12 January 2005
Womens Anti-Discrimination Committee Considers Report of Algeria
Committee Members Call for Further Action by Government to Achieve Gender Equality
NEW YORK, 11 January (UN Headquarters) -- As the Committee that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) took up Algerias second periodic report in two meetings today, its members called on the Government to go further on the path it had undertaken when it acceded to the Convention in 1996 and display real political will to achieve gender equality.
Many of the 23 expert members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, who serve in their personal capacities, noted that although numerous articles of Algerias national legislation provided for gender equality, the situation of women in the country was hardly equal, particularly in rural areas, where stereotypical sexist views persisted. While the country had come an extremely long way since its emancipation from the disaster of colonialism in the 1960s, many problems persisted, including the low level of women in the workforce and in public and political life, as well as gender-related violence.
An expert stressed the need for a deeper understanding of the role of stereotypes in the promotion of inequality. It was the responsibility of the State to combat such stereotypes -- not just wait for them to become obsolete. Emphasized in the debate was the importance of education, which one expert called the most important instrument for the achievement of equal rights for all.
Algeria ratified the Convention in 1996 and presented its initial report to the Committee in January 1999. The country maintains several reservations to CEDAW, including those to article 2 on the obligations of States parties; article 9 on the rights to nationality; article 15 on equality in legal and civil matters; and article 16 on equality of rights within the family.
In that connection, while recognizing the efforts by the Government, several experts commented on the statement in the report that the reservations did not go against the essence of the Convention. They said articles 2 on the obligations of States parties and 16 on equality of rights within the family were at the very core of the foundation of the Convention, and the Committee placed emphasis on the need to withdraw them. Although the articles in question were being partially applied, reservations should not be accepted, an expert said. She also remarked on the careful nature of the country representatives statement that the Government would consider lifting reservations in the future.
Country representatives pointed out that the overall status of Algerian women must be viewed in the context of the countrys political, economic, cultural and social evolution. According to the report before the Committee -- introduced by Abdallah Baali of Algeria -- as in all Arab-Muslim societies, the legal status of women in Algeria presented a dichotomy. The constitutional principle of equality of the sexes was respected when it came to civil and political rights, and women had a full status as citizens. However, questions of personal status were governed by the family code, which was supposedly based on the Sharia.
Experts asked numerous questions regarding the ongoing reform of the family code and the code of Algerian nationality, asking for clarifications regarding its scope and time frame. They also posed queries regarding Algerias other efforts to bring its national legislation in line with the Convention. Several experts expressed concern over such issues as the countrys laws on the marital home in the event of divorce, polygamy and the womens legal guardian in matters of marriage.
According to the countrys replies to the questions, the Government intended to strengthen the existing legal framework and take positive action to enable women to free themselves from social constraints, taking full advantage of their rights under the Constitution. In 2003, a multidisciplinary committee had been set up to review the family code, and a serious discussion was taking place in Algerias press, reflecting deep interest by the population in the issue, a country representative pointed out. Proposed amendments involved the elimination of certain provisions that discriminate against women, harmonization of the minimum marriage age for men and women, abolition of guardianship for adult women when a marriage was contracted, and better protection for children in the event of divorce. Serious opposition to change remained in some circles of society, however.
Before hearing Algerias presentation of its report, the Chairperson of the Pre-Session Working Group for the thirty-second session, Victoria Popescu, also an expert from Romania, introduced the report of that body, which the Committee then adopted.
The Committee will meet again tomorrow, 12 January to take up the combined second, third, fourth and fifth periodic reports of Gabon.
Introduction of Report
Algerias second periodic report (document CEDAW/C/DZA/2) was presented by the countrys delegation, which consisted of: Abdallah Baali, Permanent Representative to the United Nations; Yasmina Alouani of the Ministry of Internal Affairs; Aicha Bouaoun of the Ministry of Employment and Solidarity; Nessera Keddad of the Ministry of Health, Population and Hospital Reform; Leila Boumghar of the Education Ministry; Ouahida Boureghda of the Ministry of Family and the Condition of Women; Baqhia Yekken of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security; Nadia Benabdallah of the Ministry of Justice; Baya Zitoune of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development; Lazhar Soualem of the Foreign Ministry; and Abdelouahab Osmane of the Permanent Mission of Algeria to the United Nations.
Introducing the report, Mr. BAALI (Algeria) said the presentation attested to Algerias attention to the fulfilment of its international obligations. Since the report was submitted to the Secretariat, the general situation in the country had changed rapidly, with a series of significant changes, including the holding of presidential elections in which women had participated. Algeria in 2005 was completely different from 1999 when terrorism was claiming many lives and the countrys economy had been bled white. In the fight for survival, women were in the front lines, as they had the most to lose. Today, the country was at peace and was committed to building a society in harmony with its values and in keeping with the times. While the report showed progress, gaps still remained, which his country was determined to fill. Algeria had ratified in October 2004, the Convention on the Political Rights of Women.
