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The Algerian feminist movement between nationalism, patriarchy and Islamism


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It is the aim of this article to demonstrate that, despite great resistance from patriarchy, Algerian women have always played major roles in effecting change in their society. Their new roles during the struggle for Algeria's independence engaged the whole society in a process of change and evolution, and their resistance to the retrograde forces of Islamic fundamentalism and the barbarity of terrorist violence was vital for keeping the country alive, and for keeping their demands for their citizenship rights a priority.
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The Algerian feminist movement between nationalism, patriarchy
and Islamism
Zahia Smail Salhi
University of Leeds, United Kingdom
article info synopsis
Available online 28 November 2009 It is the aim of this article to demonstrate that, despite great resistance from patriarchy,
Algerian women have always played major roles in effecting change in their society. Their new
roles during the struggle for Algeria's independence engaged the whole society in a process of
change and evolution, and their resistance to the retrograde forces of Islamic fundamentalism
and the barbarity of terrorist violence was vital for keeping the country alive, and for keeping
their demands for their citizenship rights a priority.
© 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
In a one woman show staged right in the midst of the
decade of terrorist violence in Algeria, Fadhila Assous makes
the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale: National Liberation
Front) party representative address a group of women in the
following terms: Dear Women, dear mothers, dear sisters
and dear wives. Be women! Always and forever remain
women! Give us many children. Sweep your oors and polish
your furniture. Make us good soup, and if you have time
weave the wool and make some rugs.
This statement clearly denes the expected role of
Algerian women by the male elite and designates the private
sphere of the family home as the women's space, while
preserving the public sphere as the male's domain.
It is important to emphasise that the discourse of the
Islamists vis-à-vis women's roles is not very different from
that of the FLN; the leaders of the FIS (Front Islamic du Salut:
Islamic Salvation Front), often called for the return of women
to their homes to produce good Muslims; Women should go
home and leave their jobs for the thousands of young
unemployed men. They waste their time, spending their
salaries on make-up and dresses, stated Abdelkader Moghni,
(see Dunn, 1992) a FIS imam.
Such rhetoric not only coerces women and excludes them
from the public sphere but also undermines the vital roles
played by women in Algeria throughout history in order to
effect fundamental change in society. As such Fetmouche's
play, Al-Basma al-Majruhah (The Wounded Smile) in which
Assous performed (see footnote 1), comes as an alternative to
the discourse of both the FLN and the Islamists. It demon-
strates the courage of this female/feminist voice who
challenged the silence that was imposed on the country by
the Islamic fundamentalists who stied all types of liberal
expression, and reveals the determination of Algerian women
to continue their struggle to retrieve their citizenship rights
by repealing the Family Code that was imposed on them in
1984. Most importantly, however, this play reminds women
of the revolutionary roles they played in the not too distant
past during the Algerian struggle for national independence,
and stimulates them to maintain their roles as agents of
change and social cohesion.
It is the aim of this article, therefore, to demonstrate that
despite great resistance from patriarchy, Algerian women
have always played major roles in effecting change in their
society. Their new roles during the struggle for Algeria's
independence engaged the whole society in a process of
change and evolution, and their resistance to the retrograde
forces of Islamic fundamentalism and the barbarity of
terrorist violence was vital for keeping the country alive,
and for keeping their demands for their citizenship rights a
The birth and development of the Algerian
feminist movement
The Algerian feminist movement was born in the 1940s
while Algeria was a French colony. To understand this
Women's Studies International Forum 33 (2010) 113124
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movement better it is very important to underline the con-
ditions under which it had emerged.
Several sources testify to the extreme violence associated
with the conquest of Algeria by the French armies in 1830.
Unable to crack down on the Algerian resistance, the colonial
forces resorted to a policy of exterminating entire villages,
expropriating their land and capturing their women and
children as part of war booty.
As to the fate of the captured Algerian women, I would like
to quote General Montaignac's letter to his mistress in the
In a letter you asked me what happens to the Algerian
women we capture; some we keep as hostages and the
rest are auctioned to the troops like animals. In the
operations we have carried out during the last four
months I have witnessed scenes that would melt the
hardest heart if one had time to let them! I witnessed it
all with a frightening indifference. Kill all men over the
age of fteen; take all women and children and put them
on a ship for the Marquisa Islands or some other
destination (Bennoune, 1999: 40).
General Canrobert testies on the disastrous effects of a
terrible and barbaric war which provoked a deep sense of
demoralisation amongst the French soldiers, who slit the
villagers' throats, stole their possessions and raped their
women (Bennoune, 1999: 46). Captain Lafaye, another ofcer
who took part in the conquest, reports: We burnt down a
village in the Khremis, of the Beni Snous tribe. Our soldiers did
not spare the lives of the elderly, the women or the children
the most hideous thing is that the women were actually killed
after being dishonoured(Bennoune, 1999: 40).
Rape here was disseminated as an act of violence performed
by a dominating colonial power on the dominated colonised
women. It was practiced as a punishment not only against the
victims of rape but also on their men-folk whose honour was
tarnished. In most cases the victims were raped in front of their
parents, and the rape was perpetrated as an act of dominance.
As such the bodies of women became political signs, territories
on which the political programmes of the rioting communities
of men were inscribed(Das, 1996:1).
Transforming the bodies of the colonised women into
arenas of violent struggle, granted the honour of the male kin
of the victim more relevance, and the trauma greater
poignancy. As what became the central feature was not the
violence done to women but the wounded honour of the
family or even the whole tribe. This resulted in women's
seclusion, and total exclusion from public life.
In rural areas where women used to work in the elds
things had to change too, as a result of colonisation. On the
one hand the best arable lands were expropriated by the
settlers, and on the other hand men preferred not to allow
their women to work for the settlers as daily labourers to
safeguard the family honour.
The ultimate result was the increase in the degree of
poverty amongst Algerian families who often relied on the
labour of their male members. Tensions grew among family
members as life consistently became unbearable for the great
majority of Algerian households. Men who were regularly
exploited at work and humiliated in the public sphere often
poured out their frustrations and anger on their partners at
home. Much of the mistreatment they underwent at the
hands of their French employers they replicated on their
women folk, which put women in the awkward condition of
being the colonised of the colonised, undergoing a double
sense of humiliation and alienation, as both the public and
private spheres became hostile to them.
It is also worth stating that attitude of the French colonists
towards native women was demeaning, whom they viewed
either as exotic objects as in the case of colonial media
human things. They named all native women Fatmas, to the
extent that the name of Fatma became synonymous with
house maids.
The colonial condition of the country resulted in the
dramatic deterioration of the condition of women both in the
and urban
centres. The colonial presence of the French
increased veiling, seclusion and unequal treatment of women
often as a reaction against colonial rule and Western ways.
As such within the domestic realm, women maintained an
identity strongly resistant to colonial inuences and became
the guardians of tradition and cultural values. On the other
hand the home became a place of safety, a refuge where the
man, constantly undermined by colonialism, could regain his
pride and identity.
The colonial French administration quickly became aware
of this important role played by women, and having given up
hopes in assimilating the Algerian men they deployed great
efforts for the assimilation of the Algerian women, whom
they considered as the repositories of the Islamic cultural
values of Algeria, and the axis around which the whole society
In his book L'An V de la révolution algérienne
(2001: 20) states: To convert the woman, to win her to
foreign values, to rescue her from her status, is both a means
to have full control on the man and to have the practical and
efcient means to demolish Algerian culture..
He demonstrates that the more the French tried to
assimilate the Algerians, the more the latter resorted to the
veil and seclusion of women. He explains how the French
tried to dominate culturally the Algerian society through
targeting its women;
The colonial administration could then dene a precise
political doctrine: if we want to hit the Algerian society in
its deep contexture, in its resistance strategies, we must
start to conquer the women; we must go and nd them
behind the veils under which they conceal themselves
and in the houses where the men hide them(Fanon,
2001: 19).
As such the condition of the Algerian woman became the
theme of many humanisticFrench actions. Their declared
aim was to defend and rescue the humiliated, marginalised
and secluded Algerian woman. They went on describing the
immense opportunities denied to her by the Algerian man
who transformed her into a static object, by completely
isolating her and even dehumanising her.
