Algeria’s notable progress on gender equality in education between 2003-2004 showed that 95.3 percent of girls completed primary school. The number of girls enrolled in secondary school was significantly higher than boys, and 61 percent of total graduates in tertiary education were women. By 2015 Algeria is estimated to meet the targets of education at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels. In 2004, the total number of students at all levels of education represented 27 percent of the total population. Since 1990, the government has been investing about 5.8 percent of its GDP in education. As a result, the levels of education are comparable to those in developed countries.
However, many women are unaware of their rights, and thus, unknowingly accept social prejudices. Algerian legislation regarding work and education does not discriminate based on gender, however, the reality on the ground is that women are suffering because of a cultural mentality: a mentality that disallows women to freely work without societal expectations.
IN THE LAST FIVE YEARS, women’s economic rights and opportunities have improved in some respects. The amended family code gave women the ability to establish the separation of goods in their marriage contracts. Women’s literacy, enrolment in universities, and employment is steadily increasing. And since 2004, the penal code has criminalised sexual harassment. However, the effects of negative stereotypes and societal habits remain a major obstacle to women’s economic empowerment and progression. Unfortunately, the customary habit of Algerian society sees women as unable to give orders to a man. The culture of a male society becomes the source of several socio-cultural problems among women in the workforce.
"Many women are unaware of their rights"
The challenge faced by the Algerian government is to make sure to improve the quality and content of the education system and professional training programmes, with the purpose of promoting gender equality in the workforce. Freedom House reported in 2010 that in an effort to promote gender sensitivity from a young age, women’s rights organisations in Algeria began to draw attention to the persistence of negative or patriarchal stereotypes in textbooks and the views of both male and female teachers. Unfortunately however, they had little success in ameliorating this problem.
Within labour unions, however, women are taking much-needed steps. The idea is to help women gain higher positions, and encourage increased involvement within unions such as the Syndicat National Autonome des Personnels de l’Administration Publique (SNAPAP). Thanks to SNAPAP over 600 women have been reached and encouraged in 11 provinces throughout Algeria. If it wasn’t for this union, many women would remain marginalised and unrepresented within their local communities with no support. The union recognises that although many women are arguably working in order to create a name for themselves, as well as elevate the workspaces around them, many fall short due to gender based discrimination.
This of course goes hand in hand with not only the discrimination in the workplace, but on a societal level through harassment and violence. One of the main focuses that the SNAPAP provides are study-circles, which help women to realise, learn and understand their rights under not only law but international conventions. The idea is to allow Algerian women to have a safe place where they can freely express their ideas and talk about their experiences, in the hopes of gaining more support from their fellow women.
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IT COMES AS NO SURPRISE that many of the women’s main concerns were the ongoing exploitations in the workplace. As previously stated, the wage gap between men and women was one of the more prominent complaints found, as well as the struggle to balance work and home life. On top of that, social norms further constrain women when choosing professions, meaning the desire to work and have a family life become ultimatums. Although Algerian women are not legally restricted in choosing certain vocations, in the Family Code clause, which states that women must abide by the duty of obedience, has been interpreted in such a way as to be favourable to men.
Due to this, many female professionals work in fields such as nursing and education, which are considered more socially acceptable and gender appropriate. Yet societal expectations change with time, as of late the state has been involved in passing legislation aimed at protecting women’s rights, including increased wage and salary equality as well as legislation that require state employers and private companies to give women at least three months paid maternity leave. However, the question is if these laws are actually practised.
The percentage of Algerian women in education, and those working do not correlate. Statistics by the World Bank showed the considerable representation of women at university level has not produced a corresponding representation in the labour market. Only 18.7 percent of women were employed in 2006, with 60 percent working in the public sector and 40 percent in the private sector. The latter consisted of 18.5 percent working in the formal sector and 21.5 percent in the informal sector, where women earn low wages and have no benefits.
"The percentage of Algerian women in education, and those working do not correlate"
A lot of these statistics also fail to mention that culturally, many women are not encouraged to work in jobs that take them away from a stable family life and home. Travelling means that women are more likely to turn down a job, rather than the other way around. Women also do not enjoy employment stability as Algerian men do, which is one of the main social factors that interrupt the employment situation of women in Algeria.
Female activity rates are progressing slowly due to a limited social acceptance of female labour outside the realm of the household. But on the positive side, the younger generation experiences less of these social constraints, with 45 per cent of active females all under the age of 30.
THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD LAUNCH an initiative that encourages both job seekers and employers to enhance women’s status in the workforce and allow them more decision-making roles. This is an idea that has already been encouraged by SNAPAP, but the next platform should be a national one.
The government needs to place stronger emphasis on the labour law: it does not provide sufficient protection for areas of work in which women are heavily engaged, in particular domestic services and work without pay in family firms. Generally, Algerian women are not sufficiently aware of their rights; information outreach is thus one of the first steps towards achieving more employed women.
A different version of this article was originally published with Voix Magazine.