Today's Algeria was quite different from what it had been 10 years ago, and the Algerian woman, at the end of the millennium, had achieved her rights and was not going to give them up, the Permanent Representative of Algeria to the United Nations, Abdallah Baali, told the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this morning as it concluded its consideration of that country's initial report on its compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
The Ambassador told the 23-member expert body, which monitors compliance with the Convention, that Algerian society had been altered by the emergence of pluralism, intellectualism and continuing exchanges between Algeria and the rest of the world, as well as by the considerable role played by the Algerian press. Today, Algerian women were full actors in the political, economic and social life of the country. They had actively participated in the country's reconstruction and its struggle for freedom and democracy, and were now assuming their citizenship with pride.
In daily life, Algerian women were benefiting from rights and freedoms that went well beyond the boundaries of the Family Code, the 1984 Islamic- based law governing women's personal status. Indeed, some of its provisions were crumbling, as real-life practices threatened to consign outdated ones to the trash bin of history. Even now, the women's Convention had absolute primacy over Algerian law, including the Family Code. In order for progress to keep pace with the evolution on the ground, Algerians must topple the citadels of conservatism by overcoming prejudices -- one by one.
A delegation comprised of high-level women representatives of various Algerian Government Ministries replied to the wide-ranging questions posed by experts when the Committee had begun its consideration of Algeria's report last Thursday. One by one, the representatives supplied concrete information relating to all aspects of Algerian life: domestic and terrorist violence
Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 1a - Press Release WOM/1085 412th Meeting (AM) 26 January 1999
against women; guardianship of abandoned children; the rising use of contraception and the falling infant and maternal mortality rates; issues of nationality; equal access to politics and employment; criminal sanctions; and access to education by orphans and nomadic children of the Saharan regions.
In closing, one expert said that it would be in the country's best interest to finally and fully grant half of its population their rightful place in society. Another said that abolishing discriminatory laws and practices was the first priority of a State fighting Muslim fundamentalism. Algerians should challenge the very constitutionality of the Family Code, which, once amended, would still contradict the Constitution. There was no room for compromise in the area of women's rights; an accountable Government must take clear and urgent action to ensure them. While Algeria's recent laws and policies were impressive, experts expressed concern about their implementation.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 27 January, to resume its consideration of Kyrgyzstan's report.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this afternoon to continue its consideration of the initial report of Algeria on its implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The delegation of Algeria was scheduled to respond to questions posed by the Committee following the presentation of that country's report on 21 January. (For further background, see Press Release WOM/1079 and WOM/1080 of 21 January).
ABDALLAH BAALI, the Permanent Representative of Algeria to the United Nations, reiterated his country's determination in ensuring that equality of women become a reality. His Government was convinced that there could be no just, open and democratic society without the full participation of women. The Algerian Constitution clearly guaranteed gender equality and recognized that the conventions ratified by the county had primacy over domestic law. Thus, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women had absolute primacy over Algerian laws, including the Family Code, which was based, in part, on Islamic law and governed the personal status of women in Algeria.
At same time, he said, the reservations issued by his country upon accession to the Convention had resulted in a sort of suspension of the treaty's provisions. Of the reservations, two seemed to the Committee to adversely affect the objective of the Convention. It should be noted that when Algeria had acceded to the treaty, with some reservations, it had signalled its willingness to take up the challenge of ensuring that the dynamics of the Convention might lead to the lifting of the reservations.
Regarding his country's reservation to article 2, relating to the elimination of discrimination and the advancement of women, that was being implemented in Algeria. In the end, that was what was important. On article 16, on equality in marriage and family life, only some paragraphs were problematic. There again, a positive development could be contemplated to foster a revision of the Family Code. Concerning article 15 on equality before the law and civil measures, the fourth paragraph was not incompatible with Article 44 of Algeria's Constitution, or with article 37 of the Family Code. It was therefore necessary for his Government to clarify its position at a later stage.