At this stage the woman questionattracted the interest
of the Algerian nationalist parties such as the PPA (Le Parti
du Peuple Algérien: The Party of the Algerian People) and the
MTLD (Le Mouvement pour le Triomphe des Libertés
114 Z.S. Salhi / Women's Studies International Forum 33 (2010) 113124
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Démocratiques: The Movement for the Triumph of Democratic
Freedoms). They had initially believed that there was no
genuine women's question for as long as Algeria was not
liberated; both parties put Islam at the base of their political
strategy and, as such, it was judged almost indecent to speak
about the rights of women, as the prime concern of all was to
ght colonialism.
The UFA (Union des Femmes d'Algérie: The Union of
Algerian Women) was thus created in 1943 under the aegis of
the PCA (Parti Communiste Algérien: the Algerian Commu-
nist Party), the sole Algerian political party to believe in the
equality of the sexes. In its rst congress in 1944 the PCA
deplored the miserable condition of Algerian women, and set
up an agenda to make women aware of their lot and
suggested possible solutions such as education among rural
and urban girls. Between 1944 and 1951 the UFA gathered
some 10 000 to 15 000 members, and issued its own journal
known as Femmes d'Algérie
(Women of Algeria).
The tragic events of the 8th of May 1945, whichfollowed the
massive popular demonstrations of Algerian people in which
women participated in huge numbers, changed the mood
among other political parties vis-à-vis the cause of women; for
the rst time in modern Algerian history women from all ranks
took part in political demonstrations and moved to the
forefront of the nationalist opposition to French colonialism.
The PPA (Parti du Peuple Algérien: the Party of the Algerian
People) declared that it should work towards the improve-
ment of the general level of awareness among Algerian women
so that they could be brought into the national struggle
(Daoud, 1996: 134). For this purpose it created the rst
feminine branch in Algiers to bring together prominent
women like Nassa Hamoud
and Fatima Benosmane
A genuine debate on the condition of women started and
various surveys were conducted among the members, which
reveal their conicting views. On the question of the veil, for
example, 60% of the members think that education results in
unveiling, 20% of which were calling for complete unveiling
while 17% were against unveiling (Daoud, 1996: 135).
The 2nd of July 1947 saw the creation of AFMA (Association
des Femmes Musulmanes Algériennes: The Association of
Muslim Algerian Women) by Mamia Chentouf
and Nassa
Hamoud. The programme of this association was mainly social
as it helped the families of the May 1945 victims, tended the
sick and distributed clothes and food to the poor. They also
spread political consciousness among ordinary people whom
they encouraged to educate their girls as well as boys. Together
with the UFA they led a genuine and strong social programme
reaching both rural and urban areas and resulting in tangible
It is this political and social work that prepared women for
the challenges posed by the Algerian struggle for indepen-
dence, while the widespread view is that they emerged from
the shadows of their homes to become suddenly war heroines
of the 1954 revolution and take on new roles.
The struggle for national independence and the roles
played by women
With the outbreak of the armed struggle, the leaders of
both women's associations joined the ranks of the freedom
ghters and called for their members to follow suit. Nassa
Hamoud, the leader of AFMA, was the rst woman doctor to
join the freedom ghters in 1955, and was followed by Fatima
Benosmane the leader of the UFA who was arrested and
tortured in 1957. Their example was followed by several
female nurses who responded to the call of the FLN, and
female university students, following the May 1956 strike
organised by UGEMA (Union Générale des Etudiants Musul-
mans d'Algérie: the General Union of Algerian Muslim
There were 49 women among the 1010 rst moudjahid-
dine (freedom ghters), according to a census conducted in
August 1956 during the Soummam
congress (Daoud, 1996:
By the end of the revolution the number of moudjahidat,
women freedom ghters, amounted to 10 949, of whom 1755
were in the ranks of the ALN (Armée de Libération Nationale:
National Liberation Army). To this number was added the
great number of the da'iyat
which amounted to 2388
women (Daoud, 1996: 138). The role of the latter group was
to assure liaison between the various factions of the ALN/FLN,
to smuggle arms, and money, and to facilitate the movements
of the moudjahiddine, especially in urban centres, where
women's roles were of paramount importance. Under their
veils they hid messages, money and weapons, and dressed as
Europeans they entered the European quarters and deposited
explosives during the battle of Algiers. They also washed,
knitted and sewed the ghters' clothes, cooked their food and
at times hid the ghters in their homes. For this massive
participation in the revolution the FLN declared ofcially,
Algerian women won their rights by their participation in
the war(Daoud, 1996: 141).
Joining the revolution meant an extraordinary move for
Algerian women from the private to the public sphere. The
spirit of the revolution inhabited the souls of women and
empowered them to defy major social taboos. On the other
hand the society itself seemed to have taken a pragmatic view
on the way things were progressing. Joining the ranks of the
revolutionaries was not seen as breaking the code of honour,
although most often the young women who joined the
revolution did so without the consent of their parents,
especially in the case of university students.
In much amazement on the new roles played by these
revolutionary women, Frantz Fanon remarks;
Carriers of machine guns, hand-grenades, hundreds of
forged identity cards, or bombs, the unveiled Algerian
woman swims like a sh in the Western waters. The
military, the French patrols smile at her as she passes,
compliment her on her physical appearance , but no one
suspects that in her briefcase lays the machine gun, which
in a short while will be used to shoot four or ve
members of a patrol (Fanon, 2001: 41).
He explains in great detail how the revolution gave
women more condence in themselves, and how it helped
them rid of their previous fears as they entered the European
The participation of the new Algerian woman in the
revolutionwas quickly exploited by international media and
the whole world was moved by the heroic stories of women
like Djamila Bouhired, and Djamila Boubacha, Baya Hocine
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and others who stood unabated in the face of the most
hideous forms of torture. Humanists and left wing activists
from the whole world sympathised with their cause, and
French writers like Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Paul Sartre,
Gisele Halimi
and others criticised the colonial policy of
France in Algeria.
Women's participation in the war of independence was a
major vehicle of change not only in so far as the roles of
women are concerned but in the way these women
challenged the forces of patriarchy, changed the concept of
honour, and most importantly in the way they helped change
world opinion towards the Algerian revolution. The contri-
bution made by women to the Algerian revolution ranged
from ghting alongside the men, planting bombs in urban
quarters, carrying weapons, nursing the sick and wounded in
the maquis and, above all, keeping the revolution moving
forward. The ItalianAlgerian lm, The Battle of Algiers
one of many creative works to depict women during war-
time, and it shows the extraordinary courage of the Algerian
women in particular.
The rebellion of Algerian women had two fronts: it was
simultaneously a rebellion against the colonial occupation
and against the restrictive attitudes of traditional Algerian
society. Women's new status as warriors not only altered the
patriarchal concept of the division of labour between the
genders, but also challenged the wider power of patriarchy,
threatening to erode its power and privileges. Rejecting their
restrictive roles as mothers, wives and daughters in the
private sphere of the household, women took on active roles
in a wide public sphere. Their work was described by Fanon as
the hallmark of a national revolution's potential to liberate
Post-colonial Algeria, nationalism and patriarchy
In 1962 Algeria achieved its independence after a long and
ruthless war that lasted for almost eight years. Women's work
was fundamental to the struggle for national liberation and,
therefore, equally important to their own liberation. With this
is mind, it is interesting to compare how far patriarchal values
were challenged both during the revolution and later in post-
colonial Algeria. Would the spirit of the revolution survive in
the post-war period, and would women maintain their
agency and power of decision making in so far as their lives
were concerned? Would they continue their activism and
become real agents of change in post-colonial times? In his
book Transguration of the Maghreb,William Woodhull
(1993: 10) observed that: At the time of the Algerian
revolution and at the time of independence the emerging
nation still held the promise of social equality for women,
whose fundamental role in the war had been recognised by
the National Liberation Front.
