Algeria: Statement from the Collectif 20 ans barakat (20 Years is Enough!)

Collectif 20 ans barakat
The Algerian government has examined and approved a preliminary draft of amendments to the Family Code (1984).
These amendments come after more than twenty years of multifaceted and diverse struggle by women for egalitarian laws, but are still far – very far – from ending the discriminations from which they suffer.
Only one of the proposed changes constitutes a real, social advance: in the case of divorce, the husband is obliged to provide his spouse who has custody of the children adequate accommodation or alternatively rent payments or maintenance in the marital home.

The other proposed amendments are simply inadequate and will not lead to the proclaimed equality:
  • Polygamy, although subject to greater restrictions, is retained;
  • Only divorced women will have recognised parental authority over their children;
  • Women’s right to divorce, even though extended to three additional grounds, remains conditional, while men retain the power of unilateral repudiation (talaq);
  • The requirement of having a wali (matrimonial guardian) has not been done away with and is now a voluntary option, which will ensure the practice continues;
  • The provision allowing for a marriage contract to contain negotiated conditions which already existed in practice will only be accessible and of use to those who are the most informed or the wealthiest, and who, in any case, are still subject to the discriminatory provisions of the Code;
Thus, these timid and tentative advances are immediately rendered ineffective by reservations which will neutralise any potential gains.

On other important questions such as the prohibition against adoption, and inequality in matters of inheritance, there has been no change whatsoever: the upholding of these discriminatory measures reflects the flagrant obstruction of our society’s evolution and improvements in women’s position in society.

The Islamists are currently conducting a campaign against these ‘mini-reforms’ which do not even challenge the basis of the Family Code. One wonders why they have not made such a vociferous protest against the country’s economic plight.

These proposals, despite the clamour from the Islamist parties and conservatives, show that the inegalitarian discourse behind the Family Code has been preserved. They are out of touch with the country’s social reality and far from responding to the aspirations of Algerian women and men.

When it has been announced that the aim of the whole process is to address the injustices facing women, why insist on regulating their oppression by retaining the option of polygamy – especially when, in fact, it is practiced by a minority (less than 1%)? How can one deny a mother guardianship of her children when she has been the one who has brought them up? Why carry on refusing to recognise adoption when thousands of orphans live in desolation?

These proposed amendments to the Family Code are a farce designed to hoodwink national and international opinion. In short: a great of fanfare about nothing.

A truly significant advance in the law would require at least:
  • The prohibition of polygamy
  • An end to matrimonial guardianship (wali)
  • The introduction of joint parental authority
  • The introduction of equal rights to divorce

Since Independence, the Algerian women’s movement has ceaselessly demanded that the equality which existed in the struggle against colonialism be translated into laws. Ever since its promulgation in 1984, the Family Code has been denounced as an iniquitous law and the cause of the destruction of the Algerian family. This is why in 2004 we asserted: 20 Years is Enough!

Governance involves making choices. To refuse to ensure equality between citizens is to refuse to construct a state based on the rule of law. Family laws must respond to the aspirations of Algerian society for greater justice. This is why we reiterate our demand: repeal the Family Code and introduce laws based on equality

Collectif " 20 ans barakat - Ile-de-France " :

Initial Signatories:

APEL, ASFAD, Association " 20 ans Barakat ", ATF, Collectif Ruptures, Commission Nationale Femmes de la FASTI, FIL - ACB, Maison des femmes de Paris, MFPF, Pluri-elles - Algérie, RAJFIRE, ALFA de Nantes