When it had presented, Algerias delegation had stressed that treaty law authorized the formulation of reservations, some based on practice and others based on contradictions with Algerian law, particularly regarding personal status. The issue of transmission of nationality through women would be the subject of further remark during the meeting. The establishment by the President of a national commission on the reform of justice showed the determination of Algerias highest authorities to provide further impetus towards the development of justice in the third millennium. Enormous areas of jurisdiction had been reopened, including revision of civil and penal codes.
Equality was guaranteed by the constitution, which stipulated that citizens were equal before the law without discrimination by birth, race, gender or any other issue, he said. Provisions had been inserted into legislative texts to promote the equality of citizens without gender-based distinctions. Equality was guaranteed in such areas as access to work, the right to strike and the right to promotion. While such steps seemed modest, women were making progress in their access to decision-making and high-level governmental posts; in that connection two female ambassadors had been appointed. In the judiciary, women occupied important posts, among them, 3 who chaired courts, 34 who presided over tribunals and 115 magistrates. In the Ministry of Justice, of the 146 people in higher-level posts, 22 were women. All in all, women represented 48 per cent of that Ministrys staff. A woman was also the vice-governor of the Bank of Algeria, the countrys highest financial authority.
The public authorities had taken other encouraging initiatives to ensure that women were further represented in professions previously considered to be reserved for men, such as the army, the national police and the gendarmerie, he continued. The police were taking actions to ensure that women victims of violence were heard. Women were represented in each prefect and urban police security office to deal with women victims. The objective was to encourage women citizens to talk about their problems.
No legislative provisions or regulations existed which limited womens participation in political activity, he said. The right to vote and to be elected was guaranteed by the constitution. As of 2004, the electoral body included 46 per cent women. The 2002 elections had seen an increase in the number of women candidates for the countrys National Assembly, and three women had won senate seats. Womens participation and their growing visibility were in part explained by the repeal of voting restrictions, the decline in terrorist violence and womens stronger will to express their rights as citizens by voting.
In the area of labour, he noted that the number of working women had increased considerably, although the overall rate remained low. More than 600,000 women worked in the informal labour sector, and many were under the age of 40.
Concerning the situation of rural women, measures had made it possible to improve their participation in the agriculture sector. Women were increasingly involved in the rural management of territory.
Regarding nationality laws, he said a revision of the nationality code was under way. In accordance with Algerias constitution, Algerian citizenship is defined by the law. In determining nationality, Algeria used the legal system based on blood relations or jus sanguinis. The nationality code did not distinguish between men and women with respect to general conditions for acquisition or loss of nationality. The Government had undertaken a revision of the nationality code, in part to protect children and to take into account new situations in the development of societal relationships.
The continued emancipation of Algerian women derived from ongoing efforts of public authorities to ensure the education of all children without distinction, he said. The success of young women was a phenomenon cutting through all of society, as illustrated by the number of women in institutions of higher learning. Girls accounted for 57.53 per cent of all those engaged in secondary school teaching. The percentage of girls in college had increased by 15.9 per cent, from 39.5 per cent in 1990 to about 55.4 per cent in 2003. Algeria had opted for a gradual transformation of social behaviour and had had succeeded in pushing back stereotypes of women. Textbooks had been revised to remove stereotypes.
The relationship between women and the labour market was highly informative regarding womens autonomy, he continued. It was no longer a subject for debate for economists, but a barometer for measuring womens enjoyment of their rights. Social security legislation guaranteed working women certain rights, such as health insurance, pension benefits and paid maternity leave. The number of women civil servants had increased to 27 per cent of the overall total.
Algeria had gone through one of the most trying periods in its history, he said. Terrorist crime had not spared any part of the population, including women, who had been the main targets of terrorists. With the acceleration of the civil pact, terrorism was today less of a threat than previously. Dealing with the social scars of terrorism was now a priority task. In that regard, welcome centres for women victims of violence had been opened and specialized staff provided assistance.
Domestic violence was no longer a taboo subject and was being discussed in society, he went on to say. The criminalization of sexual harassment in the revised criminal code reflected the need to meet the trade unions demands that women be given the legal wherewithal to deal with such acts. He also stated that Algeria had invited the Special Rapporteur on violence against to women to visit the country.
One area of remarkable progress in terms of womens human rights was in their access to health care, he said. The health care of young women and adolescent girls was part of preventive medicine. The country had also seen a change in its demographics: population increase had been cut in half, extending life expectancy by two years; and fertility rates had dropped in the last 10 years, due in part to the use of contraception and the later age of marriage -- 29.6 years for women and 33 years for men.