In the early years of post-colonial Algeria two ideological
factions were soon to be identied, one liberal and the other
conservative. While the liberal faction believed in the
promotion of women's rights and their integration into the
government's programme for the advancement of the whole
society, the conservative faction called for cultural authen-
ticity and the revival of Islamic cultural values.
It is undeniable that the war of national liberation severely
disrupted the religious and cultural values of Algerian society
and, for the length of the war, whole villages were displaced,
social roles were shifted and the whole society was subjected
to traumatic military violence. Similarly, the end of the war
brought about a major move towards putting back things in
their original order: where they should have been prior to the
Interestingly enough, the roles of women were seen at the
top of the list of things that should be restored to their
original places and, in a society where cultural values have
been dislocated for so many decades by the forces of
occupation, women were quickly identied as the reposito-
ries of these values and the guardians of traditions and
customs, all fundamentally important components of the
Algerian national identity.
The roles played by women prior to the revolution as
guardians of cultural values in the private spheres of their
homes were commended by the conservatives as being the
main factor of resistance to the French campaign of accultur-
ation. They extolled the work of women in this domain and
gave this role prominence over their role in the armed
revolution, which, at best, was seen as a necessity imposed by
war circumstances. There was consensus almost amongst all
factions that once the war was over, women should return to
their homes and assume their traditional roles.
Concurrently with such views, however, the rst govern-
ment of independent Algeria included women in its
programme to mobilize various sectors of society in support
of socialism. In 1962 the government created the UNFA
(Union des Femmes Algériennes: National Union of Algerian
Women), as a state afliated and controlled organisation
which rallied Algerian women to the national programme for
the advancement and progress of women. The union held its
rst march on the International Women's Day in 1965, with
the participation of almost 6000 women (Metz, 1994).
It is important to point out, however, that the UNFA never
attracted the feminists nor did it reach out to the masses
whether in urban or in rural areas. It remained a formal state
organisation which did not work for the interest of women in
a country where much was needed to be done amongst the
masses of illiterate and often ignorant female population. An
important question to pose, however, is how did Algerian
women whose analysis and praxis of women's liberation
were so advanced, react to the creation of the UNFA and how
did they respond to the increasing restrictions on their lives
and the lives of their daughters in the aftermath of war?
While some female war veterans decided to return to their
homes considering that their role was over, some others and
mainly the educated ones took on positions or jobs, and were
sidelined by either government or society. Many of them were
repudiated by their husbands who in the aftermath of the war
and after taking important positions in government decided to
go for younger and educated wives who were good enough to
attend reception parties.
In fact this was almost a trend in the
sixties. Buthaina Shaaban reports the testimony of a woman
war veteran, who describes this as common practice:
This was very common. In fact, it was the norm. There
were lots of men who married their women comrades in
the mountains. Once they came down, however, and got
good position or good jobs in the towns they divorced
their comrades and got married to younger, more
116 Z.S. Salhi / Women's Studies International Forum 33 (2010) 113124
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presentable, women. As women we paid the price from
every point of view, and now they won't allow us to put
our own laws on the market. I am convinced that all men
are aware that women understand things a lot better than
they do. That's why they feel inferior to us and instead of
having the courage to face us they try to keep us down.
How long it will take us to outwit them, just as we
outwitted the French, I don't know. Not very long, I hope
(Shaaban, 1988: 200).
With very few exceptions, soon after independence
Algerian men obliterated the strong ties they forged with
their female compatriots during the revolution and denied
them their basic civil rights. Most Algerian men have always
seen the liberation of women as neither specic nor a priority.
Similarly, therefore, they do not acknowledge the need for a
women's movement which is seen as secondary to the
endless list of priorities faced by the country and government.
As a result, women felt a deep sense of betrayal and
bewilderment, as if the years of the revolution were a short-
lived dream of an ideal world where women were valued for
the roles they were able to play, and a world where men and
women worked side by side for a common noble goal. Many
women wondered why such camaraderie could not continue
in the post-colonial period when the country needed both its
men and women to build itself as a modern state whose
revolutionary past could have served as a platform for
development and societal cohesion.
A wide feeling of disillusionment reigned among women
and progressive men who all admitted that the revolution
had failed. Such feelings were to deepen with the growth of a
big gap between ofcial discourse and what actually takes
place in society. Gradually women's positions shifted from
active participants to passive and silent victims. On the
political front no female members were elected to the
National Assembly under Ben Bella
, and no women sat on
any of the key decision-making bodies. However, mothers
encouraged their daughters to have an education with overall
enrolment at all levels of schooling rising sharply, and the
number of schooled girls representing more than 40% of
students (Slackman, 2007).
Boumedienne's rule and the position of women
President Boumedienne took over the reins of power in
1965 after an organised coup that removed Ben Bella.
His time was known as a revolutionary time that brought
about an egalitarian socialist rule which aimed at integrating all
factions of society into its developmental programme. As early
as 1967, 99 female candidates were elected to communal
assemblies out of 10 852 positions nationwide (Metz, 1994),
and in 1976 the National Charter
, which was adopted by a
countrywide referendum, constituted the supreme source of
the nation's policy and thelaws of the state. It gave high priority
to the integration of women into the national programme of
progress and development and went far in guaranteeing
equality between men and women. The adoption of the
National Charter was quickly followed by the 1976 National
which championed the equality of the sexes and
guaranteed women's freedom of movement, and, following in
the steps of the Algerian revolution, it promoted women's
emancipation. The 1976 constitution deplored the condition of
women and insisted on the restrictive role of feudal ethics. It
emphasised the efforts of the state in granting women their
political rights and exalted the socialist regime adopted by the
government as a democratic movement which would promote
justice, strive against backward mentalities and promise to
change the justice system in women's favour. In this same
period Islamism was constantly putting pressure on the
socialist state. The desire to Islamise Algerian society from
above was set in place by a whole series of measures and
initiatives. Stora (2001: 71) demonstrates that in the twenty
years following independence, religion was used as an
instrument to contain possible advances in the secular and
democratic currents, and, above all, as a weapon for the
legitimation of power. The Islamist movement that began in
the seventies operated underground while exercising a lot of
pressure on government, especially in areas related to women
such as family planning and abortion. Muslim activists
exercised increasing pressure on women by harassing those
they felt were inappropriately dressed, and intimidating
working women.
Bendjedid's rule and the institution of the Family Code
The Islamists gained increasing inuence under the rule of
Chadli Bendjedid who succeeded president Boumedienne
after his death in 1978. As early as 1980 a ministerial decree
prohibiting women from travelling unaccompanied by a male
relative was passed by the F.L.N. The rst time such an
arbitrary decision became public knowledge was when a
group of women who were enrolled in universities abroad
were stopped at the airport and were prevented from joining
their universities. Although these women had attempted to
trigger a public scandal, the echoes of this event were only
timidly reported in the Algerian daily El-Moudjahid
and the
weekly Algérie Actualités.
A group of women, including many university students
signed a long petition and requested to meet the minister of
the interior. On March 8, 1980, a huge demonstration was
organised on the occasion of the International Women's Day,
demanding that the decree which hampered women's
freedom of movement be denitely abolished. This resulted
in the ministerial order being cancelled (Messaoudi &
Schemla, 1995, 1998: 49).
In 1981, the government was preparing a pilot study of the
code sur le statut personnel i.e.: Family code, which was backed
by conservative Islamists. The news was announced in the
newspapers, which reported that the code in question was a
clear setback for women. Outraged, hundreds of women
activists in Algiers staged a sit-in in the ofces of the UNF.
