Speech by Nidhal Lamraoui-English

In Algeria, women are stranded between a patriarchal society hostile to women’s presence in the public sphere and a set of laws and regulations, so unjust, so unfair which institutionalises discrimination against women and therefore constitutes a form of public violence against them. Hello! My name is Nidhal Lamraoui, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be talking to you today about a cause I am passionate about it ! What I am offering you today, is the history of women’s fight against these patriarchal laws, feminists, declared or undeclared, who fought vigorously and tirelessly, from the night of old ages and until today . before taking you through this journey, I would like to shed light on 2 key words I will be using a lot . Algeria, and feminism ! Feminism is the belief that women and men should be equal . and Algeria, my beloved country of birth, is a northern African country, usually considered to be an Arab country when it’s not, Arab is the official language though Algeria is Berber and Berbers are the native habitants of the land extending from Tunisia to morocco and other tribes . Algeria is however a muslim country; where Chari’a laws are applied, and this is where the heart of women’s ordeal lies … Let me take you back to : when women ruled the land, from Tunisia to morocco, through Algeria .Strongest empire of all times ,Dihiya was designated a queen, over her brother, because her dad, who was the king at the time saw the great and unique leadership skills. Her empire, Numidia was the most prosperous, most flourished empire of all times. As a matter of a fact, Dihiya fought Arabs who came with the message of Islam vigorously ,but they got her at last . Nevertheless, she was and still the symbol of the strongest, femme fatal , greatest wits the history empires had ever known . Here is the interesting thing about this, every other woman looked up to her, expected to be treated the same, as a queen, since the norm for women was to go out on battles, work and be equal to men ! Dihiya enjoyed so much freedom, that she fled her husband for her lover, but still acquired her people’s and enemies respect. Dihiya and women in general, at the time were thorns in the side of every bigot who attempted distorting the empire’s concepts Dihiya made :Every woman was a femme fatal ! Arabs hated her guts! That they gave her the name of KAHINA, literal translation of a WITCH, because of her wits and her undisputedly extra magnificent combat skills and she had 3 sons, which was a common “thing” amongst witches! So Arab colonizers took over and turned the country to an Arab speaking country, where Islam is the undisputed religion of all citizens . After that, comes the French colonizing the land, Algeria in 1830 and this is our next stop on the history of Feminism in Algeria . pay attention that the first stop was dihiya’s old days ! 1million and a half million of martyrs were the result of a bloodshed of war, that continued to 1954 then to 1962 where we got our independence. So as I mentioned, in 1954 was the revolution, and that is when feminism had made a comeback in a different suit than the one it had at Dihiya’s old days. Women were a crucial and a defining factor in the Algerian history. Women were shoulder to shoulder with men at mountains, and military camps, serving the nation’s history and blazing the rails to a new aspect of feminism . Freedom of choice ! women were choosing to drop out school and colleges to join their partners men, battling the French colonizers, conducting all kind of resistive acts, demonstrations, on-set serving as nurses, combatants, those who couldn’t join stayed home fought to survive and their kids, making sure they get prepared for an ever greater duty, to be the leaders of tomorrow’s free land ! and you know what? revolution, freedom (which are similar ideologies in the core) start from homes! For this era or stop ( 2nd ) we cite Jamila Bouhired, Lala Fatma Nsoumer, Hassiba ben Bouali, and Zohra Drif. too many to list, all women had shown the bravest attitudes towards the revolution and freedom, it was a clear declaration that women refused to be under someone’s thumb, they refused to be controlled and oppressed ! __________________________________________________________________ For the third stage, I would like to pay special care to the family code and how it shaped women’s rights afterwards, in the Post-colonial era. This era was characterized by the dominance and the rising control of Islamists, versus the liberal party, the Berber cultural movement (which called for justice, equality, designating Berber as an official language, freedom of choice and religion) the thing that gave rise to a lot of hostility and violence on which we are going to shed light on , from women rights prospective . What is interesting at this point in time is how the Berber Cultural Movement and the nascent women’s movement were both accused of conspiring with the West, which in view of Algeria’s colonial past signifies treason against the principles of the national revolution and therefore the lack of legitimacy of their movements, Islamists felt empowered to stand in the way of everything which opposed