The legal status of the basic structure of the family was codified in the family code, he said. Since adopted in 1984, the code had not been amended. Various social changes in Algerian society, however, together with necessary adaptation of national legislation to bring it in line with international conventions, meant that its revision was now due. With that in mind, the President, in 2003, had instructed the Ministry of Justice to initiate a revision of the family code. In 2004, the President had stated that Algeria had chosen to implement necessary positive actions to allow women to break out from social constraints and fully enjoy their constitutional rights. In order to bring national legislation into conformity with developments in international law, the Government had initiated a revision of the family and nationality code. Adoption of the proposed amendments would mean it would be possible to lift a great number of the reservations to the Convention. Algeria had moved from a patriarchal system to a family based on shared responsibility. Under Islamic law, which also promoted equality, the country had demonstrated the capacity to adapt to various social changes while at the same time leaving the door open to exegesis.
On the main changes proposed by the Commission, he said the amendments aimed at removing discriminatory provisions against women in the areas of unifying the marriage age, mutual consent for marriage, the removal of guardianship for adult women when a marriage was contracted, and, in the case of divorce, guardianship of children given to the parent awarded guardianship.
He said that Algeria was committed to modernity and progress. Restoring to women the fullness of their rights and ensuring equal partnerships between men and women was its main objective. Gradually bringing national legislation into conformity with international instruments on the rights of men and women remained a priority of the highest order. Algerian women were not the passive recipients of actions for their benefit, but were a strong vector for change that would benefit all of society.
Experts Comments and Questions
As the Committee began its article-by-article consideration of the countrys adherence to the Convention, several experts focused on Algerias efforts to align its national legislation with the development of international law pertaining to the protection of womens rights.
SALMA KHAN from Bangladesh said the experts had noted positive changes and rapid progress in respect of establishing de jure equality between men and women in Algeria. Nevertheless, it was not quite clear from the current report whether de facto equality had followed. Some national provisions were not in conformity with the Convention, and it was hard to find reasons for some of Algerias reservations, including those on womens right to movement within the country.
NAELA GABR from Egypt noticed a high degree of womens participation in the countrys affairs, adding, however, that she had expected greater achievements in the promotion of womens rights in Algeria. She wanted to know what was being done to reinforce the role of women in society. Also, noting the lack of provisions outlawing violence against women in the countrys legislation, she said it was important for the Government to take a positive stand in that respect. She also touched upon the relationship between Islamic laws and the provisions of the Convention.
HEISOO SHIN of the Republic of Korea asked about the time frame for the revision of the family code, and wanted to know what was being done to review other discriminatory laws. It was also necessary to introduce new laws to protect women, in particular as far as domestic violence was concerned. Her other comments related to temporary special measures for the promotion of womens rights and the need to improve the real situation of women.
HANNA BEATE SCHOPP-SCHILLING from Germany focused on the countrys reservations to the Convention. Article 2, on the obligations of States parties, and article 16, on equality of rights within the family, were of vital importance to the purpose of the instrument and she could not accept the statement contained in the report that Algerias reservations were not central to the Convention. What obstacles were preventing the country from adopting new non-discriminatory laws in the near future? she asked. Did Algeria have a policy and programme for temporary special measures?
XIAOQIAO ZOU from China expressed appreciation for the timely submission of the countrys reports and wondered whether, in addition to the revision of the curricula, the Government had joined hands with the non-governmental organization (NGO) community to do away with negative cultural stereotypes and discriminatory practices that still prevailed in the country. A long-term advocacy campaign was needed.
Mr. BAALI said that in talking about the situation of women in Algeria, one should use correct terminology. The country had been working for a number of years to revise its family code and bring it in line with the developments in international law. Aside from that, he did not see any laws that were discriminatory to women. Efforts were also under way to revise the nationality code. The penal code punished any individual guilty of acts of brutality or violence against another individual, be it a man or a woman. No Algerian laws encouraged men to beat their wives or allowed such behaviour. Traditionally, domestic violence was a taboo subject, but today, thanks to education and increased awareness, women were more eager to complain and seek advice on the matter. If necessary, they could go to court to seek justice.
As to his countrys reservations to the Convention, he said that although the Government had a general reservation to article 2, on the obligations of States parties, for the most part its provisions were being implemented. Daily life in the country testified to the fact that various paragraphs were not applied in total, but the Government was making real efforts to implement the instrument.
On the family code, he said that, of course, there were obstacles to its review, as there would be in any Muslim country. There was resistance to reform in certain circles of the population. There was a heated debate in the press, which showed that the issue was of much concern to both men and women in Algeria. The draft code had been approved by the Government Council and would now be reviewed by the Council of Ministers. While unable to give an exact date, he could say that it would be soon. Afterwards, the draft would go to the National Assembly. Once adopted, the revised code would radically transform the relations between men and women in terms of personal status.
