allowed to attend school after puberty. Although much needed to be done to "catch up", those changes, little by little, were reversing prejudices and backward mindsets.
He said that the integration of women and girls into the social dynamic, although inadequate, was moving in the right direction. Public authorities had also developed a public policy to promote the integration of girls into society by setting up schools for Saharan and nomadic girls, which offered them housing, food, and so forth. Despite all of those efforts aimed at education, women continued to be the victims of domestic brutality, both physical and psychological.
Turning to article 5, dealing with sex roles and stereotypes, he said that both the Constitution and the Penal Code doled out very severe punishment for the perpetrators of violence against women. Specific revisions of the Penal Code penalized those who perpetrated crimes against minors and deprived them of food. Whenever an Algerian judge heard a complaint concerning violence against women, that judge was particularly vigilant. The Court could only deal with cases that came before it, and a large number of Algerian women had silently submitted to their mistreatment. The Family Code provided an opportunity for abused women to demand a divorce, and if physical abuse was established, divorce would be granted. Education and awareness-raising was the essential tool to limiting the phenomenon of violence. Meanwhile, many organizations of abused or
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beaten women, known as "distressed women's associations", had been established throughout the country in recent years.
Violence against women, rooted in socio-economic conditions, was constantly declining, he said. A positive change in mindset had occurred as a result of efforts by the media, school and communication within the family. Some legislation which had been submitted for adoption would have a direct impact on attenuating certain forms of moral violence. Restrictions on the practice of polygamy, in current practice in Algeria, required authority of a judge and the prior notarized agreement of both spouses. Moreover, the husband must ensure that the honour and dignity of his spouse would be safeguarded. When abuse was present, the husband could not simply be granted a divorce upon his request. In other advancements, the wife was entitled to share the family inheritance, based on her contribution.
He said that the terrorist phenomenon, however, had limited that positive evolution. Indeed, terrorism had indiscriminately affected all levels of society. Women were dually afflicted because in addition to domestic violence, they had been subjected repeatedly in recent years to rape and kidnapping outside the home. In view of that Islamic terrorism, the Government had endeavoured to protect its people and it had remained determined to eradicate terrorism. It had sought a greater presence in the field and better mobilization against the terrorists and the fascist and retrograde society supported by them. Centres had been created to help women who had been traumatized by such violence, and various seminars had been organized. Since last year, new programmes had been introduced into the elementary schools, espousing the culture of peace, tolerance and the rejection of violence.
Turning to article 6, the suppression of the traffic in and of the exploitation of the prostitution of women, he said that long before the entry into force of the Convention, Algeria had taken steps to penalize anyone who would fly in the face of its customs or encourage prostitution. Slavery, servitude and forced labour were unknown in his society, which had adhered to all international conventions it had acceded to. Measures had been taken to respect the rights and freedoms of all human beings, regardless of gender, as indicated in specific articles of the Algerian Constitution and its various codes.
With regard to article 7, the elimination of discrimination against women in political and public life, he said the right to vote was guaranteed in the Constitution and the Electoral Code. Discriminatory practices still existed, however, in a small number of circumstances, due to the slow change in mindset and to the fact that women had not entered political life until recently. There were presently two women in posts in the Ministry of National Solidarity and Family, and the Ministry of Culture. Eight women had been sitting on the Council of the Nation since January 1998. Thirteen women had been elected to serve as deputies and sat in the National People's Assembly. Also many women headed grassroots movements in various areas. In the area of justice, women
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represented 667 judges out of 2,510. The trend was growing, because most candidates to the judiciary body were women.
There was no doubt that Algerian women were investing themselves in the political arena, he said. They had a considerable presence in the electoral body and were actively voting as had been seen in the last election in 1996. The year 1995 had been a benchmark for democratic pluralism in Algeria. In a society strongly marked by tradition, the right of vote by proxy had previously gone to the husband, who was the head of the family. The presidential election in 1995 had made it possible for women to reclaim their right to vote and had gotten rid of the proxy vote. Now the proxy vote was used only in extreme circumstances, such as with handicapped women. Algerian women had sought to challenge terrorist threats by voting and publicly expressing their support for democracy. The act of voting was a civic act that made it possible for women to choose their representatives and exercise their personal freedom, which some cultural and religious taboos would have had denied them.