the way of Islam and claimed the right of using all means, including violence, to protect Algeria’s Islamic identity. But what is this violence we refer to? Violence is often defined as an assault on a person’s physical and mental integrity. Violence against women reflects culturally-defined notions of masculinity and femininity which serve to reinforce women’s subordinate position. It is in most cases, perpetuated by men against women and it embodies the power imbalances inherent in patriarchal societies. Two levels at which violence may strike women’s lives across the MENA region can be identified as Private violence and Public violence. The forms that these two types of violence may take differ from one region to another according to cultural norms and religious beliefs. The discriminatory provisions of the Family Code have facilitated violence against women, legitimized discrimination in practice and made it particularly difficult for women to deal with the consequences of widespread human rights abuse. As such, the Islamists saw themselves as the main political and ideological opposition to the ruling elite and excluded all other tendencies using violence, and as we are going to see later, using women as a human shield As early as the late 1970s women became a clear target for the fundamentalists, whose aim was to bully them out of the public sphere through intense harassment in the form of verbal abuse which quickly escalated into physical attacks in the street against women who dressed up ‘indecently’, by throwing acid on their bodies, and attacking them with knives. In the face of these brutal attacks which often disfigured the victims, the government offered no rejoinder. It is often reported that when women complained to the police about their assailants they were told: they brought it upon themselves. It was in actual fact this silence and sometimes the complicity of the neoconservative state that encouraged the fundamentalists’ attacks on women. The way a given society chooses to control the violence inherent in it reflects the value it places on mutual respect and tolerance of difference, and on human rights, democracy and good governance. The institution of the 1984 Family code is in itself symptomatic of the Algerian government’s lack of respect for women and its arbitrary neglect of women’s basic human rights. This move is also symptomatic of the government’s lack of regard for individual liberties as it paid no heed to the numerous demonstrations led by women between 1981 and 1984 to demand abolishing the project of the family code. The Algerian government co-opted the “conservatives, and later, Muslim fundamentalists, to safeguard their interests and stay in power. Various governments have made compromises and sacrificed women’s rights and safety to keep peace with the fundamentalists” . While the institution of the Family Code seemed to have satisfied the clergy and the neo-conservative members of President Chadli’s government, the Islamists were less than satisfied; in their view the code was not Islamic enough and they called for a total implementation of the Shari‘a, and the institution of an Islamic State in Algeria. _________________________________________________________________ The October 1988 Riots and their Impact on Women The social strife that had marked the 1980s culminated in the October 1988 riots. The waves of discontent expressed initially through a series of strikes and peaceful marches quickly degenerated into wide scale riots. Alarmed by the intensity of the destruction caused by youths who attacked government buildings, the military resorted to violent repression causing the death and injury of hundreds of demonstrators and the arrest and torture of many others, which ultimately led to more anger and resentment. The Islamists capitalised on this popular anger and exploited it politically through a populist discourse which swiftly recruited many angry youths. On the other hand, many other groups joined the protest and took the opportunity to voice their concerns and call for radical change and the toppling of President Chadli’s government. The women’s groups, who throughout the 1980s incessantly expressed their anger at the institution of the Family Code also joined the demonstrations and called for the recognition of democratic liberties. In order to save his government President X gave promises of economic reform and political liberalisation. It seemed that the establishment of political pluralism served as an alternative to addressing social and economic needs. The situation of women in this new political climate is indeed most intriguing, as while they remain minors under the dictates of the Family Code which denies them their civil rights, they can now enjoy political citizenship and form their own associations through which they can make claims for equality before the law. The institution of the Family Code was a strong wake-up call for Algerian women and a re-launch of the Algerian feminist movement which started in the 1940s as the Algerian Women’s Union but was made later into a state controlled organisation, which was stripped from its militant platform and was turned into a conformist organisation (UNFA) which was