Another member of the delegation addressed the efforts to improve the perception of women and overcome negative stereotypes. Since 1999, an educational reform had been implemented, designed to establish a civic school system and change both the curricula and the teaching process. Several textbooks had been revised and a new programme introduced. Any content that could be perceived as violent or intolerant had been expunged. Discriminatory images had been eliminated. In fact, two textbooks had been rejected because they contained such images.
Several country representatives responded to questions about reservations to the Convention. Regarding article 15, on equality in legal and civil matters, in particular the right to choose ones residence, the delegate said that given the developments in society, which were ever more tangible and visible, women in growing numbers were allowed to live away from their husbands for professional reasons. True, the country maintained its reservation to the article in question, but the developments in the country were positive.
Another speaker added that the country intended to keep its promises, and expressed the hope that, with its next report, the country would be able to lift some of its reservations, bringing its national legislation in line with the provisions of the Convention. The President of the Republic had recently encouraged all involved in working on womens rights to put an end to discrimination not only in Algeria, but in other African countries as well.
A multi-disciplinary commission had been established in 2003 to revise the family code. Within the framework of the judicial reform, numerous other commissions were revising the penal and civil codes, the commercial code and codes governing prison administration. On domestic violence, a delegate said the issue had not been integrated in the penal legislation, but there had been movement to do so. Husbands had no right to beat their wives, and cases of family violence were dealt with as any case of deliberate assault and battery, regardless of who was the perpetrator. The country was now working on integrating family violence with other provisions of the law. Another speaker added that two centres had been created in the country in 2000. They provided information on the legal measures women could take, as well as psychological help to victims of violence.
On special temporary measures, country representatives said that they were being implemented in a gradual but certain fashion. For example, urgent measures were required to combat domestic violence and ensure that women could go to the police and courts with their complaints. The presence of women on the police force was a positive development in that regard. There were now over 4,000 women in public security forces. Women were also present in the prefectures and police stations, where they helped other women to present their complaints.
Experts Comments and Questions
In a second round of questioning, experts asked further questions about the issue of reservations, constitutional provisions for womens equal rights, and actions to promote the advancement of women.
Saying she wished to refrain the question of reservations, the expert from Mauritius, PRAMILA PATTEN, noted that in 1999 the Government had expressed willingness to review its reservations in light of evolution of Algerian society. What was the Governments position today regarding the issue of reservations? she asked. The report contained no information on the reasons for maintaining reservations or on obstacles in removing them. She also asked for information on the constitutional council, including its mandate and when it was established.
Commending the Government for its efforts on legal reform, she wondered, however, what initiatives were being taken to sensitize the population, in general, and women, in particular, on the law, and asked whether special measures were being taken in rural areas? Also, did Algeria have a legal aid system?
DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC from Croatia asked if the report had been adopted formally by the Government, and if it been submitted to the Parliament. What had been the role of non-governmental organizations in the reports preparation? Did the Government plan to ratify the Optional Protocol? What was the role of the national advisory committee for the promotion of human rights in monitoring implementation of the Convention?
KRISZTINA MORVAI from Hungary noted that the country had come an extremely long way since its emancipation from the disaster of colonialism in the 1960s. There were problems, however, including the low level of women in the workforce and in public and political life. While she had been relieved by the description of the situation regarding terrorism, she was worried about the long-term effects of the gender aspects of terrorism. Had there been research on that point? Gender-based violence was designed to modify womens lifestyles and plans by making them feel guilt and fear for becoming involved in public and political life. Was that assumption true or false? Was terrorism still in the air, and had the international community come to the countrys help in ensuring that people did not have to live in fear of terrorism?
MAGALYAS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ from Cuba, addressing the issue of national mechanisms for the advancement of women, noted that a Ministry for Women and the Family had been created; some information was provided in the report, but not enough. What was the relationship between that Ministry and the implementation of policies mentioned in the report? What was the inter-relationship between the Womens Ministry and other sectoral ministries? How did it coordinate its functions with those ministries, and how did it interact with civil society?
MARY SHANTHI DAIRIAM from Malaysia, noted that in spite of many incremental steps for womens advancement, it was not evident that the country was taking a holistic and comprehensive approach based on the legal standards of the convention. She was not criticizing the Government, but wanted to stress the need for adopting such an approach. What concrete steps had the Government taken to implement the Committees previous concluding comments? What training had been provided to explain the meaning of substantive equality? It was not enough to say that the law did not discriminate against women; the absence of a legal definition of discrimination gave rise to discriminatory practices. Did the Government plan to create a legal definition of equality and non-discrimination as provided for in the Convention?
FRANÇOISE GASPARD from France wondered why the reservations had not been withdrawn since they were not reflective of Algerian society today. She noted that as Algeria emerged from some terrible years in its history, legislation lagged behind the level of societal transformation. The law had an important role to play. She commended the Government for the high level of its technical representatives and wondered how the debate would be conveyed upon their return.
