Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women considers report of Algeria

22 February 2012

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined third and fourth periodic report of Algeria on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Introducing the report, Idriss Jazairy, Permanent Representative of Algeria to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that Algeria had implemented important legislative measures to promote the rights of women, including the 2005 revision of the Family Code and the 2008 constitutional amendment. The gender machinery was further strengthened by the establishment of the National Council for Family and Women of 2007, endowed with its own budget, which had brought together different ministries, organizations, associations and experts to promote family and women’s issues. Budgetary allocations for the education sector were higher than any other sector, while improvement had been seen in equal access to health care and maternal and child health. Algeria did its utmost to combat all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence which was sanctioned by the law. Priorities in this field included research on the phenomenon, awareness raising and support for victims.

Committee Experts congratulated Algeria on the courageous tailoring of the sharia law and asked a number of questions about the implementation of its provisions, particularly in the financial and inheritance areas. Steady gains in the political participation of women were recognized and the delegation was asked to provide further clarification on the law on quotas and what impact it would have on the number of women elected to representative offices. Experts also discussed the new law on associations and the prohibition to seek external funding sources by civil society organizations, and measures undertaken to combat gender stereotypes, particularly in schools. On violence against women, Experts asked what was being done to combat domestic violence; what was being done to support female victims of violence including sexual violence that occurred in the context of internal conflict; and how Algeria addressed gaps and loopholes in the legislation, such as the lack of a definition of rape, the lack of prohibition of marital rape and the lack of a definition of sexual harassment in the workplace.

The delegation of Algeria consisted of the representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Family and Women Matters, Ministry of Interior and Local Communities, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Ministry of National Education, Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security, Ministry of Health, Population and Hospital Reform, Ministry of National Solidarity and Family, National Advisory Commission for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights, Directorate General of Civil Service, Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, and the Permanent Mission of Algeria to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations at the end of the session on 2 March.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 10 a.m. on 23 February when it will consider the fifth periodic report of Jordan (CEDAW/C/JOR/5).
Report

The combined third and fourth periodic reports of Algeria can be read here: (CEDAW/C/DZA/3-4).

Presentation of the Report

IDRISS JAZAIRY, Permanent Representative of Algeria to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the frame of reference for the status of women in Algeria, including the principle of non-discrimination, was contained in the Constitution, national development strategies and various international and regional instruments to which Algeria was a party. The Constitution was amended in 2008 to promote the political rights of women and their access to decision making positions. The Family Code was substantially revised in 2005 to conform to the Constitution and to increase the balance in the rights and responsibilities between spouses. The amendments addressed the age of marriage, restricted polygamy and defined maintenance in the case of divorce.

Algeria had ratified two conventions on the rights of migrant workers and of persons with disabilities, and the removal of the reservation on the article on nationality of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had further strengthened the commitment to women’s issues. The National Council for Family and Women of 2007 had brought together different ministries, organizations, associations and experts to promote family and women’s issues. Political participation of women would expand with the application of Article 31 bis of the Constitution of 2008 and the law on representation of women in the elected bodies.

The right to education was universal and the importance given to the education of young girls was obvious in the budgets allocated to education, which were higher than allocations to any other sector. The Government arranged literacy programmes for women and girls, provided scholarships, promoted feeding in schools, and implemented other measures aimed at removing barriers to education, particularly in rural areas. Equal access to health care was strengthened by the introduction of free health care, improvement in reproductive health care and a substantive reduction in maternal mortality and morbidity. There was an improvement in coverage for mothers and children and in neonatal care, as well as in combating malaria and HIV/AIDS. Promoting the employment of women was a priority for the Government. Social security provided equal coverage for women including special protection for motherhood and pensions. Women with disabilities enjoyed special social security coverage and training for socio-economic integration. Algeria did its utmost to combat all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence which was sanctioned by the law. Priorities in this field included research on the phenomenon, awareness raising, and support for victims such as through the opening of specialized centres for psychological, legal and social support on national and local levels. The place of women in the Algerian society would be further reinforced through the ongoing reform which would consolidate democracy and promote economic growth.

