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«The Colonial “Emancipation” of Algerian Women: the Marriage Law of 1959 and the Failure of Legislation on Women’s Rights in the ...»

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One sign of the political marginalization of women was the tolerance by government in 1967-70 of husbands exercising the vote on behalf of their wives, a practice eventually legalized in 1990-2 (Vandevelde, 1980: 290-4, 303; Shaheed, 1994: 1003). This is not to say that there was no active women’s movement that challenged the regime during the 1960s and 1970s, but this was largely confined to a few hundred educated and professional women and even they, as the feminist Marie-Aimée Helie-Lucas notes personally, found it difficult to organize and to wake up to the extent of the betrayal (Helie-Lucas, 1990).

It can be noted how speedily at independence in 1962 many of the moujahidate who had experienced an unusual degree of independence during the war, returned to a domestic role and withdrew from political activism (Amrane, 1991, 1994; Vendevelde, 1980: 89), as had occurred after so many other wars in which women had played a crucial role. The atmosphere of political demobilization and dejection at the reassertion of male domination and seclusion was expressed by Fatma Baichi, After independence I no longer worked and I could not engage in activism. My husband prevented me from going out: I could not even go and see my sisters-in-combat…. And then even my brothers, even the youngest whom I had fought alongside during the war, encouraged my husband to stop me from going The colonial “emancipation” of Algerian women out: “It’s finished now, she must not be allowed out, things are different now.” For Baya Hocine too, “... we [Algerian women] broke through the barriers and it was very difficult for us to go back to how things were. In 1962 the barriers were rebuilt in a way that was terrible for us” (Amrane, 1994: 123, 146). Symbolic of this dramatic shift in the fortunes of women militants at independence was the fate of Djamila Boupacha, the most mediatized heroine, on her release from a French prison on 26 April 1962. Reluctant to return to Algeria where “the brothers [FLN – italics in original] are going to return me to my life as a woman down there,” she was forced by the FLN to leave the protection of her feminist lawyer Gisèle Halimi, and bundled under guard into a return flight to Algeria (Halimi, 1988: 354-7).

In conclusion, the late colonial state faced a considerable problem in enforcing the liberal family law of 1959 as well as the état-civil which helped underpin it. The law remained on the statute books of the newly independent republic until 1975, but was widely ignored by both the population and the courts. This avoidance of law suited the purposes of the FLN government since it helped guarantee political tranquility. Likewise the state constantly stalled on a new code, allowed courts to follow their own devices (mainly leaning to a traditional reliance on sharia), and abandoned civil society to an entrenched patriarchalism. As Claudine Chaulet notes, “The function of family solidarities changed: from a method of survival, they changed into a means of establishing an autonomous nucleus working within and against the multifaceted penetration of the State,” an interpretation that matches that of Charrad (quoted by LacosteDujardin, 1996: 287; see Charrad, 2001). Ben Bella and Boumediene, in contrast to Bourguiba, abandoned the issue of reform for women because they recognized the weight of family structures and ideology that were simply too entrenched to transform radically without incurring the risk of a political earthquake. However, while any major legal change cannot move too far in advance of society without risking political opposition, governments do have a margin for maneuver. In the Algerian case the political elites made the costly mistake of burying the question of women’s reform and entrenching patriarchy, so setting the society on course for an eventual catastrophe, the resurrection of misogynous Islamic 114 Stichproben fundamentalism and a bloody civil war marked by a generalized violence against women.

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