They demanded to see the classied text of the pilot study in
question. The women representatives of the UNFA replied that
Algerian women were not aware of their rights and had,
therefore, nothing to discuss (Messaoudi & Schemla, 1995,
The outcome of this incident was the ultimate rupture
between the women of the UNFA, and the independent
feminists who, despite the repressive measures adopted by
the Islamists and the government towards them, were
determined to continue the ght for the rights of Algerian
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women. A number of new women's groups emerged including
the Algerian Association for the Emancipation of women and
the Committee for the Legal Equality of Men and Women. In my
view it is only at this stage that a real feminist movement had
taken root in post-colonial Algerian society. Bouthaina Shaaban
reports the testimony of an Algerian woman regarding the role
of U.N.F.A. describing it as the only women's organisation in
the country, which does absolutely nothing for women...[The]
UNFA is an ofcial organisation; that is why it doesn't do
anything which the government might dislike(Shaaban,
On October 28, 1981, a Hundred Angry Womenas
announced by the daily El-Moudjahid, demonstrated in the
streets, expressing their wrath at the government's decision
to debate the code in secret. On November 16, 1981 ve
hundred women gathered in front of the National Assembly
as it met for a plenary session. Khalida Messaoudi testies:
We had gathered more than ten thousand signatures of
support from all over Algeria. Along with two friends, I
marched into the assembly chambers. Rabah Bitat, the
assembly president, was obliged to adjourn the session.
The assembly leaders skilfully manipulated the situation:
we were given four days to make propositions for
amending the text...The movement became divided at
that point: there were those who wanted to accept the
deal, and those who rejected it (Messaoudi & Schemla,
1998: 49).
Despite this division which on the one hand demonstrates
the vulnerability and weakness of the movement and, on the
other, its immaturity, Algerian women activists continued
their ght for women's civil rights.
1982 was considered an important year in the history of the
secular feminist movement in Algeria. It was the day when the
women war veterans who had led theght for liberation within
the FLN and helped to carve a new Algeria out of the old French
colony, joined the young feminist activists and voiced their
rejection of the government's deal. In the words of Khalida
Messaoudi the old Moudjahidat joined us, the young, as a bloc,
for the rst time. Thirty of them decided to join the ght against
a government that had completely betrayed them(Messaoudi
& Schemla, 1998:50).
Mariemme Hélie-Lucas states with much regret: I have
been blindly nationalist in the past. She explains, In Algeria,
many of us, including myself, kept silence for ten years after
independence, not to give fuel to the enemies of the glorious
Algerian revolution; by so doing we have merely given those
in power time to organize and strengthen, allowing them,
amongst other things, to prepare and enforce discriminatory
laws on women(in Laws, 19881989).
Hélie-Lucas explains what caused Algerian feminists and
war veterans to observe silence and inaction for so many
years. She says, I will certainly admit that Western right
forces may and will use our protests, especially if they remain
isolated. But it is as true to say that our own rightist forces
exploit our silence(in Laws, 19881989), which resulted in
the male supremacy in all state affairs on the one hand and
the weakening of the position of women on the other.
The urgency of the matter resulted in the young feminists
seeking the help and support of the female war veterans
whose historical legitimacy afforded them respect and status.
The young and the old generations of Algerian women
gathered in front of the main post ofce in Algiers, and
voiced their protest against the introduction of the Family
Code. The demonstrators carried slogans reading, No to
silence, Yes to Democracy!and No to the betrayal of the
ideals of November 1, 1954!
The women veterans pass on the message to the younger
generation of feminists; the ght for freedom, justice and
democracy is not over. They insist that they should follow in
the steps of their mothers; How dare they throw this rubbish
at us again! You have to ght, my girls. You just have to ght,
even against the men closest to you. The battle has to be
fought and won (Shaaban, 1988: 194).
It has to be emphasised at this point that these marches and
demonstrations are important highlights in the annals of civil
disobedience in post-colonial Algeria; they were the rst
women's demonstrations for twenty years since independence.
Hélie-Lucas explains, Usually any kind of demonstration is
just crushed, but this time we had in the front line six women
who had been condemned to death under the French, so the
police didn't beat them. It was good tactic(in Laws, 19881989).
Here again women are regaining terrain as agents of
change not only in so far as recording their disobedience to
the state, but also by demonstrating a new pattern of
resistance and solidarity. Furthermore, their action, together
with the events of the 1980 Berber spring
, made visible the
plurality of Algerian civil society. In addition to the demon-
strations the women veterans put an end to their silence;
they wrote to the minister of veterans in protest against the
family code and wrote to the minister of justice and the
president insisting that they had not fought for such a deal!
The state was truly frightened and the president stopped
the proposal. Hélie-Lucas reports; we thought it was a big
victory, and anyway the rst one since independence. Then
what happened was that everything was very quiet, after
1982, and then we heard that this proposal (or another like it)
was still there, and could be passed at any time(in Laws,
On June the 9th, 1984, the Family Code was enacted as Law
no. 8411. Algerian women were in deep shock; they
considered this act as barbaric and a second betrayal by the
neo-patriarchal state to Algerian women. At this stage it had
become clear that the state had preferred to compromise with
the conservative Islamists and that women had to constitute
themselves as an opposition to both the state and the Islamists.
The main provisions of the Family Code, République
Algérienne Démocratique et Populaire, Ministére de la
Justice (1993)
The 1984 Family Code reproduced provisions of Islamic
Shari'a law. Among these provisions:
1- Women have no right to marry but can only be given in
marriage by a matrimonial guardian (article 11).
2- Women cannot divorce their husbands and can only
obtain divorce by submitting to the Khol'a practice which
stipulates that they should give up their legal rights or
claims to alimony. Men can divorce as and when they
want (article 54).
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3- Women are given the role of procreators, making it their
legal duty to breastfeed their children and care for them
until adulthood (article 48).
4- Women must obey their husbands and respect them.
Women can only work if they are granted permission, and
must respect as well as obey their husband and in-laws
(article 39).
5- Women are given custody of their children; boys till the
age of 10 and girls until marriage. If a woman has no
guardian, the man will only support her if he can. This
means if the husband owned only one house, the divorcee
and the children will have to end up being homeless.
Furthermore, a divorcee is not permitted to take her
children abroad or to get them into certain school
activities without the father's signature (article 52).
6- The family code institutionalised polygamy and made it
the right of men to take up to four wives (article 8).
In short, the family code is a piece of legislation that
decrees men's superiority and codies women's subordina-
tion. The code makes women minors under the law, treats
them as non-citizens and denes their role primarily as
daughters, mothers or wives. The rst few years that followed
the implementation of the code demonstrated that it is
central to women's problems. Not only because women felt
deeply disadvantaged and devalued in society, but most
importantly it made divorce a simple matter for men, and a
disastrous occurrence to women. Wives and mothers have no
right to the family home since this is automatically awarded
to the husband. Moreover, the state does not provide housing
or nancial support for divorced mothers. Consequently, in
the absence of assistance from their relatives, divorced
women often nd themselves living in the slums, in sheltered
corners of public car parks or often roaming the streets with
their children.
One positive element that was triggered by the institution
of the Family Code is the rebirth of independent women's
organisations working underground. Women's associations
include SOS Women in Distress which gives refuge to battered
women, divorcees and abandoned women with children. SOS
aims to rehabilitate and empower women so they can go back
to society by helping them nd employment.
It is only after this major setback that women came to
realise that they should no longer rely on the state nor trust
the government who betrayed them and condemned them to
institutional injustice and humiliation. Khalida Messaoudi
I had the feeling that the deepest injustice had been
perpetuated. We had been had, totally had, and we could
do nothing but bang our heads against the wall, because
we knew that this text was going to structure the entire
society from that point on. For me, the whole business
had really opened my eyes: the traitor in this story was
the Algerian state (Messaoudi & Schemla, 1998: 55).
The opinion of Messaoudi was shared by many other
women who have come to comprehend that they were
misled for so many years by the concepts of nationalism, and
that the revolution had used them but did not help them to
liberate themselves as citizens of an independent state.
Furthermore, women were always made to believe that the
nation came rst and that calling for women's rights was a
betrayal of the state, that feminism was a Western notion not
to be followed in the developing world and that feminists
were often used by the West against Muslim countries.
Mariemme Hélie-Lucas explains this state of affairs in the
following terms:
We are made to feel that protesting in the name of
women's interests and rights is not to be done now ( it
has never been the right moment: not during the
liberation struggle against colonialism, because all forces
should be mobilised against the principal enemy: French
colonialism, not after independence, because all forces
should be mobilised to build up the devastated country;
not now that racist imperialist Western governments are
attacking Islam and the third world, etc).defending
women's rights now(this nowbeing ANY historical
moment), is always a betrayal-of the people, of the
nation, of the revolution, of Islam, of national identity, of
cultural roots, of the third Worldaccording to the
terminologies in use.. (in Laws, 19881989).