HUGUETTE BOKPE-GNACADJA from Benin said there were often major difficulties in the implementation of international instruments. She wanted to revisit the sensitive question of reservations. Progress in eliminating reservations had begun, and the Committee congratulated the Government for demonstrating its political will, for example, in reviewing the family code. However, articles 2 and 16, on the obligations of States parties and on equality of rights within the family, respectively, were at the very core of the Convention, and the Committee emphasized on the need to withdraw reservations to them. The Algerian family had been developing, and Muslim law could be adapted to meet the requirements of the Convention. She also posed questions about polygamy, which was not addressed in the report.
MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA from Portugal said that while recognizing the efforts by Algeria, she was struck by the statement in the report that the reservations did not go against the essence of the understanding of the Convention. Although the articles in question were being partially applied, reservations should not be accepted. Country representatives had stated that the Government would consider lifting reservations and she noted the careful nature of that statement. Were substantive amendments or minor adjustments being contemplated? Changes needed to be fully in line with the Convention. A recent survey showed that 74 per cent of cases of violence took place in the home, she added, and that issue needed to be addressed.
SILVIA PIMENTEL from Brazil also focused on violence, asking if studies had been undertaken with a view to promulgating a specific law on the issue. She highlighted the importance of a specific law in the penal code. A repressive approach to violence against women was an important aspect of protection under the law. Was the Government planning to set up specific training programmes for law enforcement officials to ensure gender sensitization?
Responding to questions, country representatives assured the experts that their concerns would be conveyed to the Government.
Regarding reservations, Mr. BAALI said that the debate could be extended indefinitely. What was important, aside from the question of whether reservations were central to the Convention or not, was the political will of the Government to implement the Convention. Reservations had been made to register certain concerns in connection with particular issues. They would be removed, once those concerns had been addressed. Once the family code had been revised -- and he was not speaking about minor amendments -- related reservations could be removed.
Also, Algeria was not looking for excuses, but it should be recalled that for some 10 years, it had been confronting the most brutal type of terrorism, and women had taken the most active part in that struggle. It was also important to bear in mind that Algeria was a developing country, which was doing its best to promote gender equality, despite its difficulties. In presenting its reports, the Government was trying to show the progress made from year to year in such areas as health, education and participation.
Ms. BENABDALLAH, of the Ministry of Justice, said that the country had a strong will to tackle the problem of violence. A recent study had focused on the medical and legal aspects of the issue. What was significant was that for the first time, a recommendation had been made to gather annual statistics. The project had helped to break down the taboo and collect important information. Most acts of violence perpetrated in the country were, indeed, acts of violence by men against women.
On the primacy of international instruments over national legislation, she said that a decision had been handed down by the Constitutional Council -- consisting of judges and representatives of the two houses of Parliament and Senate -- which made several references to equality of all citizens under the law. According to a revision, any provision of an international convention that the country ratified, would dominate over national legislation.
There was a significant percentage of women judges at all levels of the judicial system, she added. Women could also bring their cases before a court, without any discrimination. In many cases, however, women were not familiar with the procedures.
The mission of the National Human Rights Commission was to provide a mechanism for promoting and safeguarding human rights in the country. Instances of violations were brought before that Commission, which produced yearly reports that were sent to the President of the Republic.
The National Council of Women, she added, had been established but had not yet begun operation.
She noted that polygamy was among the changes addressed in the family code. The Commission in charge of the codes revision had suggested limits to polygamy. A husband had to fulfil certain new conditions before a new marriage could be allowed, including the need to request authorization. Divorce could be requested particularly in cases where the marriage had not been consummated. Often, economic problems meant that polygamy did not exist, or existed only in a very small way.
Mr. BAALI said the Constitutional Council consisted of nine members. Its president, an eminent jurist, was in charge of ensuring that the constitution was properly respected. Citizens could not go directly to the court.
Regarding the national body for the promotion of womens rights, Ms. BOUREGHDA, of the Ministry of Family and the Condition of Women, said that a national womens council had been created, but given the difficult circumstances facing the country, that council had not been activated. The ministry in charge of monitoring womens rights through the various ministries did not have a special budget. A standing ministerial committee monitored the situation of women. The ministry also proposed appropriate measures to promote the role of women.
Another country representative said the problem of violence was no longer a taboo subject, but was a matter of concern to public authorities. Public debate on the issue had opened up at the end of the 1990s, when a national seminar was held. It was agreed that there should be a national survey to provide information on the victims and perpetrators of violence, and that several ministries and NGOs should be involved. Conducted over the course of a year, the survey had made a great contribution. Some 10,000 cases had been studied. The survey showed that there were no differences in terms of socio-economic levels, and that people across the board were affected by violence. A national day had been held to discuss a national strategy against violence.