ultimately deserted by feminist women. Women war veterans and a new generation of women who opposed the UNFA in their struggle to stop and eventually repeal the Family Code merged together and solidified their ranks in a new feminist movement, for the aim of abolishing the family code . Immediately after the launch of the 1988 political reforms, three women’s associations were created. These are the Association for the Emancipation of Women, the Association for Equality before the Law between Women and Men, and the Association for the Defence and Promotion of Women’s Rights. Nevertheless, the disjuncture between political and civil citizenship, has hampered Algerian women from enjoying full participation in public life and from achieving autonomy in the conduct of their private lives. What made it worst, this condition was the rise of the Islamists as political parties ( FIS) , the most notorious . Women’s associations and liberal political opposition parties were alarmed and very worried by the FIS’ non-democratic agenda on the one hand and its populist discourse on the other; while its leaders never supported democracy, but repeatedly asserted that once in power they would fully implement Shari‘a law, their populist rhetoric recruited masses of frustrated youths to whom they sold packs of dreams, and through the expression of their outright hatred of the regime they have quickly managed to pose themselves as the strongest alternative to the leading party at the time. The members of the FIS who used the religious space of the mosque for propagating their fundamentalist views, especially vis-à-vis women whom they put at the centre of their populist propaganda, rallied to their cause huge numbers of unemployed youths whom they convinced that women should return to their homes to fulfil their God-given roles as homemakers and leave their jobs for the unemployed male who needed them most. This discourse resulted in making the public sphere even more hostile than it already was to women who are now designated as one of the wrongs of Algerian society and for Islamic salvation to prevail they should be ‘righted’ as a matter of urgency. society should be cleansed from moral corruption which is mostly personified in women, because they opposed the family code which legalised polygamy, they were dubbed, ‘the women who wanted to marry four husbands’ __________________________________________________________________ The Association for the Equality before the Law between Men and Women, called for a massive gathering to celebrate the International Women’s Day in 1989. determined to continue their struggle against gender segregation as exemplified in the Family Code, which they described as an obstacle to justice, equality and democracy which they highlighted as the main components of the full development of the Algerian woman and of the society as a whole because you see? Women’s status as minors under the law prohibits the whole society from progressing into a democratic society, and makes them extremely vulnerable in front of the Islamists’ campaign of intimidation. comment: yes! now believe it or not, the attempts of actually elevating women’s status, was fought aggressively, it was met with a lot of rigorous criticism, there were ones who even went on calling out at the women’s acts, as “threatening, devilish, and of an aim of repudiating national values “ When, they were actually the terrorists, and the one “altering” the society’s mentalities to a generic, cheap and very extreme path, they removed satellites dishes from people’s roofs and replaced that with loud speakers, preaching their new way of life, hatred and threats was everything that characterized their speeches . Algeria, and especially Algiers went through a new era, where everything from the smallest of details had completely changed, way of clothing, manoeuvres and so women were OBLIGED to comply to the new fashion, a trendy “Dress code”, veil, jilbab and chador were introduced to the Algerian society, after been a complete alien ! you woud be passing by the streets seeing all different kinds of graffiti shouting threat promising : she who exposes herself, and not follow the rules; gun is for you !!!!or women are the root of all evil ! and no body bat an eye (my mom, who lived in the era, refused to comply to the so called rules and stood tall facing all this, when she refused to put on the hijeb, nor quit her job as a teacher! mom was lucky enough, for not being killed, but so many of her girl-friends and her neighbors weren’t , ‘mention the 2 examples it didn’t stop here, they interfered with the social and cultural life, prohibiting wedding ceremonies, celebration, music, swimming, beaches and pretty much banned all happy manifestations of life in general .closed cinemas and theatre, issued death threats against singers and performers . One of the first women to be gunned down was the 21 year old Karima Belhadj, who worked as a clerk in a youth and sports department. She was shot in the head and abdomen on 7 April 1993. another 28 years old mother of five was decapitated in front of her children. two sisters aged 12 and 15 were kidnapped and gang raped AND now Unveiled women are now being shot down in the