Questions by Experts

Committee Experts asked what the future legislative agenda would be to eliminate discrimination against women and how the Government planned to go about implementing the Paris Principles. The delegation was asked to provide more information on the courageous tailoring of the sharia law, the process, goals and alignment with the provisions of the Convention; the timetable and bodies in charge of the removal of the remaining reservations to articles of the Convention; the role of civil society which was of key importance for the implementation of various policy and initiatives; and on temporary special measures including main obstacles to their implementation.

Following up, an Expert asked whether Algeria was using the Convention as the law of the land and was it training and educating the judiciary in its provisions. What were the possibilities of the ratification of the Optional Protocol? Mistaken interpretations of the sharia law were one of the reasons why application of this law varied from country to country, an Expert said, and asked for additional explanation on the application of the legal provisions in Algeria, for example in the area of inheritance and financial obligations. If women organizations were cut off from external funding because of the new law on associations, would they be additionally funded by the Government to continue working on the development of the country? Which body was in charge of the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women?

Response by Delegation

Responding to questions, the delegation of Algeria said that progress indeed was being made in the consolidation of the rule of law. The Government was considering the removal of reservations on conventions, and would remove those which were now obsolete.

The Government had acted on compensation to victims of terrorism under the framework of national reconciliation and peacebuilding and the two Presidential decrees. In 1998, the first center for psycho-social support to female victims of terrorism had been opened, and it had since been providing expert advice and guidance to victims, including to victims of rape.

On modernization of the sharia law, the difficulty lay in reduced or conservative interpretation of it rather than in the law itself; for example inheritance for women was guaranteed and was more generous than for men. Islam put a lot of responsibility on men, such as financial responsibility for their mothers or unmarried sisters. The issue of the tailoring of the sharia law needed to be addressed delicately as it was a sensitive issue and the Government did not want to give ammunition to extremists. It was not only a theoretical discussion, but a matter of life and death for some. There were two ministries at the national level responsible for women’s issues not only in the family but in all walks of life. Temporary special measures had been used to guarantee the participation of women in elected bodies through the use of quotas to achieve parity.

On the law of associations and the prohibition on accessing external sources of funding, measures were undertaken to organize associations including their certification by a relevant body. In kind contributions could be provided to associations and custom levies were lifted if they were of a humanitarian nature. Additional funding could be provided through community or public funds.

Questions by Experts

In a further round of questions and comments, Experts noted with interest the measures to combat violence against women and noted the lack of information on support for women victims of violence including sexual violence that occurred in the context of internal conflict. What concrete measures had been taken to strengthen cooperation with civil society organizations working in the domain of violence against women? How did the Government address gaps and loopholes in the legislation, such as the lack of a definition of what constituted rape, no specific prohibition of marital rape, and the lack of a definition of sexual harassment in the workplace? A number of good laws were in place, but the gap was seen in their implementation on the ground which caused problems for the status of women, said another Expert, and asked about measures to change gender stereotyping in the society. Was there awareness raising among judiciary and the police on trafficking in persons and what was being done to combat this trans-national crime?

What was the position of the Government towards clients using services of prostitutes? How was violence against women defined in the lack of specific laws and legislation? Did the Government intend to set up a specific compensation committee to compensate female victims of violence during the dark decade of the 1990s? Could the delegation provide clarification on the issue of family abandonment by women fleeing domestic violence and the attitudes of judges and police officers in this case? What were the reasons that the Government did not adopt as yet laws on domestic violence and sexual harassment? Another Expert welcomed the removal of gender stereotypes from school curriculum and asked the delegation to provide further information on how it was being done.

Response by Delegation

On combating violence against women, there was no specific legislation yet to combat the phenomenon but many articles of the law sanctioned various forms of violence including domestic violence. Since 2005 progress had been made through the introduction of more severe sentences for offenders and this could lead to a life in prison for premeditated acts of violence. Abandoning a family was also an offense in the law. Although there was no specific law yet on domestic violence, Algeria was implementing a zero tolerance policy and there was no way for the perpetrator to avoid prosecution even if a complaint was not filed by the victim. Even though the legal definition of marital rape was lacking, courts considered any sexual penetration committed with violence as rape and this was not ruled out even in the context of marriage.

