The position of women has always been a major social and political issue in Algerian society. Despite the role of women in the war of independence and the subsequent socialist course of the government, there are still inequalities in many domains, and there are great differences in the way women lead their lives in various social classes and regions. Women’s-rights activists have been making themselves heard in Algerian politics and have rallied mass movements to their cause, but the impact of their actions has been limited.
The position of women has, however, changed significantly over the years, due mainly to developments in the wider society, especially compulsory education for girls and the success of women in higher education and improvements in women’s reproductive health. Improvements in education and employment opportunities for women have led to smaller families. Daughters and sons now have different role models from those of earlier generations, who grew up in far more patriarchal traditions.
Politically, the women’s movement is divided over important issues. In the 1980s women from many different tendencies found themselves opposed to the so-called Family Law, which threatened to harm the position of women on issues such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance. In marriage, women were obliged to be accompanied by a male ‘guardian’, and women’s rights at inheritance were inferior to those of men. Ten years later, polarization around elections and the role of Islam divided the mainly secular women activists. This was not surprising, given the division on the issue that became apparent in attitudes on the 1992 military intervention in politics and civil society. Some former activists, such as Khalida-Toumi, sided with the government; she eventually became Minister of Communication and Culture, a move fiercely opposed by other women.