streets; in March 1994 three unveiled high school students were shot down ! Feminist activists were openly targeted. Their names were listed and pinned on mosque doors and shouted over the loudspeakers. Khalida Messaoudi whom the fundamentalists sentenced to death in 1993 testifies, “Over the loudspeakers, imams would hurl curses at me, describe me as ‘a woman of delinquent morals’ and a ‘danger to the morality of women,’ and warn those women who might be tempted to follow my example” . From this date onwards she lived in hiding. It soon became evident that women were at the top of the terrorists’ agenda and that their bodies were primarily targeted as symbols; the terrorists’ lists of women to be killed were extensive and included women from all walks of life: women who worked in government offices; women who owned shops such as hairdressers, beauty salons, Turkish baths; women teachers and University lecturers; women related to government officers or security workers; feminist activists, women artists and singers, school girls, and women who lived on their own. that was happening after cancelling on the election, on which the Islamist party won and the country declared state of emergency, and that is when Algeria got caught in a serious spiral of civilian disorder /civil war . Mass murders and random targeted killing (police, elites, students .WOMEN ) Turning the terrorists war into a GENUINE FEMICIDE . the way I see is, is women being used a battle field, a key factor for arm forcing the government and the country into giving up control for the Islamises ! it was a tactic, to using their bodies to shame, dishonour and to get what they wanted ! How women responded? the resistance forms : Because the “dark decade” wasn’t too distant past the independence, feminist groups and pro feminist activists from organizations, public masses and so on had their determination on not giving up for the repercussion or the femecide happening at the time . it had taken generally 2 forms : a social spontaneous, adopted by the majority of pro feminists, women and men ! coming from all demographic groups the other was political, designed and structured to fulfil short and long term plans that would assure the prosperity and the complete wished for liberation for women . On the social level women resisted and opposed the destructive powers of Islamic terrorism by continuing to do and lead ‘normal’ lives despite the atmosphere of war. Women continued to go to work and do their daily business. They continued to send their children to school despite the fact that 16 pupils were assassinated while at school in October,1997 , and female teachers who were not sure of returning to their homes in the evening continued to attend to their duties, and every time a female teacher was assassinated another filled her post, they continued going to hair salons, beauty shops ,celebrating women’s international days, their kid’s birthdays and so on . Their motto was : “life opposes death, life always wins !” The feminist groups launched many charitable organisations and opened women shelters to help survivors of rape who were disowned by their families. The ‘SOS Femmes en Détresse’ organisation took care of the children of the women and girls who were forcibly impregnated and pressed on the government to permit abortion in such occurrences. They recruited doctors, midwives, psychologists and lawyers as volunteers to help in the rehabilitation process of the women survivors of violence. the atmosphere had helped bring to the surface a new phenomenon: In the absence of men, women stepped into new fields and positions which were traditionally designated as male domains. In some areas they led funerals, and in the work place they took positions such as in the construction and civic engineering sectors. Women took charge of small enterprise and ran new businesses. so, and when women were forcibly excluded from the public sphere, they accidentally fed the burning desire in women to step up and to acquire even higher levels of life! Feminism had known a new chapter, in the Algerian history, moving into a new economically oriented plane. don’t let this trick you into believing that feminists groups and activists had their eyes taken off prize concerning the family code abolishment ! the majority, and as expected, denied anything called women’s rights! mobilization and widening the spread of awareness, starting from an early stages, at high school was very crucial to the success of the promotion of such a request! women were pretty active, they staged for the first only women demonstration ,in 1992, calling for the cancelation of the falsified elections carrying slogans which read, ‘ The Army, The People and Democracy’, ‘No Iran, No Kabul, Algeria is Algerian’, ‘Algeria: Free and Democratic’, ‘ Let’s Save the Principles of the Republic’ Women at the time weren’t only fighting for women’s rights ! they were fighting to reclaim the public sphere, of which the majority was hypnotized . they fought for the initially asserted principles, one of which Algeria being a republic ! it kept happening, on what seemed to be a very often basis, it surely did frighten the islamists and showed the world a lesson in bravery, women