It was important for all who worked in the judiciary or the police to receive regular training and awareness raising in the field of human rights and human rights of women and that was why the Government was providing regular workshops and information sessions and on the job training for judges, lawyers and police officers. Women did not always report violence to authorities and that was why official statistics might not present the full picture. Algeria had conducted a pilot study on a system of data collection on violence against women and had developed a framework for data collection which included data on the victim, perpetrator and act itself. Gender stereotypes were removed from school curriculum and textbooks and the results were already visible in the society. It was hoped that those changes would soon spread to other parts of the society.

Algeria had taken measures to criminalize acts of human trafficking. It provided support to victims and developed cooperation of a cross cutting nature nationally, regionally and internationally to ensure that all aspects of this phenomenon were addressed. On women abandoning their families due to violence at home, the Government adjusted penalties to fit each individual case. The current penalty for abandoning one’s family was three years in prison. The husband as the head of the family had been a prevalent concept in the Family Code but this article had been replaced with a new one which stressed equality on duties and obligations of both spouses. The Government was currently working on a draft law on sexual harassment in the workplace. There were two shelters for female victims of violence in Algeria, while studies for opening another three were underway. There were also 45 centres for underage girls and boys to take refuge and a number of centres for care of older persons.

Response by Delegation

A total revision of school curricula at primary, secondary and higher levels had been undertaken to combat gender stereotypes. The computerized data collection system was a new one still in its testing phase, and would soon be spread nation-wide. This system would ensure that appropriate data for combating violence against women was collected. The National Advisory Commission on the promotion and protection of human rights was an advisory body in charge of monitoring, evaluation and making proposals to improve the human rights situation, including the human rights of women. The 2012 programme of work of the National Commission included awareness-raising about the Convention among young people and students.

Questions by Experts

In an additional round of questions and comments, Experts said that there were steady gains in the political participation of women in Algeria and asked the delegation to provide further clarification on the law on quotas and what impact it would have on the number of women elected to representative offices. Who was eligible to apply for proxy vote? On the law on associations, a Committee Expert asked for additional information on funding for civil society organizations. Further, the delegation was asked to explain the position on nationality, including the reservation on the article of the Convention on nationality.

The Government was doing very well in the field of education, including in supporting rural children in accessing education, an Expert said, and asked how many boys and girls benefitted from the State supported transportation schemes. The labour market in Algeria was segregated by gender and there was a low participation of women in work, clearly below 20 per cent; what measures were being undertaken to address this issue? How did the Government make sure that the principle of equal pay for equal work was implemented in practice? How did the Government make sure that freedom of association was implemented in the country?

Another Expert asked the delegation to elaborate on reproductive health provisions and access to services by girls, boys and unmarried women and to explain the law and practice on abortion. Significant obstacles faced rural women, namely access to health services and to credit and loans, early marriage, high rates of school drop outs and others; what measures did the Government take to address those constraints and what budgetary allocation had been made to that effect? What poverty reduction strategies were in place to address the situation of poor rural women, elderly women and female headed households?

In follow up questions, an Expert sought clarification on access of girls to secondary education and on school drop outs at this level. What was Algeria doing to ensure the access to education, health care and justice for refugee children and children of asylum seekers? How did the Government explain substantial disparities between provinces in terms of access to health care? What role did the imams play in HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness-raising programmes? Why was HIV/AIDS on the rise in Algeria?

Response by Delegation

On quotas and results expected, the delegation said that the average quota worldwide was 40 per cent and in Algeria the quota would be between 20 to 50 per cent, depending on the number of seats and the type of representative body. For elections to the People Councils for example, 35 per cent applied when the number of seats was 51 to 55.

Article 18 of the Nationality Code allowed Algerian women to marry a foreigner and she would have an option to give up her nationality if her husband’s country refused double nationality; in case of men it was presumed he would be living in Algeria and his foreign wife could obtain Algerian nationality. Proxy votes were allowed only if it was impossible for the person to vote. The law on associations was based on the principle of partnership between associations and States whereby a State guaranteed the status and registration for the association.