Referring to article 8, equal opportunities with men to serve as representatives of government at the international level and as participants in the work of international organizations, he said that access to the diplomatic core was equal for women and men. There were no distinctions due to gender in that area. In the field of diplomacy, women were present throughout the hierarchy, and were holding various responsible posts. Women were regularly appointed to delegations that represented Algeria at international meetings.
He said that regarding article 9, equal rights to acquire, change or retain their nationality, Algerian nationality was guaranteed by Article 30 of the Constitution. Neither marriage with a foreigner nor changing the nationality of the husband during marriage made the women stateless or obliged her to take her husband's nationality.
Regarding article 10, elimination of discrimination against women in the field of education, he said that education had expanded in recent years at all levels due to an increase in the national budget for that area. Priority was given to education, because it was believed that education was key to the progress and emancipation of people in general, and women in particular. It reflected the desire to consider human resources as strategic and to address those issues in society. Algeria had instituted measures to support the attendance of girls in schools, especially in poorer areas of the country. The opening of school canteens and boarding schools was meant as a means for families in precarious situations to allow their girls to stay in school. Scholarships and financial assistance made it possible for them to buy supplies needed to stay in school. There were also free schoolbooks so that the costs inherent in education could not serve as a pretext for taking girls out of school.
There were national centres to deal with the elimination of illiteracy, he continued. The considerable efforts made had been implemented by the vast
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educational infrastructure in the country. The educational system as a whole had constituted about 7.5 million students, both girls and boys, in the period 1997-1998. The Ministry of Education was one of the three in the country where women were represented in greater number. There had also been a marked growth of girls in higher educational establishments during the past decade. Job training for women had increased in various areas, such as administration and management, handicrafts, and clothing.
With regard to article 11, elimination of discrimination against women in the field of employment, he said that the inclusion of women was guaranteed in the Constitution. The full rights of workers, both men and women, were clearly laid out. The specific situation of women in the context of labour regulation and social security was also addressed. Despite the encouraging measures taken, the progression of female labourers had been slow in the past decade. The 1986 economic crisis in Algeria had resulted in a slowing down of job creation with negative effects on women's activity. The proportion of the active female population among the total active population remained weak, considering the potential in that area. Also, due to the definition of an active population, family helpers in the agricultural sector had been left out statistically.
There were more women present in areas of work that required qualification, which reflected the higher level of instruction of women, he added. The number of women entrepreneurs had grown, and women had organized into associations and were active at the national level. Regarding the maternal protection of working women, there were laws to assure the keeping of jobs and maternal leave. Informal domestic work was not well recognized qualitatively or quantitatively.
Article 12, elimination of discrimination against women in the field of health, was guaranteed in Article 54 of the Constitution, he said. Access to health services was also guaranteed without any gender discrimination. Legislation since 1993 made the State responsible for care expenditures for deprived persons with no coverage. The Health Charter, in 1998, had defined the basic principles and guidelines of national health policy. Family planning had been an integral part of health programmes since 1974, and had been strengthened in the 1990s. Awareness of contraceptives was virtually universal. The majority of women knew of at least one type of contraception and use was increasing.
Today, the number of women involved in the health profession was a factor that contributed to more women having greater access to healthcare, he continued. AIDS had affected Algeria in 1985, when the first case had been discovered. Presently, 72 per cent of AIDS cases affected women between 20 and 49 years of age. Since 1988, a series of measures to counter the spread of AIDS had been taken, including the creation of a national blood agency and the setting up of monitoring and surveillance sites for risk groups. The objective of national policies was to increase benefits and reduce the inequalities in access to care.
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With regard to article 13, elimination of discrimination against women in other areas of economic and social life, working women benefitted from the social security system which recognized no gender discrimination, he said. In addition to health insurance, women were afforded special protection measures and measures regarding retirement issues. The right to health insurance was guaranteed and maternal rights were advantageous to women. They received 14 weeks maternity leave with full pay. Retirement rights were equal to those of men. Legislators had also established principles by which women could benefit from a five year bonus.