Thus, after two years of ratification of the Convention, he said, his country had that delicate and crucial issue of reservations, about which it had demonstrated the will to move forward and would continue to do so. While the achievements of his Government were evident, there were still some shortcomings, particularly in the field of employment. Those could be
Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 3 - Press Release WOM/1085 412th Meeting (AM) 26 January 1999
explained more or less by the slow evolution of the Algerian mindset and the fact that women had appeared in the marketplace, as in politics, "late in the game".
Algerian women were certainly not a minority, totally subjected to male domination, and largely excluded from society. Indeed, today's Algeria was quite different from what it had just 10 years ago, and Algerian women, at end of the millennium, had achieved their rights and were not going to give them up. Changes in employment, health care and the evolution of attitudes had been accomplished by the women's movement, a pluralistic society, and the positive influence of Algeria's intellectual class. Continuing exchanges between Algeria and the rest of the world, as well as the considerable role played by the Algerian press, had all completely changed Algerian society, making it very different from what it had been in the 1980s.
Women in Algeria today were full actors in the political, economic and social life of the country, he said. Moreover, they had strongly participated in the country's reconstruction and its struggle for freedom and democracy, and they were assuming their citizenship with pride. In daily practice, Algerian women benefited from rights and freedoms, which had gone well beyond the Family Code. Thus, with or without revision of that Code, the current dynamics of evolution had continued and were expanding, in line with the evolution of history.
He said that, as a result, some provisions of the Family Code were "crumbling": they were outdated and would gradually become ineffective altogether. It was not the modern legal texts which could not yet be implemented, or the psychological opposition they faced; rather, it was the real exercise of rights in daily life which, in the end, would send outdated practices to the trash bin of history. Yet, the positive evolution on the ground did not mean that there was no need to truly revise those texts, considering their discriminatory approach to women. Progress, however, must keep pace with the evolution on the ground. In his heart, that was about to be achieved.
He said that the people must overcome, one after another, all prejudices, so that the citadels of conservatism might one after the other fall. Women in Algeria had been offered a modern status now, despite the resistance that such a bold project might encounter. The presence of violence against women, in particular domestic violence, was indisputable. That phenomenon was decreasing however, owing to the evolution of attitudes and education and the increasing involvement of the women's movement.
Regarding terrorist violence, he said his society, at all levels, had suffered tremendous violence for many years by people attempting to impose upon it a backward system based on a fixed and outdated interpretation of Islam. A group which had declared war on the Algerian Constitution, however,
Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 4 - Press Release WOM/1085 412th Meeting (AM) 26 January 1999
had lost their war. Fundamentalism, the base of terrorism, was regressing and would ultimately disappear. Algeria was no longer a country torn by violence, but a country resolutely moving forward. Safety and security had been restored over most of the territory, except in few pockets where terrorism continued. With Algerian women and men engaged in the struggle to replace barbarism with dignity, the outcome was not in doubt.
With regard to article 2, NADIA MOHAND AMER, Assistant Director for Women, Ministry of Solidarity and the Family, said that non-discrimination was a principle enshrined in the Algerian Constitution. National texts neither restricted nor limited the effectiveness of women's rights. Algerian women could be candidates in any election, including the presidential one, voice their opinions anywhere, meet freely and move freely both within the country and abroad. They benefitted from professional training and had access to all forms of healthcare. Also, the law did not discriminate in granting any type of credit.
Women were entitled to the same salaries, rest periods and pensions as their male counterparts, she continued. The Constitution established a principle by which any international convention that was ratified had primacy over national law. Women's personal status was codified within the country's family law. Since Islam was the State religion, the Family Code was based largely on the Shariah.
Turning to article 3, she said that dissemination of the provisions of the Convention had been done at various levels in society, followed by full publication of the Convention itself. There was constant coverage of the session's work in the Algerian media, as well as the positive role of the Convention in strengthening the rights of Algerian women. The present work of the Committee was being covered by Algerian journalists and was in virtually all of Algeria's media. The Government was trying to further disseminate the Convention by including it in the curricula of law faculties. If any citizen felt they had been discriminated against regarding the provisions of the Convention they could address the courts with their complaints.