Responding to questions on education measures to prevent violence, one representative said there was no discrimination in terms of training in national security services. Training against violence in all its forms was given to all the security forces in the form of basic courses and ongoing programmes. Training was a requirement for promotion.
Algerian legislation was in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, another speaker said. The constitution established full equality between men and women. Regarding the labour market, the national policy had attempted to ensure the equality of the sexes in the workplace.
On judicial training on violence, she said the magistrates training courses included training on all international instruments ratified by Algeria, particularly those regarding violence.
Experts Comments and Questions
VICTORIA POPESCU from Romania asked about womens political and diplomatic life. While clear progress had been made in the 2002 elections compared with 1997, what measures had been taken by the Government to disseminate the new voting procedures to help women express their vote independently, particularly in rural areas, where stereotypical sexist views persisted? she asked. Were there temporary special measures to facilitate womens access to the civil service? For example, was there a quota system? On electoral lists for political parties, were places reserved for women? How were the candidates promoted? What ministries were the four women in the Government responsible for? How were women recruited in the Foreign Affairs Ministry?
DORCAS COKER-APPIAH from Ghana asked about the right to nationality. That law, she said, discriminated against women as it did not give them the right to pass on their nationality to their child. It did not allow a woman to exercise her free will to marry a foreigner because she could not pass on her nationality to children born out of that marriage. What was the Government doing to review that situation? Would it be reviewed as part of the revision of the family code? Would it take steps to review nationality laws?
Ms. GASPARD from France noted significant progress for women, with more of them in decision making posts. The next report could contain more detail in that regard, she suggested. Research had shown that womens lack of participation in political life was not due to a lack of interest, but because they were ostracized. Did Algeria plan to adopt temporary special measures to improve political representation of women?
FUMIKO SAIGA from Japan, speaking also about the nationality law, said that compared to family code, the nationality law did not contain as many points for revision. As nationality was a fundamental issue, why had the law not progressed further?
Regarding womens participation at the decision-making level, Mr. BAALI said that the country had four women ministers, including one responsible for womens conditions and the family. Out of Algerias 90 ambassadors, two were female, and another two had recently returned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, having completed their assignments.
To another question, he replied that the Committee on Human Rights was a body within the National Assembly responsible for all treaties.
On the issue of nationality and revision of a related code, Ms. BENABDALLAH said that the main modifications introduced in last years preliminary draft code were intended to enshrine equal status to men and women and took into account the new developments in society. In the future, a woman should be able to pass her nationality to her child. Other planned changes would affect all legal areas, and all the preliminary drafts had been drawn up, many of them already approved at several levels of Government.
Ms. ALOUANI, of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, addressed the questions on the presence of women in elected bodies and measures to facilitate their election, saying that the countrys electoral regime guaranteed women the right to vote and to be elected. Nothing prevented their participation at the legislative level. During the most recent elections to the National Assembly, some 25 women had been elected. Some 149 women had been elected to communal peoples assemblies. Due to the measures to put an end to obsolete voting patterns and increase womens participation in the electoral process, their number had significantly increased since preceding elections in 1997. Women were interested in political affairs, but their level of participation was still lower than that of men. There were obstacles that the Government recognized. In particular, political affairs were still seen as mens business, but change was under way. A woman had even run as a candidate in the latest presidential elections.
Experts Comments and Questions
The expert from Singapore, ANAMAH TAN, said she was pleased to hear that the threat of terrorism had faded and that peace and progress was the order of the day in Algeria. She was deeply concerned, however, about the safety and security of rural women. What specific measures had the Government taken to stop terrorism, abductions and rape in rural areas? Were specific measures in place to deal with the matter, and did the victims of terrorism receive assistance? What percentage of the rural population were women? she asked.
Ms. KHAN, the expert from Bangladesh, asked if married women needed their husbands consent to join the workforce. Noting that the rapid rise in the female unemployment rate was affecting young women, she wondered if the Government had envisaged temporary special measures, such as job quotas, to address the matter. Also, what kind of macroeconomic reforms were under way to address the critical issue of womens unemployment? She further asked how part-time work was carried out under existing labour laws and if part-time female workers were entitled to benefits.
Mr. GABR, the expert from Egypt, said the report referred to the impact of economic debt on all spheres of society, particularly women. Did the Government have programmes to mitigate the negative effects of trade liberalization on women? Concerning rural women, and the fact that many men had migrated to cities, she asked if the Government had envisaged measures to promote the participation of rural women in the labour force.
Also addressing the issue of rural women, Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, the expert from Germany, noted that the number of female-headed households had dramatically increased and that a large part of the population lived in rural areas. In that regard, the Committee needed more concrete statistical information.
The expert from Mauritius, Ms. PATTEN, asked for clarification on labour laws. Was the Government considering temporary special measures to address the low number of women in the workforce? she asked. On the precarious situation of rural women, she asked for clarification on the land development programme, including the number of women benefiting from the programme. What steps had the Government taken to meet the acute housing shortages facing rural women?