On the notion of nationalism and its relation to women,
Hélie-Lucas explains that the narrow approach adopted by
developing countries towards nationalism is very effective
especially in the case of Algeria where, at the outbreak of the
revolution the women's movement was not fully developed
and was weak ideologically; the urgency of liberating the
nation took priority over the liberation of women who
automatically assumed that the two processes went hand in
hand. At the eve of independence Algerian women found
themselves in the position of losing ground to their male
compatriots, whose camaraderie and trust built up during the
years of struggle againstcolonialism they still relied on. Women
did not wait for long after independence to feel the con-
sequences of their misplaced trust. One woman reports Our
only regret is the loss of that absolute equality achieved during
the revolution; as far as that's concerned, we seem to have
moved backwards rather than forwards(Shaaban, 1988:199).
Another remarks Our return to the insidedidn't begin in
1962, but, rather, before independence. Little by little, during
the war, the FLN removed us from the real ghting zones and
sent us to the borders or overseas. Our role was dened from
that moment on. We didn't have any place in the world of the
outside(Messaoudi & Schemla, 1998:51).
These testimonies consolidate Partha Chaterjee's statement
that The story of nationalism is necessarily a story of betrayal
(Chaterjee, 1993: 154). She explains that nationalism confers
freedom only by imposing new controls, denes a cultural
identityfor the nation only byexcluding many from its fold, and
grants the dignity of citizenship to some because others could
not be allowed to speak for themselves(Chaterjee, 1993:154).
In so far as Algerian women are concerned I would argue that
they were not armed with a strong feminist ideology to help
them challenge or reject the dominant male discourse. In the
early years of independence the nation was engaged in an
arduous quest for national identity and religious authenticity
which allowed the neo-conservative discourse to take prom-
inence over other discourses including the leftist and feminist
discourses. Interestingly enough, while the leftist discourse was
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being pushed out on grounds of imported ideologiesand
Westernism, the left used the same accusations against
This situation also explains the lack of support for women
in their opposition of the Family Code from the left, or indeed
from any other male groups. Messaoudi asserts: Men were
painfully absent from our struggle. This reinforced my
conviction that Algerian women could expect salvation only
from themselves.(Messaoudi & Schemla, 1998: 56).
This in turn led to the establishment of strong bonds
between the women of Algeria, the generation of women who
fought the war of independence, and the younger feminists
who had no links with the UNFA and who only became visible
in the public sphere through their deance and their rejection
of the Family Code. This union was to become the foundation
of a new feminist movement whose main platform is the
repelling of the 1984 Family Code. I have to add that by now
these women have almost become ctional gures that the
younger generations could not see or hear for the twenty
years or so after independence.
Resisting terrorist violence and continuing to repeal the
Family Code
Although women's organisations have now been recog-
, and have gained access to a wider audience thanks to
the liberalisation of the media, feminist groups and organisa-
tions became alarmed, and were particularly worried by the
propaganda that members of the FIS had started to direct at
young people.
On the 8th March 1989, during a gathering to celebrate
International Women's Day called by the Association for the
Equality before the Law between Men and Women, members
of the association emphasised the sub-minorstatus of
women, and declared, the Family Code stands in absolute
opposition to our aspirations for justice, equality and
democracy: that it constitutes the primary obstacle to the
full development of the Algerian woman and of the society as
prohibits the whole society from progressing into a demo-
cratic society, and makes them extremely vulnerable in front
of the campaign of intimidation started by the FIS members
against them.
As early as the 1980s, women became aware of the threat
of Islamic fundamentalism, not only to women but to the
whole society. Before even becoming a political party
Islamists imposed veiling on women, forced segregation
between boys and girls in some schools and deprived school
girls of physical education. They attacked women on the
street for dressing indecentlyand threw acid on their bodies.
They intimidated people on beaches and swimming pools and
interfered with cultural life in general.
The government showed no response in face of these early
signs of fascism. In fact the whole society allowed itself to
become more and more intimidated by the Islamists who did
not refrain from gaining and occupying more terrain in the
public sphere, giving themselves the right to control it
according to their new ways. Ait Hamou (2004: 118) explains
the reasons for this in the following terms, The one-party
state co-opted conservatives, and later, Muslim fundamen-
talists, to safeguard their interests and stay in power. Various
governments have many times made compromises and
sacriced women's rights and safety to keep peace with the
It is in fact this silence and sometimes the complicity of the
neo-conservative state that encouraged the fundamentalists'
attacks against women. Such attacks escalated quickly into
outbursts of brutality in 1992, soon after the government
cancelled the electoral process which could have taken the
Islamists to power legally in 1991 and declared the FIS illegal. At
this stage the Islamist political movement turned into several
armed movements such the AIS (Armée Islamic du Salut:
Salvation Islamic Army) and the GIA (Group Islamic Armé:
Armed Islamic Group) as well as other afliates of the FIS. Such
groups issued death threats against the intelligentsia, govern-
ment security workers and feminist activists and leaders of the
likes of Khalida Messaoudi whom they sentenced to death in
1993. She testies, Over the loudspeakers, whose monotonous
echoes penetrate into the very centre of the surrounding
houses, imams would hurl curses at me, describe me as a
woman of delinquent moralsand a danger to the morality of
women,and warn those women who might be tempted to
follow my example(Messaoudi & Schemla, 1998:87).
This savage war was not only directed against all that
represented the Algerian regime but against the civilian
population. It took the form of bombings, village massacres,
beheadings, abductions and rape which escalated into orga-
nised femicide. It soon became obvious that women were at the
top of theterrorists' agenda and that their bodies were primarily
targeted as symbols; lists of women to be killed were pinned up
at the entrance of mosques, women who worked in government
ofces were threatened and killed, women who owned shops
such as hairdressers, beauty salons, Turkish baths were not
spared and in some instances were forced to close their
businesses. Women teachers were beheaded in front of their
pupils, women related to government ofcers or security
workers were also targeted. In remote areas whole villages
were massacred, young girls were kidnapped, gang raped and
turned into sex slaves, divorced women or widows who lived
alone were also targeted.
Women's bodies were mutilated
and abused, with their genitals often amputated.
Ait Hamou (2004: 10) describes the horror as follows,
Women were attacked in their homes, brutally beaten,
abducted, raped, taken as temporary wives of the emirs,oras
slaves. They were shot dead, torn apart when they were
pregnant and their foetuses smashed on the walls. Such
horrors were constantly making the headlines of newspapers
in the nineties, and many pondered on the Islamists' femicide.
In the words of Khalida Messaoudi:
At the heart of their way of life, their mindset, their
imprecations, and their savagery, I perceived a constant
obsession, of the kind that is symptomatic of madness: an
obsession with women. The truth is; no other theme
looms as large as this one does in the ideology of the FIS...
According to the fundamentalists, women are the root of
all evil. Or, rather, the salvation of the oumma
[sic] lies
in women's submission to the wishes of the imams
(Messaoudi & Schemla, 1998: 100).
In fact, in their constant quest for equality and civil rights
women were seen as the rst enemies of the Islamic Oumma
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(nation) as conceived by the fundamentalists. Women's
demands for the abolition of the Family Code, which the
fundamentalists see as not strict enough in its observance of
the Shari'a, represented a subversion of the Islamists' social
order which is based on patriarchy. Furthermore, targeting
women's bodies demonstrates that gender is at the core of the
issue of Islamic fundamentalism and inicting violence on
their bodies is a means of controlling women and terrorising
their community. Nevertheless, in their attempt to conne
women to the private sphere, Islamists' violence was making
them more visible and more central to the ght and
resistance against their barbaric acts.
Women as agents of change and social cohesion
In the midst of what is seen as a barbaric war against civil
society which by its end at the turn of the twenty-rst
century resulted in the loss of over 200 000 lives
, Algerian
women stood unabated against the retrograde forces of
Trapped between the dictates of an infamous Family Code
and the barbarism of the Islamic fundamentalists, women
were not prepared to submit to the threats of the terrorists or
to give up their struggle to repeal the Family Code.
