International Women’s Day: year 99


Today is the 99th International Women’s Day and on this occasion, the International Committee of the Red Cross is raising awareness of women displaced by armed conflicts worldwide. Marking women’s day has now become an international tradition, but it is closely linked with women suffrage movements and was first observed on February 28th in accordance with a declaration by the Socialist Party of America. American women continued to celebrate it on the last Sunday of that month through 1913. The international character of this day was first established by German Socialist Clara Zetkinin in 1910 during an international conference organised by working women  (Copenhagen), although no date was specified. The first IWD was first celebrated one year later by millions of women who rallied across Europe on the 19th March, demanding the right to vote and to hold public office, the right to work, to vocational training and to an end to discrimination. Many important historical events are associated with IWD such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City which killed over 140 working girls (mostly Italian and Jewish immigrants) due to lack of safety measures, the peace rallies held by women across Europe on the eve of World War I (on 8 March 1913) and demonstrations and ‘bread and peace’ strikes by russian women which proved to be the first stage of the Russian Revolution of 1917. In the West, International Women’s Day was commemorated consistantly during the turn of last century and it marked many efforts by women across the world to protest against injustice, war and discrimination. However, it dwindled gradually until it was revived again by the rise of Feminism in the 1960s.

It is sometimes hard to imagine that women have had to fight so hard for rights that we take for granted today, indeed rights many of us do not even see the point of. Maybe it is because we have ‘inherited’ these rights without really fighting for them or experiencing how it feels to be deprived of them. In fact, in most Arab countries, women were only granted the right to vote or stand for public office the last fifty years or so:

1949 Syrian Arab Republic (to vote)*

1952 Lebanon

1953 Syrian Arab Republic**

1956 Egypt

1959 Tunisia

1962 Algeria

1963 Morocco

1964 Libya, Sudan

1967 Yemen (The People’s Democratic Republic of)

1970 Yemen (Arab Republic)

1974 Jordan

1980 Iraq

2005 Kuwait

* Right subject to conditions or restrictions/ ** Restrictions or conditions lifted

In the United Arab Emirates, where the Parliament is officially appointed, neither men nor women have the right to vote or to stand for election. In Saudi Arabia, men took part, in 2005, in the first local elections ever held in the country. Women however were not allowed to exercise their right to vote or to stand for election on that occasion. [Source: Inter-Parliamentary Union]

In Algeria, the situation of women has tremendously improved notably thanks to free public  education. According to the latest national census undertaken by the Office National des Statistiques, women represent 15.6% of the population in employment (with a women unemployment rate of 25.8%). However, women outnumber men in many university disciplines and job sectors (eg. teaching and clerical jobs). Algerian women also work in the health sector, liberal professions and many are now seen managing private businesses especially in major cities. In rural areas, women participate actively in agriculture and paid manual jobs such as picking olives which are used to make olive oil, as well as many traditional hand crafts. Recently, more and more women have started their own family business consisting of preparing various traditional foods at home and selling them through a family member or an established food business (restaurants, food retailers, or private customers). This is a symptom of the Algerian transition towards capitalism, however most of these economic activities remain largely unregulated which puts some working women at risk and also does not ensure that this productive force is managed within a wider national economic development framework.

Historically, Algerian women are known to have actively participated in the national revolution and war for liberation. However, Algerian society has always been patriarchal (at least outwardly). Sadly, many thought that after the independance, Algerian women needed to be ‘put back at their place’ and although women continued to discreetly and relentlessly contribute to the welfare of their families and communities, they did not have a clear social status outside of the formal tutelage of a male family member. There are many Algerian women’s associations, but most of them have been assimilated at one degree or another by the political system in place. Indeed, the present Culture Minister, Ms Khalida Toumi has once been a fierce feminist and militant for women’s rights back in the 90s, right in the midst of the Islamist political onslaught which later turned into a bloodbath. Recently, Algerian feminist organizations (backed up by international NGOs) have been campainging about the Algerian Family Law (deemed to be unfair and even misogynist) and demanding reforms; in particular in aspects pertaining to marriage, divorce and property rights. The Algerian Family Law was revised back in 2005, however only artificially and its implementation has caused much confusion ever since. Some have blamed this timid change on conservatism and the islamist influence in the parliament which opposes radical reforms in favor of more equality between the genders on religious grounds (eg. polygamy, right of women to work in politics). The current Algerian president; Bouteflika, seems keen to be seen as a supporter of women’s rights and he is sure to appear later on in the 8 p.m. news bulletin with a speech to commemorate IWD. Nevertheless, El Khabar reports that Tunisian and Moroccan women have been declared to be the most ‘liberated’ in the Arab World according to a study conducted by the Washington-based NGO “Freedom House“.