Playing an important role in the Convention's implementation was the Ministry of Solidarity and the Family, she continued. The Ministry was responsible for ensuring programmes for the protection and promotion of issues dealing with the family, children and youth, and developing actions for marginalized sectors. Supporting the Ministry in its work was the National Women's Council and the National Committee for the Preservation and Promotion of the Family. The Council recommended proposals for a consistent global policy regarding women's issues and ensured the promotion of Algerian women. The Committee was the permanent consultative body for the harmonization and protection of the family, and defined elements for national policies. It also proposed special programmes for the benefit of the family.
Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 5 - Press Release WOM/1085 412th Meeting (AM) 26 January 1999
Implementation of Government policy in the advancement of women followed a national plan based on workshops conducted on the protection and promotion of women, she added. The plan addressed the recommendations of the Beijing Platform for Action, as well as areas such as employment, education and violence. It also developed programmes for women facing socially vulnerable situations, which covered all deprived households. Those programmes were financed under the special national solidarity fund.
Regarding assistance in the field of health in deprived sectors, she said that programmes had been put in place to improve family planning and assure socially vulnerable women access to contraception. There were also a vast number of programmes to fight poverty through income generation projects. Measures had also been taken to give deprived families access to housing, with the participation of local communities.
Addressing the need for clarification as to the role and mandate of the Council of the Nation and the Council of the State, she said that the National Council was a legislative body, with a two chamber parliament. Of the eight women who served on that body, three were elected and five were designated by the President. The State Council was a judiciary institution which assured the administration of jurisprudence in the country. It was made up of magistrates designated by the President and included 16 women.
Turning to article 4, HIND BENHASSINE, Deputy Director for Prospective Studies, Ministry of Civil Service and Administrative Reform said that among the temporary measures taken by the authorities to ensure the presence of women in traditionally male professions was a programme to recruit more women into the police force. The objective of that programme was to strengthen and develop actions for access and listening to the concerns of battered women at the police level. The army and police had seen an influx of women officers in the past few years and that was expected to increase in the future.
Regarding article 5, she said that the generalization of education, the mixed nature of university education and job training had allowed access by women to several areas that had previously been considered male areas. Co- education had greatly effected change in the social and cultural behaviors of Algerian men and women. The introduction of new civil education, including human rights and environmental education, had been put in place with the help of agencies such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). A reform of education incorporating a new modernist view was being worked on, and books and manuals were being revised in a continual way to achieve the removal of all discrimination in educational texts.
Sports activity was mandatory and was without discrimination, as it was open to both girls and boys, she continued. No specific clothing outside the
Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 6 - Press Release WOM/1085 412th Meeting (AM) 26 January 1999
normal athletic attire was required. Women were also encouraged to participate in artistic activities and in all areas of the media.
Turning to the question of violence, she said that Algerian authorities had devised strategies to address the issue based on education. Domestic violence, while a taboo subject, had been a regular subject of discussion and research since 1995. Data was in the process of being collected in that area. Presently there was an investigation on victims of sexual violence being conducted, based on a survey among medical providers in the private and public sectors. A second survey was being scheduled for 1999 on domestic violence. Female victims of violence benefitted from legal and medical assistance. Dissemination of brochures on women's rights regarding violence was also being carried out.
There were also rules governing compensation for victims of terrorist violence, she added. There were financial laws and an executive decree by which the beneficiaries of the dead victims, and victims of bodily harm and accidents, were compensated. Compensation took into account the family, social and professional situation of the victim and was calculated based on the monthly salary of the victim. There was also a group of psychologists mobilized to answer victims' questions. The Health Ministry had undertaken an opening up of medical and psychological consultations for victims of terrorist violence, with special emphasis on women and children.
She said custodianship of children was exercised by the father, and passed on to the mother if the father died. Under a new revision, custodianship was also given to the mother if the father abandoned the family or disappeared.
NADIA BENABDELLAH, Adviser, Ministry of Justice, addressed questions pertaining to articles 6, 7, and 9 concerning, respectively, the suppression of the exploitation of women; women in political and public life; and nationality. She said that the Penal Code had punished the exploitation of women, and could include sexual harassment which resulted in physical violence. The Office of the Prosecutor determined cases of sexual harassment, which was punishable under the Criminal Code by fines or imprisonment. Algerian legislation also punished any attempt to harass with the same severity.