Their new struggle took a dual course; on the one hand
they adopted resisting strategies to the destructive powers of
Islamic terrorism by simply continuing to do lead normal
lives despite the atmosphere of war. They continued to go to
work and do their daily errands. They continued to send their
children to school, and female teachers who were not sure of
returning to their homes in the evening continued to attend
to their duties. They persisted in going to hairdressers and
beauty salons and they continued to nd ways to celebrate
births, weddings and their children's birthdays and school
achievements. In brief, these women stood for life and for the
continuance of life in Algeria despite the roaming danger of
death in an extremely dangerous and hostile environment.
This in itself is an extraordinary act of resistance and societal
On the political front, despite their status as victims of
terrorist violence women became more active than ever
before in their society. They engaged in consolidating their
roles as agents of change and resistance to the Islamist
movement. On the 2nd January 1992 women were the rst to
stage massive demonstrations across the major cities of the
country against the FIS and their victory of December 1991.
They called for the cancellation of the electoral process in
which many women's voices were taken by the FIS through
the proxy vote, and warned of the danger of Algeria becoming
an Islamic republic. Their banners carried slogans which read,
No Iran, No Kabul, Algeria is Algerian,Algeria: Free and
Democratic,Let's save the principles of the republic.
numbers amounted to thousands; their aim was to occupy
the public sphere which the Islamists were trying to
dominate, but more importantly to manifest their refusal
for a fundamentalist rule which they saw as a threat not only
against women but also against the whole society. Such
demonstrations became a kind of routine to demonstrate that
Algeria was not to submit to terrorist violence.
Several feminist groups started organising themselves and
working together to change the awareness of women's issues
in Algerian society and provide women with the knowledge
that would enable them to counteract fundamentalism and
produce a counter discourse. This was made possible by their
brave occupation of the public sphere through demonstra-
tions and organised public meetings. In these manifestations
they displayed the photographs of the victims of terrorism,
they shouted anti-fundamentalist slogans but, more impor-
tantly, the victims of terrorist violence and survivors of rape
courageously testied to the media about the hideous acts of
gang rape to which they had been subjected.
On the social level women organised many charitable
organisations to help survivors of rape who were rejected by
their families because of the shame they had allegedly
brought to them. These organisations took care of the
children of the women and girls who were forcibly impreg-
nated by the terrorists and pressed for the government to
permit abortion in such occurrences.
On the cultural level, women continued to celebrate
International Women's Day during which they staged a mock
tribunal against terrorism, and they showed lms and staged
plays such as The Wounded Smile and other plays that
highlighted the dangers of fundamentalism and gloried
women's courage, women's contribution to society and more
importantly raising the morale of women who could not be
blamed for the dire situation of the country. Such plays
highlighted the importance of women's solidarity networks
and the importance of their active participatory roles which
they have yet to play. This was happening at a time when
cultural life in the country came to a standstill.
At the international level, new concepts have now
crystallised in place of the old; women are now prepared to
take their cause beyond the frontiers of their country and
communicate with other women, which prior to the 1990s
was still seen as a betrayal to the nation;
One of the worst legacies of specic socialism(Algeria's
isolationist version of the creed) has been the distrust
towards the global women's movement and of progres-
sive and human-rights organizations. Among the con-
sequences of this separation from the outside world was
the inability of Algerian women to link the rise of Algerian
fundamentalism with the situations of women in other
parts of the Muslim world, especially Iran (Mahl, 1995:2)
Algerian women forged solidarity networks with other
women globally but particularly with those living under
Muslim laws. In 1995 they joined the Maghreb Egalité Network,
which was a great opportunity to communicate with the
women of the Maghreb on various issues concerning them but
especially to discuss a shared strategy to ght the Family Code.
Joining such groups and networks also allowed Algerian
women to secure the support of many Western countries
whose media have often portrayed the FIS as the victims of
the undemocratic Algerian state who crushed their victory by
cancelling the electoral process in 1992. The main aim of
Algerian women was to create an alternative and counter
discourse to that of the FIS and demonstrate to world opinion
that the FIS used democratic means to eradicate the nascent
democracy in Algeria. Feminists publicised FIS leaders'
statements against democracy
as widely as they could,
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presenting themselves as an alternative voice to that of the
state which lost its credibility on the international scale.
Furthermore, women published academic articles and
books often in many European languages to reach the European
reader with the truth about fundamentalism in Algeria: a good
example is Khalida Messaoudi's book, Une Algérienne debout,
published by Flammarion in 1995. In 1998 the book was
published in English as Unbowed: an Algerian Woman Confronts
Islamic Fundamentalism by University of Pennsylvania Press,
and was subsequently translated into Italian, German, Norwe-
gian and Turkish. The book tells the reader the story of an
Algerian woman held hostage of terror and a woman who has
refused to be restrainedMessaoudi gives a rst-hand
perspective of the situation in her homeland(book cover).
The book is in fact a testimony about the atrocities committed
against women and civil society in Algeria. Based on personal
experience it demysties world views about the FIS.
Once again it was women who created an alternative
political discourse at the international level by testifying to
terrorist violence and by speaking in meetings and confer-
ences organised by the UN and Human Rights NGOs.
The Family Code 20 years on
In 1999 President Abdelaziz Bouteika was elected as the
new head of the Algerian state. He promised to bring about
peace and social justice to a country torn by terrorist violence.
He also promised to promote the cause of Algerian women
and include them in his programme of economic reforms.
Although these reforms were slow to come women have
never forgotten their agenda but at the same time trusted the
good will of the President, who often repeated that
mentalities were not ready for major changes to the Family
Code and that, regardless of the code, women who made up
52% of the Algerian population should continue to occupy the
public sphere, through their jobs and through their work in
the society.
AlthoughI criticised this position in a previous publication,I
now understand what Abdelaziz Bouteika meant (Salhi,
2003). In a society such as Algeria women can only get their
rights through a tactful revolution. He rightly sounded the
position of the conservative members of government vis-à-vis
the implementing of any changes to the Family Code or indeed
to the status of women, let alone abrogating the Family Code.
Yet, again a real and tangible change was taking place in
the society to the advantage of women. Several taboos started
to disappear and mentalities, though slowly, were surely
changing especially towards women working outside the
home and the type of work they were doing.
The decade of terrorist violence was a decade of profound
social changes in Algeria. While many would have thought
women would have been intimidated and left the public
sphere, on the contrary, they have occupied many new and
non-customary positions. Furthermore, the new dress codes
adopted by many in the form of a head scarf and long skirts/
trousers allowed women more mobility in the public sphere.
In an article for The New York Times,Michael Slackman
(2007) lists some gures that show these changes, Women
make up 70 percent of Algeria's lawyers and 60 percent of its
judges. Women dominate medicineSixty percent of univer-
sity students are womenIn a region where women have
decidedly low public prole, Algerian women are visible
everywhere. Furthermore, these women have a political and/
or religious discourse which the women of the sixties did not
have. The Algerian sociologist Fatima Oussedik confesses, We
in the 60s, we were progressive, but we did not achieve what is
beingachievedbythisgenerationtoday(Slackman, 2007).
It has to be added that the provisions of the code were
disintegrating as real-life practices threatened to relegate
non-operational ones to oblivion. The challenges imposed on
Algerian society by the economic crisis of the eighties
together with factors imposed by the general failure of the
Algerian male caused by high rates of unemployment, high
school drop outs and failures amongst boys, the failure of the
FIS as an alternative to the FLN, and the surge of eeing the
country seeking better opportunities abroad among young
males, made women quickly overtake the space left by men
and therefore stepped into various elds which were
traditionally known as male domains, especially in the eld
of agriculture and engineering. Women accepted all sorts of
jobs regardless of what the society used to think if a woman
was a cleaner, nurse, hairdresser or even a waitress.