Ms. AROCHA DOMIMGUEZ, the expert from Cuba, asked the delegation to describe the impact of trade liberalization policies on women. In that regard, she suggested carrying out an impact study on the issue as a way of raising awareness. She also wanted to know how many women were involved in the informal economy.
Ms. DAIRIAM from Malaysia said that obviously measures were being taken to improve the participation of women in the labour market, and there were no legal impediments to their rights. However, the country was far from having achieved de facto equality. The problem related not only to material factors, but also to ideological ones. Within the countrys culture, there was a requirement of obedience to husbands and under the patriarchal value system, women were considered only secondary wage-earners.
Having heard that discriminatory procedures were prohibited in collective bargaining, she wanted to know the definition of discrimination in that respect. She also said that it was important to address religious values that placed women in a subordinate position. For example, expressing reservations to article 15.4 of the Convention, Algeria had stated that its provisions should not conflict with the Family Code, under which a husband had to provide for his wife, except in cases when she had abandoned the marital home.
Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA of Portugal said that many articles of Algerias national legislation provided for equality of women, but in reality their participation was not equal. Inquiring about the reason for such inequality, she asked if it was the duty to obey the husband. As for the stereotypes according to which women had to be protected, didnt men need the same protection? There was a need for a deeper understanding of the role of stereotypes in the promotion of inequality. It was the responsibility of the State to combat such stereotypes -- not just wait for them to become obsolete. The report before the Committee reflected a position of certain passivity. To achieve equality, the State needed to go further and display real political will.
CORNELIS FLINTERMAN from the Netherlands focused on education, which he called the most important instrument for the achievement of equal rights for all. Significant progress had been achieved in that respect, but some concerns remained. The first one related to the drop-out and repetition rates, and he asked for clarifications on the percentages provided by the report in that regard. What policies were being introduced by the Government to reduce the drop-out rates? Earlier, the delegation had indicated that there were some 53 per cent of women involved in higher education in Algeria, and applauding such results, he asked for some clarifications in that respect.
Returning to her colleagues observations that the de jure and de facto situation of women were not the same, Ms. ZIAOQIAO of China asked if there was a special judge or institution to address gender discrimination in the labour market. From the report, it followed that the Government had adopted many measures to encourage employment of women, including encouragement of the establishment of smaller enterprises and provision of microcredit. Was there a special microcredit programme for women?
Responding further to the issue of Algerias reservations to the Convention, Mr. BAALI said the fact that reservations had been expressed meant that some provisions of the Convention did indeed pose problems for his country. The Government had tried to deal with the matter, including by seeking to revise the family and nationality codes. Clearly, measures were needed to address veiled discrimination. That was the case in every country.
While the number of working women was too low, the Government encouraged women to work, he said. While according to Muslim law men were supposed to support their families, Algerian women did not need their husbands consent to work. The countrys economic troubles had led to the loss of jobs, making it more difficult for families to live on the husbands salaries and prompting more women to enter the workforce.
Regarding the diminished threat of terrorism, he said it was true that it had become a secondary problem. The number of terrorist acts had significantly decreased, as the security forces had a greater presence throughout the country. Measures were being taken to ensure that security was provided for the greatest number of people. While the phenomenon had diminished, awareness of the issue was still needed.
Responding to questions about rural women, another representative of the delegation noted a rural exodus in the past few years. The percentage of women in rural areas was about 49 per cent. Information on the rural population was being compiled albeit slowly. In 1998, a census on rural women had been conducted for the first time. Regarding literacy rates among rural women, she pointed out that more than 50 per cent of the women who managed agricultural enterprises were over the age of 60. National literacy programmes were being implemented both in rural and urban areas. Other studies had been carried out in 2000 and 2004.
The concept of property did not exist in Algeria, she continued. State-owned land was parcelled out. Some 400 women had been given access to land. As to rural housing, a trust fund existed for the most vulnerable portions of society.
On education, another member of the delegation said that available statistics were not disaggregated by sex but were based on the different prefectures or wilaya. Certain prefectures were rural in nature. Drop-out rates were higher among boys than girls. In 2002-2003, the drop-out rate was 6.7 per cent total -- 7.8 per cent for boys and 7.5 per cent for girls. Girls participation in education was improving. Grants were provided to some 300,000 schoolchildren, including in the form of uniforms and school supplies. Women constituted 54 per cent of university attendance.
Answering specific questions, one delegate said that the countrys agricultural programmes were not discriminatory, and involved rural men and women. Another speaker offered clarifications on the provisions of the current family code, under which a wife was considered subordinate to the husband. She said that the proposed legislation called for those articles to be repealed.