Concerning sexual crimes perpetrated by medical personnel, she said those took place on an exceptional basis, but if their occurrence had been established, heavy sanctions were imposed. Violence against children was also punishable under the Penal Code. Rehabilitation of a physiological, moral and psychological nature was ensured by the public authorities.
Turning to gender equality of political and public life, several experts' questions on the institutional mechanisms had been dealt with under
Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 7 - Press Release WOM/1085 412th Meeting (AM) 26 January 1999
article 3, however, she would provide some additional data. There were seven women in the national democratic party; two women in the Socialist Forces Front; two in the Movement of the Society for Peace; one in the party to foster culture and democracy; and one in the workers' party. Two more women presided over political parties, and one had announced her intention to run for country President. When it came to political parties, therefore, women's presence was no longer limited to baseline involvement; many were now members of executive and decision-making bodies.
With respect to article 9, dealing with nationality, she drew attention to the three systems worldwide on which nationalities were based: bloodline; territory; and a combination of the first two. Algeria had chosen the system based on bloodline, and there was no distinction between men and women regarding acquiring or losing nationality. Indeed, in accordance with the nationality law, neither marriage to a foreigner, nor a change in the nationality of the husband during marriage, changed a women's nationality or rendered her stateless, requiring her to assume her husband's nationality.
She said that her country, like all Mediterranean societies, was a patriarchal one which chose nationality first on the basis of ancestry -- through the father, grandfather and great-grandfather. That option did not in any way imply the deliberate discrimination of women. All legal systems contained imperfections, and whenever those emerged, the interests of the children must have primacy. Algeria had aligned its nationality laws with the women's Convention. Those which had been adopted nearly three decades ago had sprung from a very different historical and sociological context. Revisions would ensure that the legal arsenal would coincide with both the international environment and the domestic social and political evolution.
LEILA BOUMGHAR, Adviser, Ministry of Education, answered questions about education, the subject of article 10. Education was a right enshrined in the Constitution. As such, equal access and free schooling was the obligation of the Government for children aged 6 to 16. The rate of enrollment in all levels of education of Algerian girls and young women had increased significantly in the last three decades. In order to further encourage that trend, a draft law on education would sanction any parent or tutor who prevented access to education for a child aged 6 to 16. To ensure application of that provision and to reduce the rate at which children abandoned school, meals, transportation, school supplies, and so forth, would be provided.
Moreover, she said, the new legislation would ensure that schools were located near family communities. Further, the building of schools, including secondary institutions in remote areas, had provided additional benefits to remote or rural populations. The number of boarding schools had also increased, including in the most remote areas, particularly for children of nomadic groups in the Saharan regions. Those schools were also open to orphans, as they were totally subsidized. Two years ago, the State had
Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 8 - Press Release WOM/1085 412th Meeting (AM) 26 January 1999
assumed the increased cost of schools. Recently, 20 communes had been given small school buses, and there were plans to purchase hundreds more, as part of the effort to reduce families' educational expenses, thereby encouraging further attendance by girls.
Considerable progress had been made in the employment of women as teachers, she said. Overall, the ratio of women in education at the higher level had doubled in the last ten years. The rather small number of female school directors was explained by the fact that women teachers often refused those opportunities, because of the considerable demands and constraints associated with accepting such posts. Those included a possible change in duty station far from the home and a heavier work schedule. Furthermore, the difference between a teacher's salary and compensation for the head of school was not considerable.
FARIDA KERKBEB, Inspector-General, Ministry of Labour, Social Protection, and Professional Training, replied to questions concerning equal employment, the subject of article 11. She said that the overall rate of activities of women in that field was still rather low. However, despite the economic crisis and the growing rate of unemployment, the number of working women was increasing and had doubled in a single decade. No legal provision had prevented married women from working, and any discrimination relating to marital status was prohibited. Moreover, facilities such as child-care centres were provided for them. That would also help single parents, who comprised more than half of the working women in Algeria.