Militating for the cause of women is also no longer a
taboo; massive numbers are now joining women's organisa-
tions to press for the changing of the Family Code. They rallied
around a new organisation called Collectif 20 ans barakat
(20 years is Enough!), whose sole platform is the repealing of
the infamous code. These women were especially stimulated
by the changes to the Moroccan Family Code in January 2002,
which made them more determined than ever before to
continue their struggle to achieve full citizenship.
Ourida Chouaki
, the coordinator of Collectif 20 ans barakat
campaign in Algeria speaks of the various means used to raise
awareness amongst women about the dictates of the 1984
Family Code. For this purpose they used public lectures,
conferences, poster competition for adults and children, but
most importantly the internet as an alternative to television to
reach as many people as possible in a country as vast as Algeria.
In the summer of 2004 the government appointed a
commission made of lawyers, activists and academics to draft
a proposal for the amendment of the Family Code. Despite the
fact that President Bouteika insisted that the proposed
reforms did not target Islamic law but rather social customs
that have become codied, Islamist parties such as the MSP
(Mouvement pour la Société et la Paix: Movement for Society
and Peace) provoked a strong opposition to the changing of
many essential articles in the code but especially the
article concerning the requirement of having a matrimonial
After lengthy heated parliamentary debates, on the 22nd
November 2004, a preliminary draft of amendments to the
Family Code was presented to the Algerian government who
examined and approved the changes. Although these changes
were seen as timid and derisory by many feminist groups and
organisations, I believe that they are a step towards further
changes that will be imposed by the major transformations
that are taking place in society at an astonishing speed.
To conclude, the institution of the Family Code in 1984 and
the decade of terrorist violence have been strong wake up
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calls for Algerian women and have been the catalyst for a re-
launch of the feminist movement and solidarity networks
amongst women of all ranksand generations. Terrorist violence
has taught women a political lesson; on the one hand, women's
organisations have developed new strategies by working at the
grass-root level and helping women through the work of
organised women's groups such as SOS Femmes en Détresse,
RACHDA: Rassemblement contre la Hogra et pour les Droits
des Algériennes,Reseau Wassilaand others.
Working closely together through organised networks
and civil society organisations is seen as an effective means of
changing the lives of women, and liberating the capabilities of
these women through education and employment as well as
through their participation in political, economic and social
development ultimately results in social change.
Women continued to occupy the public sphere, to partic-
ipate in politics and occupy key positions in government. They
stood for the principles of the Algerian republic against the
destructive work of the Islamistterrorists and haveproved once
again thattheir work and contribution is essentialfor their own
development and for the progress of the nation. This new
generation of women is not to be intimidated or sent back to
their kitchens; their political awareness has developed and
matured. Through a quiet revolution these women have built
their capacities to promote change and deconstruct a prevalent
patriarchy, through their continuous and stubborn ght to
repeal the Family Code.
Excerpt from the play Al-Basma al-Majruha (The Wounded Smile), written
by Omar Fetmouche, directed by Ahcene Assous, and performed by Fadhila
Assous. Unpublished text. For a more detailed study of this play see: Zahia
Smail Salhi, (2002). the Wounded Smile: Women, politics, and the culture of
betrayal. Critique (18), 101-119 (Spring).
For more details see Zahia Smail Salhi,Representations of the Femmes
d'Algerin French Colonial Media,inMiddle East Journal of Culture and
Communications, issue 1, vol.1, 2008, pp. 8093.
In his novel La Colline oubliée (The Forgotten Hill), Mouloud Mammeri
accuratelydescribes thedire conditions ofthe rural women in the Kabyleregion
in North East Algeria. He starts the novel with the statement Spring is often
short-lived in Kabylia and so is the spring of young Kabyle girls' as they are
thrashedinto the hard life of becomingyoung women at a very early age,p.11.
The novel describes the poverty and humiliation lived by the couple Ibrahim-
Sekoura, and the mal-vie lived by all the villagers as a result of being colonised.
In his novel La Grande maison (The Big House), Mohammed Dib describes
the prison-like life of urban women in Tlemcen a city in West Algeria. Dib
portrays the big house (Dar Sbitar) that shelters several families as a big
prison whose inhabitants suffer from various ills including hunger, disease,
anxiety and boredom.
For more details see, Zahia Smail Salhi,Politics, Poetics and the Algerian Novel
(Edwin Mellen Press: 1999).
Frantz Fanon, L'An V de la révolution algérienne, (Paris: La Découverte,
2001). All quotes from this source are my translations.
Femmes d'Algérie: The journal of the UFA, published in Algiers between
1944 and 1951.
Nassa Hamoud is the rst woman doctor in the Kabylie region. She is
known for her role in the Algerian revolution and in the post-independence
period as she was president of the UNFA in 1966 (Union Nationale des
Femmes Algériennes: The National Union of Algerian Women), and was
Minister of Health in Ghozali's government. She died on 10 December 2002.
Fatima Benosman's maiden name is Fatima Zekkal. She is mostly known
for her role in the Algerian feminist movement and her participation in the
Algerian revolution. She was arrested and tortured in 1957. In the post-
independence she continued to militate for democracy and women's rights.
She died in March 1990.
Mamia Chentouf's maiden name is Mamia Abdelli, she started militating
at the age of 22 in 1944 while she was a student at the University of Algiers
training as a midwife. Together with Nassa Hamoud she founded the UFMA
in her clinic situated in the Casbah of Algiers. In the post-independence
period she was the rst president of the UNFA.
The rst congress of the FLN.
In the Algerian context, unlike in the Palestinian case, this word is used for
the civilianworkers of the resistance. Their work was mainly liaison, providing
food and shelter for the armedresistance, etcthelocal word used is musabilīn
meaning: they put their lives at risk for serving the revolution.
Gisèle, Halimi,Djamila Boupacha: the story of the torture of a young
Algerian girl which shocked liberal French opinion, London: Cox and Wyman
Ltd, 1962.
Gillo Pontecorvo,The Battle of Algiers, 1965. See also, Youssef Chahine,
Djamila Al-Jazairiya (The Algerian Djamila), 1958.
Moroccan female novelist Leila Abouzeid portraysa similar story of betrayal in
her novel Year of the Elephant: A Moroccan Woman's Journe y Towards Independence,
trans. Barbara Parmenter, Texas: The University of Texas Press, 1989.
First Algerian president. He was deposed by President Boumedienne in 1965.
The National Charter was adopted by referendum on 27 June 1976.
République Algérienne Démocratique et Populaire (1977a,b). La Charte
Nationale (The National Charter) Alger: OPU.
The National Constitution was adopted by referendum on 22 November
1976. République Algérienne Démocratique et Populaire (1977a,b), La
Constitution Nationale (The National Constitution) Alger: OPU.
El-Moujahid: A daily national newspaper in French.
Algérie Actualités: A weekly national newspaper in French.
In Spring 1980 the Berbers of the Kabyle region in Algeria demonstrated
to voice their demands for the safeguarding of the Berber language and
culture and for freedom of thought and speech. The Algerian regime
violently repressed these demonstrations on 20 April 1980, a date that was
from then on dubbed the Black Spring(Le Printemps noir). After 1980 the
Berbers celebrated the Berber Spring to commemorate the black spring and
insist on their demands.
Several women organisations have now been recognised, the best known
are: A.I.T.D.F. (L'Association Independente pour le Triomphe des Droits des
Femmes): Independent Association for the Triumph of Women's Rights,
founded and led by Khalida Messaoudi. L'Organisation de l'égalité devant la
loi entre lesfemmes et les hommes; Women organisations afliated with the
Front des Forces Socialistes and le Parti Avant-garde Socialiste.
Feminist declaration on 8th March 1989 in Algiers, WAF Articles, Journal
no. 1, p. 15.
In the southern Algerian town of Ouargla, a group of fundamentalists set
re to the house of a divorced woman living alone with her children,
resulting in her three year old child burning to death.
Oumma: umma, the community or nation.
Adam Sage (12-12-2007).Spectre of civil war returns as al-Qaeda
suicide bombings kill 67,Times Online.
news/world/africa/article3037382.ece Accessed 20-08-2009.