In 2010, rural areas received more than 400 buses to provide transport to school for children from remote areas. The quality of staffing and school buildings in rural areas was on par with urban areas. Statistics referring to the labour market came from the National Labour Agency, the National Youth Support Agency and the National Unemployment Insurance Agency. Legislation on labour relations confirmed the equality between men and women in work and pay and all employers in all sectors must remunerate their staff on the basis of the equal pay for equal work principle. Women workers benefitted from 14 weeks of maternity leave with 100 per cent daily salary and had free access to services.

Apart from prevention and detection of HIV/AIDS through hospitals, there was a multifaceted approach to prevention, intervention and treatment which in fact was an associative movement on various levels, national and communal. Abortion was seen as a therapeutic measure provided for by recent legislation and was allowed if the mother’s health was at risk. It was also allowed if the health of the unborn child was in danger, which expanded the scope of its application. On access to contraceptives for young people, it was clear that not all methods of contraception were adequate for youth and their access was facilitated through associations.

Algeria had established in 2006 a grassroots agricultural renewal programme which called for the participation of rural women in all levels of implementation. It helped women improve their income through their own projects. More than 6,000 projects had been launched since the programme started in 2009 and it covered more than 3 million Algerians. Credits and loans were provided to rural women through various mechanisms, while 600 women had been provided with land.

Education was no longer obligatory after the age of 16 and schooling depended on choice by the family. A number of students in secondary schools did not continue because they went off to work or to professional training and did not continue their schooling. On the rights of refugees, the law on asylum seeking was enshrined in the Constitution and Algeria had ratified the Geneva Conventions. Refugee children enjoyed the same rights as Algerian children; the only issue was language as language of instruction in Algerian schools was Arabic, French and English. The provision of basic services to refugees on Algerian soil was enshrined in the national legislation. HIV/AIDS rates were not increasing in Algeria, there was 0.1 per cent infection rate at the moment. Groups of particular concern were sex workers, youth and women of reproductive age. There were disparities on maternal mortality rates, and statistics provided referred only to maternal deaths in hospital.

Questions from Experts

In a further series of questions and comments, a Committee Expert asked about the conditions for making a marriage contract and whether the existence of the guardian of wali as a precondition of marriage was consistent with the full responsibility. According to the law, the father was the guardian of his children and it was only upon his death that guardianship passed onto the mother if she had not remarried. Was there a process that allowed women to contest the supremacy of their husbands in custody of children? Were there studies and data available on the causes of divorce in Algeria?

An Expert raised a concern over the economic aspects of divorce and asked if Algeria intended to follow some of the countries in the region in the interpretation of inheritance clauses of sharia? What were current laws of property following divorce, in addition to reparation, that recognised contribution of women to the union? Did Algerian courts award reparation?

Response from the Delegation

On marriage, divorce and economic conditions, the delegation said that the presence of the wali for the conclusion of the marriage contract was a formality and it could not oblige a daughter to marry someone she did not want to marry. There were still no plans to uniformize the divorce process. The new Family Code guaranteed the right to custody of children by women regardless of their employment status. Maintenance in the case of divorce was assessed on the basis of the father’s earning and the number of children. Divorced women did not have to leave the marital home until courts set a fair rent for her to receive. There was no legislation obliging couples to share the property accumulated over their lifetime. According to the new Family Code it was possible for the wife to make all demands during the elaboration of the marriage contract, which could include the sharing of property, polygamy and other issues. Women had the right to a free choice of the wali.

Concluding remarks

IDRISS JAZAIRY, Permanent Representative of Algeria to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the Committee Experts for the encouragement and for the very positive constructive dialogue. Algeria commended the commitment of the Committee to the promotion of rights of women through careful examination of the report and hoped that the delegation was able to provide clarification to issues of concerns. The development of legislation in Algeria reflected its commitment to the protection and promotion of rights of women and to the promotion of respect and tolerance which were foundations of Algerian society. The conclusions and recommendations of the Committee would be carefully examined in Algeria and shared with all those working on eliminating discrimination against women in this country.

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