In addition, social measures, such as increasing the number of kindergartens and nurseries, had been taken to keep married women in their jobs, she said. Home care by certified staff was also authorized, as were paid absence hours from work for nursing mothers during the first year of motherhood. School cafeterias had also allowed working women to reconcile their job and family responsibilities. Married working women were also protected by the statute of socially ensured persons. Marriage, moreover, had no impact on women's rights to social security.
The recruitment law, she said, had also provided for equal access to employment without gender distinction. Recruitment in the civil services sector over the last two years had showed a clear predominance of women. Furthermore, no authorization was required for women to seek and accept jobs; the same administrative documents were required of both men and women. All employers must work out a collective agreement and regulations, which must be submitted to the labour inspection office, to ensure their accordance with the law. No cases had been tried by the courts concerning gender discrimination.
Regarding the questions about aptitude and merit, she said that the impressive educational and training effort under way for Algerian girls had resulted in relatively numerous women employed in electronics, textiles and
Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 9 - Press Release WOM/1085 412th Meeting (AM) 26 January 1999
handicrafts. Equal pay, provided by law, had been rigorously and effectively applied. Work at home was an income-generating activity which was not based on a traditional classical work relationship. Statistics, therefore, were not available, but the Government had noted an increase in the number of women working at home, and had regulated that practice since last December. That type of employment had allowed many women to participate in the economy and to reap the resulting social and monetary benefits. Moreover, part-time employment offered the same social benefits as full-time work.
Pregnant workers had benefitted from total reimbursement of the medical and pharmaceutical costs incurred during their pregnancy, she said. They were also protected from some job risks, such as exposure to radiation, and had salary compensation for 14 weeks. Women unemployed through dissolution of a company or lay-offs enjoyed a national unemployment fund, which offered applicants apprentice and training programmes, in order to re-integrate them into the labour force. Measures to alleviate women's unemployment were in place for women aged 16 to 36. Single mothers also benefitted from Government protection and were allowed hospital care, which was anonymous and free of charge. Moreover, their social situation was not allowed to impede their employment.
RACHIDA BENKHELIL, Director, Ministry of Health and Population, responded to the many questions concerning women and health, the subject of article 12. She said that contraception's overall use had increased from 8 percent in 1970 to 56.9 percent in 1995. That progression related particularly to the use of modern contraception. She described the most popular means of contraception, beginning with the birth control pill. Among the natural methods, prolonged lactation was most often used. The range of available contraceptive products permitted in Algeria had expanded in 1997, as a result of a pharmaceutical review.
The average duration of use of contraceptives over recent decades had increased by many months, she went on. National programmes now promoted longer use of contraceptives. The number of men using contraception had doubled, owing to a national awareness programme alerting the population to the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. Men had also been targeted in the workplace, and attempts to increase awareness among rural men was now being implemented.
A national programme against maternal and infant mortality was part of the country's post-natal follow-up, she said. The system of summoning women for post-natal consultations now included some home visits. In addition, post-partum contraception had become a subject of continuing education for doctors and midwives. To determine the causes of maternal mortality, university studies had been undertaken. The number of maternal deaths resulting from haemorrhage had decreased, and addressing that problem had been deemed a priority for the end of the decade.
Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 10 - Press Release WOM/1085 412th Meeting (AM) 26 January 1999
She said that the incidence of child mortality had decreased significantly since the country's independence. Whereas the rate of mortality among small girls had been greater than boys, that trend had now been reduced. The decrease in child mortality was linked to the development of preventive health care and implementation, since 1994, of a programme against child mortality. The resulting vaccination programme had helped considerably. Since 1995, vaccinations for polio and smallpox had covered girls and boys equally. At present, the most frequent causes of infant and child mortality were acute respiratory infections, diarrhoea, and smallpox. The country's struggle against those killer diseases had become a priority.