Who knows what the future holds for Algerian women, many good things one should hope but much of it depends on women themselves. Certainly, we have been much delayed by colonialism and many political disasters. But the upside is that this should give us the advantage of learning from the experience of those who’ve taken precedence (i.e. the West) and try and avoid their mistakes. Western women movements have certainly much to teach us, but we also have much to contribute from our own cultural heritage. Gender equality certainly does not have to mean reversing gender roles, nor does it have to mean abolishing all social distinctions between men and women. It simply means more justice, it means realizing that justice is too important to be left entirely to individual whims of socio-economically-empowered men. It means realizing that women are full human beings, not appendages to men. And above all, it means growing enough spine to accept that women are noone’s property (even less feminists’ property). It all needs to be realized first and foremost by Algerian women themselves!

Bookmark and Share

4 thoughts on “International Women’s Day: year 99

  1. “……..Gender equality certainly does not have to mean reversing gender roles, nor does it have to mean abolishing all social distinctions between men and women………”. even reversing roles is possible, it’s a matter of choice.

  2. Thanks for this post algerianna (I am being nice as your women’s day gift).

    I have some questions/comments:
    – Is it not intriguing that, till now, only a few moudjahidates/moussabilates are known to the public?
    – You mentioned the assimilation of Khalida Toumi, but it’s worth saying that it’s not just the feminist which was assimilated but also the RCD member (she probably wanted to be assimilated when she found out that being in the opposition had a little benefit). And Bouteflika played well with regard to these two aspects. Bouteflika is indeed keen to be seen, not only as the supporter of women, but also as the source of everything good in Algeria (I could’ve said in Africa but that would be Gaddafi).
    – I know regions in Algeria where women were frowned upon if they worked outside the medical or academic fields. Now in these same places, you find women everywhere; and men prefer to marry working women. That is to say the economic situation played an important role in setting a new standard. Nevertheless, I think it would be interesting to know the ratio of women who never get to spend their salaries as they are taken by their husbands.
    – I remember watching one of the 08/03 ceremonies Bouteflika organises every year. After I saw all his feminist guests (v. short hair, typical dress, etc.) I remember I thought those women were all but representatives of the Algerian women, or even of what the Algerian women wanted to be/become. Are we stuck with this kind of feminism? And is feminism not totalitarian, in the way feminists have their own idea of what women should be/do, and they accept neither discussion nor compromise.

    Here are some interesting links:
    – A poll by Emploitic on working women.
    – An article by Ghania Khelifi.
    – And I can’t resist but share (again) these very interesting videos. You said in one of your earlier posts that things never changed. These two videos are another illustration of the issues’ constancy. The answer to the last question in the second video is so true.

    • Thanks for this post algerianna (I am being nice as your women’s day gift).

      Thanks MnarviDZ. Yes, it is funny how IWD is now perceived as a social occasion to be nice to women.

      – Is it not intriguing that, till now, only a few moudjahidates/moussabilates are known to the public?

      That is an interesting observation. It has never occurred to me. Yes, now that you mention it, it is intriguing. Have you got an explanation?

      That is to say the economic situation played an important role in setting a new standard. Nevertheless, I think it would be interesting to know the ratio of women who never get to spend their salaries as they are taken by their husbands.

      Indeed the economic situation plays a crucial role!!! But not on its own, social and cultural mindsets also do. Which is why your point about how many women give away their salaries to their husbands anyway is spot on. I think it would be a fair percentage who do (am not talking about those who participate in running the household which in my opinion is a normal thing in a couple, but about those who are basically slaves; work without wages and only expect to be lodged and fed).

      Are we stuck with this kind of feminism? And is feminism not totalitarian, in the way feminists have their own idea of what women should be/do, and they accept neither discussion nor compromise.

      I agree, and I would say that even Western women are fed-up with what a major disappointment feminism has turned out to be. Feminism has been hijacked by a cabal of men-hating and women-despising third gender it seems. The fact that all these modern ‘isms’ seem to be led by middle-class liberals in general compounds this unfortunate tendency towards navel-gazing and complete disconnection from the facts on the ground.

      I will comment on the materials you linked to later or post about them. The issue of women in Algerian society is very complex and I have not had time nor space to expand too much on it here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s