Such slogans were repeatedly shouted at subsequent demonstrations
such as that on 25 October 1993 and other. Such slogans demonstrate
women's awareness of the replications of Islamic fundamentalism at the
international level. It also demonstrates a will to link the women's
movement in Algeria to other women's movements internationally but
most specically with women living under Muslim laws. See http://www. Accessed: 21-12-2005.
For more details see Shadow Report on Algeria to CEDAW, submitted by
International Women's Human Rights Law Clinic and Women Living under
Muslim Laws.
html. Accessed 30-06-2004.
As an example, this is what the two main Algerian fundamentalist
leaders/co-founders of the FIS party have to say, even long before the
December 1991 elections were cancelled in Algeria, about their programme
and democracy: I do not respect either the laws or the political parties
which do not have the Qur'an. I throw them under my feet and I trample
them. These parties must leave the country. They must be suppressed(Ali
Belhadj, Alger Républicain, 5 April 1991), Beware of those who pretend that
the concept of democracy exists in Islam. Democracy is Kofr(Ali Belhadj, Le
Matin, 29 October 1989). Quoted in Mariemme Hélie-Lucas,What is your
Tribe? Women's Struggle and the Construction of Muslimness, WLULM:
Dossier 26, October 2004, p. 26.
Hakem (2003).Trois militantes des droits des femmes témoignent des
enjeux de la réforme pour la société algérienne,Le Monde. http://
123Z.S. Salhi / Women's Studies International Forum 33 (2010) 113124
Author's personal copy
Abouzeid, Leila (1989). Year of the elephant: A Moroccan woman's journey
towards independence. Trans. Barbara Parmenter. Texas: The University
of Texas Press.
Ait Hamou, Louisa (2004, December). Women's struggle against Muslim
fundamentalism in Algeria: Strategies or a lesson for survival? In Ayesha
Imam (Ed.), Warning signs of fundamentalisms (pp. 117124). WLUML
Bennoune, Mahfoud (1999). Les Algériennes Victimes de la Société Néopa-
triarcale. Alger: MARINOOR.
Chahine, Youssef (1958). Jamila al-Jaza'iriyya (The Algerian Jamila).
Chaterjee, Partha (1993). Nationalist thought and the colonial world: A
derivative discourse. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Daoud, Zakya (1996). Féminisme et Politique au Maghreb: Sept décennies de
lutte. Casablanca: Editions Eddif.
Das, Veena (1996, March). Sexual violence, discursive formations and the
statepaper presented at the conference on Violence against Women:
Victims and Ideologies, Colombo, Sri Lanka (pp. 1).
Dib, Mohammed (1952). La Grande maison. Paris: Le Seuil.
Dunn, Michael Collins (1992). Revivalist Islam and democracy: Thinking
about the Algerian quandary. Middle East Policy,1http://www.questia.
Fanon, Frantz (2001). L'An V de la révolution algérienne. Paris: La Découverte.
Feminist declaration on 8th March 1989 in Algiers. WAF Articles, Journal no. 1,
pp. 1516.
Fetmouche, Omar. Al-Basma al-Majruha (The Wounded Smile). Directed by
Ahcene Assous. Performed by Fadhila Assous. Unpublished text.
Hakem, Tewk (2003, 06 June). Trois militantes des droits des femmes
témoignent des enjeux de la réforme pour la société algérienne. Le
Monde Accessed: 20-
Halimi, Gisèle (1962). Djamila Boupacha: the story of the torture of a young
Algerian girl which shocked liberal French opinion. London: Cox and
Wyman Ltd.
Hélie-Lucas, Mariemme (2004, October). What is your tribe? Women's
struggle and the construction of MuslimnessDossier,Vol. 26. (pp. 2535).
Laws, Sophie (1988, December-1989, May). An interview with Marie Aimée
Hélie-Lucas. Bound and caged by the Family LawDossier,Vol. 56. WLUML
Mahl (pseudonym used by author for her safety) (August 1995). Women on
the edge of time : New Internationalist Issue 270-Women. http://www. Accessed: 21-12-2005.
Mammeri, Mouloud (1952). La Colline oubliée. Paris: Plon.
Messaoudi, Khalida & Schemla, Elizabeth (1998). Unbowed: An Algerian
woman confronts Islamic fundamentalism.Trans: Anne C. Vila, University
of Pennsylvania Press.
Messaoudi, Khalida, & Schemla, Elizabeth (1995). Une Algérienne debout.
Paris: Flammarion 1995.
Metz, Helen Chapan (Ed.). (1994). Algeria: A country study Washington: GPO
for the Library of Congress http://www.countrystudies/us/algeria/144.
Pontecovo, Gillo (1965). La Battaglia di Algeri: The battle of Algiers.
République Algérienne Démocratique et Populaire, Ministére de la Justice
(1993). Le Code de la famille (The Family Code) Alger: OPU For online
version see:
Accessed 08-12-2004.
République Algérienne Démocratique et Populaire (1977). La Charte
Nationale (The National Charter) Alger: OPU.
République Algérienne Démocratique et Populaire (1977). La Constitution
Nationale (The National Constitution) Alger: OPU.
Sage, Adam (12-12-2007). Spectre of civil war returns as al-Qaeda suicide
bombings kill 67,Times Online.
news/world/africa/article3037382.ece. Accessed 20-08-2009.
Salhi, Zahia Smail (1999). Politics, poetics and the Algerian novel. Lampeter:
The Edwin Mellen Press.
Salhi, Zahia Smail (2002). The wounded smile: Women, politics, and the
culture of betrayal.Critique(18), 101119 (Spring).
Salhi, Zahia Smail (2003, November). Algerian women, citizenship, and the
Family Code.Gender and Development,11(3).
Salhi, Zahia Smail (2008). Representations of the Femmes d'Algerin French
colonial media. Middle East Journal of Culture and Communications,1(1),
Shaaban, Bouthaina (1988). Both right and left handed: Arab women talk about
their lives. London: Women's Press.
Shadow Report on Algeria to CEDAW (20 January 1999). Submitted by
International Women's Human Rights Law Clinic and Women Living
under Muslim Laws to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimi-
nation against Women.
shadwreport.html. Accessed: 30-06-2004.
Slackman, Michael (2007, 26 May). Algeria's quiet revolution: Gains by
women. International Herald Tribune.
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124 Z.S. Salhi / Women's Studies International Forum 33 (2010) 113124
... In India, patriarchal discourses importantly interweave with the caste system to constitute institutional and social dynamics in which (single) women farmers and agricultural laborers from scheduled castes are often the most marginalized and discriminated (Agarwal, 1992(Agarwal, , 2003Chakravarti, 1998;Chen, 1998;Kulkarni and Bhat, 2010;Padhi, 2012;Krishna and Kulkarni, 2018). In the Moroccan and Algerian contexts as well, different studies have illustrated how patriarchal family and kinship hierarchies and existing gendered social-cultural norms hamper rural young women to pursue their farming aspirations and their possibility to access resources (Salhi, 2010;Bossenbroek et al., 2015;Ftouhi et al., 2015;Lahmadi et al., 2016). Certainly, we recognize that gender relations, roles, and responsibilities unfold differently in the three countries, also intersecting with age, class, ethnicity factors. ...
... In India, patriarchal discourses importantly interweave with the caste system to constitute institutional and social dynamics in which (single) women farmers and agricultural laborers from scheduled castes are often the most marginalized and discriminated (Agarwal, 1992(Agarwal, , 2003Chakravarti, 1998;Chen, 1998;Kulkarni and Bhat, 2010;Padhi, 2012;Krishna and Kulkarni, 2018). In the Moroccan and Algerian contexts as well, different studies have illustrated how patriarchal family and kinship hierarchies and existing gendered social-cultural norms hamper rural young women to pursue their farming aspirations and their possibility to access resources (Salhi, 2010;Bossenbroek et al., 2015;Ftouhi et al., 2015;Lahmadi et al., 2016). Certainly, we recognize that gender relations, roles, and responsibilities unfold differently in the three countries, also intersecting with age, class, ethnicity factors. ...
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