Concerning abortion, therapeutic abortions were the only legal kinds, she said. Those had to be prescribed and carried out in medical facilities, in order to preserve the mother's health. Medical doctors performed abortions, and were responsible for granting permission for the procedure, with the consent of the interested party. The reduction in the number of abortions was an indication of better maternity follow-up.
Owing to the progressive ageing of the Algerian population, the concerns of the elderly had been made part of a national health policy, she said. Attention to menopause, genital cancers and osteoporosis had been included in reproductive health concerns. The year 1999 had been denoted the year of the elderly, which promised to provide an opportunity to strengthen programmes for the ageing. Studies and research would also provide a complete overview of maternity mortality, and lead to a policy overhaul.
Drug addiction among females, particularly among the young, had been evaluated by two surveys in 1990 and 1997, she said. Those had concluded that drug consumption had remained a marginal phenomenon among Algerian women, although the struggle against drug addiction was an integral part of the Government's health policy. That was based on prevention, as well as the medical, psychological and social care of drug addicts. Staff training was another critical aspect. In the national health budget, drug use was one of the most important items, together with education.
She said that although the Family Code had established a legal age for marriage, in practice, marriage was taking place much later. In the 1990s, the average marriage age for women was 26.3 years old, and 30 years for men. Through the beginning of the 1980's, women, on average, had married at the age of 20, so progress had been achieved, both in urban and rural areas. There had been a subsequent decrease in the number of early pregnancies. Replying to another question, she said that sexual abuse by health care workers was punishable under the law.
She said there had been a rapid evolution in the population in the first decades following independence -- from 1962 to 1984, the population had doubled. Given the constraints linked to demographic growth, a policy based
Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 11 - Press Release WOM/1085 412th Meeting (AM) 26 January 1999
on voluntarism had begun in 1983, triggering a deceleration of population growth by the end of that decade. There were fewer births because marriage was taking place later, and there was an increase in the use of contraceptives. Moreover, family planning, which lay at the heart of all population programmes, had been integrated into the overall health care framework. Family planning, however, was based on free choice, and coercion to have children had been completely banished from the national programme.
Turning to article 13, Ms. KERKEB said that provisions had been established to provide social assistance and welfare to vulnerable women. Two major benefits were available from the State budget for poor families. First, a lump sum was offered to older people as well as to the handicapped. The second type was a general interest benefit, which not only provided support for poorer sectors, but also helped to improve their social standing. There was no discrimination in the provision of social assistance, which was basically designed to help handicapped children and the elderly. In addition, poor people with chronic ailments benefitted from free medication, and disabled persons were beneficiaries of free rail and road transportation.
MS. AMER, speaking on article 14 and the care of rural women, said that a number of development plans existed to benefit poor areas and assist rural women. Construction of houses, proper health coverage, and access to medical services were some of the benefits available to rural women. They also had free access to property and credit under the Commerce Code. Rural women were also increasingly organizing themselves in associations. The Ministry of Agriculture had focused on development projects for creating employment for rural women. Research had been conducted to identify ways and means to improve their economic situation, and to sensitize rural women with regard to their rights.
Literacy programmes aimed at rural women had shown considerable results, said AICHA BAKRI, a representative of "Iqraa", a non-governmental organization which dealt with women and literacy. The organization disseminated information on health, education and human rights, in addition to establishing programmes to increase literacy among women. Among its activities, it had opened special classes for older women, who had been the first to come and had offered an example to younger women. As of June 1998, over 49,000 women had become literate due to the efforts of the organization. That was still not enough, as she was convinced that education was the tool to help women in their advancement.
Turning to article 15, MS. BENABDELLAH, speaking on legal and civil equality, said that after the father's death, the mother received custodianship of the child. That was an important gain in light of the conservatism imposed by tradition. With regard to taking care of children, at the end of the marriage, the right went first to the child's mother, then her
Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 12 - Press Release WOM/1085 412th Meeting (AM) 26 January 1999
mother, then the maternal aunt, then the father, and finally to the father's mother.
