Women face further marginalisation in Algeria's elections

Algerian elections: Law change raises fears of further marginalisation of women in politics
3 min read
Algiers
London
11 June, 2021
After a change to electoral law in March 2021 which drops demands that female candidates be included on electoral lists, many fear that women's participation in Algerian politics is once more being called into question.
Snap elections were called for Saturday 12 June by President Abdelmajid Tebboune [Getty]

As Algeria prepares for parliamentary elections amid boycott calls from groups involved in the 2019 Hirak protests, there have also been renewed fears that a law change will lead to a decline women’s political representation.

Article 317 of the current electoral law stipulates that men and women should be equally represented in electoral lists and that a third of elected seats should be filled by women in each province. However, a temporary clause has been inserted, allowing this requirement to be dropped as long as the elections committee is informed.

The new electoral system is an open list, allowing voters to pick whoever they like regardless of gender. The one concession to women is that if a male and female candidate receive an equal number of votes, the female candidate will get the seat.

At recent women's conference, Abdelkader Bengrina, head of the Harakat al-Bina party, stated that the upcoming elections should not be about “bartering women, like in the past”, and said that although the party believes in enabling women to access opportunities and fair treatment, they did not believe in the idea of “equality”, adding that in his view parity in candidacy did nothing for women.

Voices

Conservative values

In addition to the recent legislation, conservative traditions, customs and thinking are widespread in the country, especially in rural areas, making it challenging for Algerian women running in local elections. According to official records, Algerian voters predominately vote for men, even though over half of registered voters are women.

This conservatism is out of sync with the social reality of Algeria today, in which women are increasingly dominant in multiple professions such as in the education, health, legal and management sectors.

In addition to the recent legislation, conservative traditions, customs and thinking are widespread in the country, especially in rural areas, making it challenging for Algerian women running in local elections.

Women candidates herald change

Despite the challenges, Sabah Bekhosh, an engineer from Laghouat (400 miles from Algiers) has decided to stand for the elections.

She acknowledges that it will not be easy, but says she has received a lot of encouragement from relatives. While she knows Algerian society is hesitant about women’s participation in politics and that some families prevent their daughters from even considering it, she thinks there have been some positive developments which should encourage many women, especially activists, to try standing in elections. Bekhosh mentions that some women have done this and proven themselves as capable politicians and this could inspire others.

One example is Zahia Benkara, Mayor of Chigara, in Mila province in Eastern Algeria, who successfully manages the projects, public affairs and public spending decisions of the town council, which has drawn the interest of numerous Algerian TV channels, who point out the deep-rooted conservatism of the town she governs.

Voices

Lack of clarity

Social scientist Kamal al-Hani believes that whilst government discourse broadly discourages the participation of women in politics, some legislative steps have in the past been taken to do the opposite – he sees these as symbolic gestures intended to pacify international organisations rather than representing genuine political gains for women. This is clear from the number of female ministers in the government – five out of 36 ministers are women. Similarly, out of 58 provincial governors, less than ten are women.   

Snap elections were called for Saturday 12 June by President Abdelmajid Tebboune after widespread protests concerning Algeria’s deteriorating economy, food shortages and increasing unemployment, as well as widespread arrests of demonstrators.

Many claim that the elections do not constitute a solution to the crisis that the country is experiencing and see it as an attempt by the president to shore up legitimacy in the face of popular anger.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original click here.