going out face to face with the islamist militia, refusing to bend or to surrender to their extreme obligations! So If you remark, there was two main wake up calls, that moved Algerian women from passivity to becoming active agents and actually have a vote on what concerns their matters! those were the rise of the fundamentalists and the unjust family code! Two turning points in the history of Algerian feminism. feminist groups and same goal oriented groups had moved to merging their efforts, together towards creating a counter discourse to what the fundamentalists are offering by voicing their views, and making their suffering known to all, the women survivors of rape, testified on national televisions, were outspoken about their very hurtful experiences, mediatising and collaboration were the element keys of success of this era . How did we ever make it internationally ?? This is what I meant earlier by “long term designed plans”, it was destined for the feminist revolution to branch out, and to reach out to every corner of the globe! they thought we did it before, with the colonial revolution against france, they all did it ! why not this ? why not now ! After strengthening their existence on the national arena, it was time to collaborate and back support the cause with same goal oriented groups and organization active around the world! spreading the tentacle to the neighbouring countries, from Tunisia and morocco, joining the Maghrebian network of equality, in 1995 they filed a civil action suit in WA-DC against FIS and its representative at the time. FEMINIST leaders went tirelessly representing and voicing out the Algerian women ordeals, in different international gatherings and events . women being an emerging yet a very active formative pressure period on the international opinion .All of this and more, had in some sort of ways empowered women for being at the centre of every political manoeuvre and this was a first ! On the subject of the Family Code, women NGOs pressed for government action to repeal it. Although this has not been achieved, in 2005 some changes to the Code were introduced after heated debates and long protests by conservative political parties who opposed its modification. Although the draft is nothing as we wish to have, activits recognizes these amendments to the Code as a significant improvement to the present law, and what is most important is the shifting of the sacred aspect of the Code which was viewed as a God-made document. latest of which, finally approving on the legislative criminalizing laws, that condemns all shapes of physical abuse and domestic one, including the spouse’s right to “beating his wife” ! the heroine, whose credits go for is Razika Cherif and I will conclude my speech with her short, but ever-lasting story! tell story here: Razika cherif, was a young college student, veiled, modestly clothed young woman, everything that is perceived as prude and ‘islamist convenient’, getting harassed in the street by some driver tirelessly insisting on getting a word from her, she continued on her path, going to college, for morning classes, witnesses who were at the set and actually witnessed the case, said that she shouted at the guy to leave her alone, and that is when he ran over her with his car, couple of times, back and forth until she sank in a blood pool .. Nobody had come at her rescue, as she was harassed for a WHILE ! The murderer ran away, and Razika was dead before anyone could transfer her to the hospital . luckily the criminal’s car plate was reported by one of the witnesses and police had caught him where he confessed the crime . The horrific event had created a huge discontent that only weeks after an urgent meeting was called for by the parliament to approve on the suggested laws criminalizing street harassment and domestic violence towards women Noting that these same laws were faced with strong disapproval by the vast majority of the public, claiming that it was a threat in disguise to the society’s most important pillar : family, as if women taken violence is the glue keeping the Algerian families solidified …SAD BUT TRUE…. Media went crazy about passing the legislative laws and officially integrating it in the family code . It is indeed a huge step that feminists and the same goal-driven associations do recognize that it’s a massive point in our favour ,and in the women’s and the promotion of human rights in Algeria . We are still a far cry from having the situation to be where it is at, but it’s definitely a gigantic win, a worthy of admiration and a turnout in the history of the Algerian feminism and their struggle against violence and patriarchy . In a country, where women can be pilots, the first for being granted the military generals ranks, Maires, ministers, and parliament members, researchers, worldwide famous athletes and novelists, but still being perceived as the weaker chain, put in a cage to be raped and exploited The fight is still on, and we are making progress no matter how small or slow it is, it still counts, for all the heroines who paved the path for this ! so here Is to WOMEN of Algeria, HERE IS FOR WOMEN EVERYWHERE ! THANK YOU !


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