Covid-19 has exacerbated the femicide problem in Algeria

Two days earlier, on January 24, a 45-year-old mother of five, Warda Hafedh was hit three times on the head with a hammer, and stabbed five times in the heart by her partner, in front of her six-year-old daughter, resulting in her death.

These are just two victims among many others. Last October, the story of Chaïma, a 19-year-old who was kidnapped, raped, beaten and burned alive in the small town of Thenia made headlines. The poignant video of Chaïma’s mother calling on President Abdelmajid Tebboune to order the death penalty against the murderer of his daughter has given rise to a debate on the use of social media.

The death penalty is still on the books in Algeria but has been suspended since 1993 following a moratorium. According to local media, President Tebboune call for the application of a “maximum penalty without possibility of repair or pardon. “

Due to this increase in femicide, the hashtag #WeLostOneOfUs started trending on Twitter. In Algiers, Béjaïa, Constantine and Oran, hundreds of women challenged pandemic lockdown restrictions to protest and express their anger at the increase in femicides in the country and the inertia of the state.

Recent police statistics, reported by Algerian media, indicate that more … than 7,000 cases of violence against women were recorded in 2018.

Depending on the only resource available, “Feminicides-dz”, a website created by two feminist activists tracking the phenomenon and aiming to publicize the faces and stories of the victims, 75 women of all backgrounds and ages (up to 80 years old) died at the hands of their intimate partners, fathers, brothers , brothers – brother-in-law, sons or strangers in 2019, and 54 more in 2020.

Successive governments have failed on two fronts:

  • By adopting a comprehensive law to strengthen the protection of women and prevent domestic violence;
  • By providing adequate support services to survivors and their children.

Laws and their faults

A law in 2015 was put in place to criminalize sexual harassment and domestic violence. However, the the law only applies to spouses and ex-spouses living in the same residence or in separate residences but does not apply to parents, unmarried couples or other household members.

According to article 264, there is a penalty of one to five years in prison and a fine for acts of violence which result in illness or incapacity for work of more than 15 days. however, a medical certificate is required to prove it, hinder survivors’ access to justice and, by extension, to prosecution of perpetrators.

The law does not prohibit mediation and reconciliation; furthermore, an offender may even benefit from a reduced sentence or avoid a sentence altogether if he is pardoned by his spouse. There are often social and family pressure on the victim forgive her attacker, which may deter her from seeking legal remedies in the future.

The penal code also recognizes “crimes of passion” and article 279 provides that a person who kills or injures his spouse benefits from mitigating circumstances if his spouse has been caught in the act of adultery.

Another obstacle women also encounter social pressure is bad treatment by the police, who are often dismissive, discourage them from filing complaints and lack due diligence and follow-up when conducting an investigation (if there is one).

Restraining orders, to protect the victim and improve the prosecution of their case, are not an option. There are also no provisions in place to prevent the perpetrator (s) from call the victim or forcing them to stay a certain distance from her or even to leave a shared residence. As a result, the victim may be the victim of harassment at the best of times and retaliation at the worst.

Finally, while a woman can divorce her husband if he is violent towards him, marital rape is not recognized. The law on domestic violence does not mention it, although the figures are alarming. A national survey published in 2005 reported that 10.9% of Algerian women interviewed said they had been subjected to forced sex by their intimate partner.

Give me shelter

Institutional mechanisms such as the Ministry of National Solidarity, Family and the Status of Women and the National Family and Women’s Council are examples that illustrate the state’s commitment to fulfill its due diligence vis-à-vis its obligations in the areas of gender equality and non-discrimination.

Under the coordination of the ministry, in 2007 Algeria has launched the National Strategy to Combat Violence against Women.

The strategy called for the creation of special units to help survivors of violence find longer-term shelters – without covering the actual creation of such shelters. At present there is of them managed by the national state shelters (Bousmail and Mostaganem) and five temporary accommodation centers (Algiers, Constantine, Oran, Skikda and Ouargla).

In the absence of an explicit budget devoted to combating gender-based violence, the viability and accessibility of shelters and shelters for women victims of violence remain a major challenge. This also appears to be a problem for the wider MENA region, as the total number of shelters in Arabic-speaking states does not exceed 50.

In Algeria, this translates into limited and inadequate services such as legal aid, health assistance, psychosocial support and especially shelters. Almost all of these services are provided by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), most of which receive no state support.

Patriarchy and the pandemic

Femicide is a global problem that crosses borders, cultures, religions, classes and ages. However, in the “Belt of classical patriarchy” which includes the MENA region, rate of sexual and gender-based violence continue to increase, especially since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Algeria is no exception in this regard. Data of the DGSN shows an increase in physical violence (71%) and an upsurge in femicides. In the first two months of 2020, six women were killed by their husbands – and 19 more from March through October.

the the state is involved in the oppression of women and their reduction to objects of male social control. Through this ideological construction, structural and direct violence against women is justified.

The gender of the private sphere is what makes the house an area outside the influence of the state and under the regulation of man. The latter is given control over the defense of the holiness of the house and of the woman’s body.

As long as this patriarchal vision prevails within the Algerian state and society, it will cast shame and stigma on women victims of violence. Algerian women will continue to be killed, and their authors congratulated.

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About Kristine McNally


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