The delegation also provided figures on various facets of the situation of women in Algeria, ranging from statistics on grants for women to the number of people taking out publications in Braille from the countrys libraries. They showed that in 2000, for instance, some 458 projects involving womens participation in the community were under way throughout the national territory. Microcredit programmes were now being expanded to widen their scope of coverage. Another important initiative related to young entrepreneurs, and 28 per cent of those involved were women.
A speaker said that a number of security measures had been introduced to restore peace and combat terrorism in the rural areas. Reconstruction aid was being provided to the population, targeting individuals who had suffered as a result of terrorist acts. For instance, compensation was provided to widows with children, and women who had suffered from rape, or who had been abducted.
Experts Comments and Questions
GLENDA P. SIMMS from Jamaica pointed that psychological and socio-cultural barriers prevented the achievement of gender equality. The legal reform was very important, and it needed to be speeded up. At the same time, it was necessary to embark on a massive public education programme to overcome the patriarchal stereotypes prevailing in the country. She also emphasized the need to strengthen Algerias national machinery, despite the countrys financial constraints. Another aspect of the issue was that not all women were equally oppressed. Reports presented to the Committee needed to provide race and class analysis of the situation of women in States parties.
Ms. BOKPE-GNACADJA, expert from Benin, expressed concern that the new family code bill maintained guardianship over women, while just modifying its form. She wanted to know why it could not be simply abolished. She also had questions regarding the preservation of polygamous marriages for economic circumstances, divorce, the custom of repudiation and parental authority within the family.
Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, asked if the legal reform was going to address the diversity of marriage age for men and women. She was also interested in the legislative process of the family code reform. Were women lawyers involved in it?
Ms. TAN, expert from Singapore, said that according to the countrys written reply to the pre-session questionnaire, principal amendments would be explained in detail during the presentation of the report. Would the Code be applicable to all the population, or just to the Muslim population?
Responding to questions on the issue of guardianship for adult women, a member of the delegation said adult women no longer needed to be accompanied by a guardian. The fact that Algeria was a Muslim society could not be denied, however. While a proposal had been made to repeal guardianship, the concept still existed. She hoped it would soon be abolished.
The problem of polygamy, while it still existed in certain parts of the country, was marginal, she said. The family code was based on Sharia law. The draft revised family code asked people to reflect on the issue of polygamy. Given the new conditions for polygamy, she was confident that most men would not opt for it. On the issue of paternal authority, in the past, fathers had absolute authority over their families. Under the revised family code, the concept of parental authority had been proposed. Regarding divorce, she noted that a husband wishing to divorce had to do so before a judge. In the draft bill, a woman could simply state incompatibility as grounds for divorce.
Concluding Comments by Experts
Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, asked for a description of the Governments efforts to prevent violence against women and girls.
Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, noted that in responding to her previous questions, the representative of Algeria had stated that besides the family and nationality codes, discriminatory laws did not exist. One example of a discriminatory law, however, was the labour relations act, which allowed working women to accompany husbands whose place of work had changed. Without a similar provision for husbands to accompany wives, the law was discriminatory. While some experts thanked the delegation for the timely submission of the report, the report was over one year late, she noted. The third report was due in June 2005.
The expert from France, Ms. GASPARD, said the question of civil society involvement in the report had not been addressed.
Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, asked if the country had received financial and technical support in its attempts to suppress terrorism. If so, was the delegation satisfied with the amount, quality and conditions of the financial aid Algeria received?
Mr. BAALI said he believed that even the Republic of Korea had laws which continued to pose problems for the advancement of women. In his previous intervention, he had stated that family and nationality codes were most in need of review. The review of those codes, however, would not end all discrimination. The suppression of discrimination within the family code would not turn Algeria into a womens paradise. The advancement of womens equality was a work in progress and would be a lengthy process.
Algeria had fought terrorism on its own for many years, he said. Only after 11 September had the international fight against terrorism become active. Tens of thousands of lives had been lost in Algeria. The international community had not provided sufficient aid for a very long period. As terrorism was now recognized as a global phenomenon, Algeria was being asked to participate in the global effort against it. His country was not bitter, but pleased to see the international community face the problem.
Responding to remaining issues, he said the composition of the committee established to review the family code reflected a broad spectrum of society. The report to the Committee had received a great deal of publicity in Algeria. The Committees questions and comments would be posted on the Permanent Missions web site.
Another speaker said the issue of sexual violence had been studied in a national survey. Many measures had been taken to address sexual violence, including psychological counselling. A great deal was being done to ensure that women, even in remote areas, were aware of their right to press charges and receive protection through an elaborate legal process.
Mr. BAALI said he looked forward to the Committees concluding remarks. Algeria would pay close attention to the comments and was committed to making further progress in achieving the advancement of womens rights. Algerian women had worked hard to obtain a place in Algerian society. Ensuring that the family and nationality codes would be adequately revised would remain a priority of public authorities.
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