Regarding article 16, she addressed the concern expressed by experts over the personal status of women under the Algerian Family Code, particularly the concern over the amendments that affected the equality enshrined in the Constitution. She said that the revision of the Code had given rise to major debates in the society. Algeria had allowed debate on the Code because of the important contribution of women's associations, which expressed their hostility vis a vis the Code. In the months following Algeria's accession to the Convention, workshops on the protection and promotion of women had been set up. The debates which had taken place around the workshops on legal protection had set out 22 proposals to amend the Family Code. They had then been submitted to Parliament for consideration and adoption. The proposed amendments constituted major progress, in that, for example, they would guarantee housing to mothers with care of their children, and divorce would no longer be solely by the will of the husband, but could be requested by either spouse.
She said that polygamy was marginal and existed mainly in rural areas. In Algeria, the situation involved bigamy more than polygamy, and it affected less than 5 per cent of the married population. A new provision would compel the husband to prove that he was preserving the wife's honour and dignity. Revision of the Family Code would have to continue for society to evolve and allow women to fully enjoy their rights.
Comments by Experts
Several experts said they were confident that the forthcoming amendments to the Family Code would contribute substantially to further advancing women's equality in Algeria. One expert stated that in its interpretation of Islamic texts, it would be in the country's best interest to give half its population their rightful place in society. The will of the Government, media and individuals was needed to ensure acceptance of new priorities and advance the status of women. Legislation was one type of positive machinery to change society, and several experts encouraged the Government to consider its remaining reservations, especially within the context of the Family Code.
Another expert noted that while civil society contributed to the revision of the Family Code, the State had to ensure a timeframe for reform so that it would not be delayed. There was also a need to reassess the nationality law with regard to the passing of nationality of a mother to her child when the mother married a foreigner.
In the area of health, one expert expressed surprise at hearing that the country still had deaths from measles, which was supposed to have been eradicated from the world.
Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 13 - Press Release WOM/1085 412th Meeting (AM) 26 January 1999
Algeria's reservations to the Convention had been put forward two years ago and much had happened since then. An expert said she hoped to read that that those reservations had been lifted in the country's next report. Another expert said she would have liked to have heard more on the de facto equality situation of women in the country.
An accountable State was needed when talking about rights, said one expert. While impressed that Algeria had put laws and policies into place, she was concerned about the implementation of those policies and the monitoring of that implementation. In that context, she said, it would be useful in the future to have data pertaining to human rights violations, prosecutions, and disappearances.
While aware that Algeria was under attack from terrorists and fundamentalist movements, one expert underlined that the Government needed to deal with human rights issues and have the commitment and courage to comply with international standards. She was also concerned about the huge unemployment rate in the country, and hoped that affirmative action measures to open employment opportunities still considered predominantly male to women would be included in the next report.
Abolishing all discriminatory legislation and practices had to be the first and foremost priority of a state fighting Muslim fundamentalism, one expert said. The Family Code, even with the proposed progressive amendments, appeared to be in contradiction with the principles enshrined in Algeria's Constitution. She encouraged the country to challenge the very constitutionality of the Code. Women's rights could not be allowed to be an area where compromises were made. She appealed to the Government to take clear and urgent action to achieve de facto equality.
Another expert suggested the promotion of women's rights through providing translations of the Convention in the local language so women could be educated about their rights.
Experts were confident that in the near future Algeria would consolidate the role it had always played in Africa and in the international community. That the Convention had primacy over national law was important in the process of achieving de facto equality. Algeria had the double task of creating an environment where its citizens could exist without fear, and to give women de facto equality.
Mr. BAALI said his delegation had worked hard to give complete and precise information, including recent statistics. The answers provided attested to the important evolution that had taken place in Algeria since independence. The total inclusion of Algerian women across the board would not be achieved in the short term; it would take some time. He was convinced that the injustice done to women would be corrected bit by bit, thanks to the
Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 14 - Press Release WOM/1085 412th Meeting (AM) 26 January 1999
activism of the women's movement, as well as to the work of the Committee. He repeated his country's firm commitment to the Convention's implementation, and the comments and recommendations would be conveyed to the authorities and the public. The people of Algeria would continue their march in the direction of progress and social justice. They could not be discouraged or intimidated.
* *** *