Turning to article 14, problems faced by rural women, he said that often their work was considered an extension of their domestic work. Although they were responsible for activities such as handicrafts, they rarely had the opportunity to enjoy the product of their sales. They were involved to a small extent in managing and marketing their products. Meetings with rural women had determined that they had the same problems as rural male farmers. In addition, they faced 12 hour work days, combining domestic and outside work, and ignorance of their rights due to illiteracy. Their problems required long-term actions that had to take into account their place in the economy. Research was also needed for the integration of rural women into the national economy and to respond to their needs.
With regard to article 15, equality before the law, the principle of equality between the genders was guaranteed in the Constitution, he said. Article 31 of the Constitution laid down the duties of institutions to ensure that equality. Article 55 stated that all citizens had the right to work. Also, women were empowered to deal with all aspects of their property. Legislative texts that governed the workplace enshrined equality, but also provided provisions to promote women. Labour legislation also included measures to protect women, especially regarding maternity and their position in the family. The right to travel and freely choose their domicile were guaranteed in Article 44. Women had the right to travel anywhere at anytime, within the territory or abroad, whether alone or accompanied by their husbands.
Regarding article 16, elimination of discrimination against women within marriage and the family, he said that Islam was the religion of the State. Marriage was a contract which was drawn up and recorded in a civil record, eliminating the traditional oral contract. The minimum age had been raised to 18 for women and 21 for men. Consent by both the man and the woman was required. When a family was approached by someone who wished to marry their daughter, they had to go along with the wishes of the daughter. With regard to inheritance, women had full administration of their own income and could dispose of their property as they pleased. Divorce could only be pronounced by a judge, and excluded any unilateral oral pronunciations by the husband. The Family Code made it possible for a woman to have custody of children after the death of her husband. The equality of the personal rights of both spouses was protected under law. The Commercial Code had no distinctions between men and women who were merchants.
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Turning to reservations, he said that Algeria had actively participated in the Fourth World Conference in Beijing and intended to implement the recommendations resulting from it. Positive movement had been made and a revision of the Family Code was underway. Algerian ratification of the Convention fell within the context of the gradual emancipation of women. Ratification had sparked discussion in the society, causing the Government to put forward some reservations to the Convention, none of which had really hampered the Convention. Algeria's reservations did not fly in the face of women fully enjoying their rights.
Algeria had some difficulty with paragraph F of article 2, he said. With the evolution of mindsets, customs and practices, and the Family Code, there would be a greater emancipation of women. Above and beyond the positive results that would be obtained by the authorities, to free women of constraints, the evolution in Algerian society due to education and access to work, together with grassroots movements, would eventually lead to a progressive removal of Algeria's reservations.
He added that there was no doubt that Algeria's adherence to the Convention and its subsequent implementation had impacted the emancipation of its women. Also, the status of women had considerably improved since independence. Algerian women were present today in all areas of political, economic and cultural areas of the country. Nothing in the country's legislation diminished women's rights in public life. Any that existed were only protective measures. Women naturally faced obstacles that were related more to mindset than to legal texts.
Some backwardness still existed, such as domestic violence, he said. While it was not as widespread, it had to be severely repressed. Education and information campaigns to raise awareness had been productive. Also, terrorist violence was a real problem in the society, and for women in particular. There would be more general evolution in Algerian society in the future. Women had demonstrated their courage in the war of liberation and were demonstrating that courage today in their commitment to promote democracy and their own emancipation.
General Comments by Experts
AIDA GONZALEZ (Mexico), Committee Chairperson, said the introduction of the report had been excellent and concrete, as well as extensive. It had provided ample data on implementation of the articles of the Convention, for which the Committee was deeply grateful. The presentation had provided a very real and enriching picture.
Several experts agreed that the information provided in the initial report, as well as the important information included in the representative's passionate oral statement, were most welcome. The addendum to the report (document CEDAW/C/DZA/l/Add.1), concerning an evaluation of the implementation
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of the Beijing Platform for Action, had included important additional information on such subjects as literacy training for girls and women, combating poverty and inequality, and protection of the girl child and the eradication of violence against women. Also appreciated had been the explanation provided in the statement outlining the reasons for Algeria's reservations to articles 2, 9, 15 and 16 of the Convention.
[Those articles concern, respectively: legal and administrative measures to eliminate discrimination; equal rights to acquire, change or retain nationality; equality before the law; and elimination of discrimination against women within marriage and the family.]
One expert drew attention to the Islamic texts which governed the personal status of Algerian women and placed them in an inferior and submissive position. Those texts were backward with regard to the present situation in the country and the political will of the Government. The promotion of equality should absolutely affect the personal status of women. Thus, reforming the Family Code was necessary, as Algerian women needed to be placed in the forefront of national politics. That national priority should no longer be deferred because of cultural practices; women's status was an important political struggle between the Government on the one hand, and terrorist forces on the other. Legitimizing women's place in the family and society was the only force tied to the democratic undertakings of the Government to obstruct the political reactionary forces, which were endangering not only women, but the entire society.
She said that the Government must embark on the necessary changes to give Algerian women their dignity, basic rights and humanity. Women worldwide had stood in solidarity with the Algerian women during their courageous long struggle against terrorism, and they followed with great concern the country's application of the Convention. More information was needed on the dissemination of the Convention, including whether it had been invoked by women in the Algerian courts. Moreover, were the provisions of the Convention above Algerian law? She expressed the hope that the Government would soon remove its reservations to the Convention. For now, she was pleased that the treaty had accelerated the process of respect for women's rights.
Another expert was pleased to learn that international law had primacy over domestic law in Algeria. Yet, given the report's reference to the dichotomy for women living in Islam, she really had not understood the primacy of international law. Moreover, what was the primacy of international law in the face of reservations to the Convention? she asked. She also sought additional information about the operation of the recently established Constitutional Council, including its handling of the Islamic Family Code, which contradicted the Constitution. Despite the difficult political and economic situation in Algeria, she hoped the problem of women would not be forgotten. Their emancipation was a problem of democracy, and if that was not in the
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forefront of the Government's commitment, the future of democracy in Algeria, as well as its future stability, would be endangered.
Another expert echoed the sentiment that the Government's explanation of reservations to the Convention had "taken the wind out of many of us". Unless those reservations were removed soon, however, Algerians would not be adhering to their own Constitution. She also questioned whether any violation of provisions of the Convention had been challenged in the domestic courts. On the issue of polygamy, she wondered whether wives were empowered enough to "say no to polygamy", even given their legal right to grant permission. She suspected that issue was a "non-starter", and an area which should be seriously considered for amendment. Moreover, seeking permission from a guardian to marry was contrary to the spirit and letter of the Convention.
Another expert expressed her certainty that Algerian women -- with the same courage with which they had taken up arms for independence -- today had to face this other scourge of widespread violations of their human rights and the atrocities committed against them.
With regard to rural women, another expert urged the Government to step beyond its awareness of the problems they faced and move into action. She sought improved data for future reports, in order to be able to compare developments in the various areas. Also missing was information about women of Berber origin, who comprised at least 30 percent of Algeria's population. The Government needed more explicit anti-discrimination legislation, since the Constitution and international law alone were not sufficient. She also wondered whether the Government had plans to provide training for judges and lawyers, particularly concerning the Convention's very important definition of discrimination.
To the representative's comment that the legal situation governed only the public sector, she noted that the Convention also covered the private sector, including family life. The Government should review its reservations, and consider the absence of reservations to the Convention by other Islamic countries. She also wished to learn more about why some of the amendments to the Family Code, proposed by women's non-governmental organizations in Algeria, had not been accepted.
In societies where the challenge of retrogressive Muslim fundamentalist movements existed, women's equality needed to be in the forefront of political regimes, with an even greater vigour and urgency, another expert said. Admittedly, many steps had been taken by the Algerian Government, particularly in the areas of education and women's introduction into public and economic life, but the State needed to show uncompromising and consistent determination to take steps in all aspects, particularly relating to family law. That should be done on an urgent basis.
Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 15 - Press Release WOM/1079 406th Meeting (AM) 21 January 1999
Algeria was being watched by the world, and particularly by Muslim women, with some anxiety, she said. Religion and tradition should not be allowed to be used as an obstacle or excuse for limiting the Convention. The Government's responsibility was to ensure that its citizens were enlightened on the truly expansionist and compatible character of Islam with the needs and standards of modern times, especially as it concerned women's rights. Algeria was in a unique position to demonstrate its determination, commitment and energy to implement the women's Convention without delay. That would not only ensure women's human rights, but also be a significant step towards liberating the Muslim religion from its place as hostage to the demands of deviant fundamentalists.
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