Violence against Algerian women hidden because of social taboos – UN expert

1 February 2007

An independent United Nations human rights expert has called on Algeria to take concrete measures against the gender inequality underlying violence against women, which she called a largely hidden problem because of the North African country’s social taboos around violence.

Yakin Ertürk, the Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council on violence against women, issued a statement yesterday after completing a 10-day fact-finding visit to Algeria saying that the taboos “and the lack of a sufficient institutional response and support for victims of violence silence the victims and perpetuate the violence.”

But she said the Government also deserved praise for achieving equal access for boys and girls to all levels of education “in little more than one generation,” with girls now numerically over-represented in secondary schools and universities.

Professor Ertürk met with Government ministers, human rights officials and representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) during her visit, as well as with many individual victims of violence.

“Recent surveys reveal that violence against women is a major concern in Algeria in both the home and the public space,” she said, noting that many women also endure sexual harassment in their workplaces.

The Rapporteur added that the issue “remains largely invisible. The social taboos around violence in the society and the lack of a sufficient institutional response and support for victims of violence silence the victims and perpetuate the violence.”

Many women and girls are ejected from their family homes after suffering physical attacks by husbands or other relatives, forcing them to try to survive on the streets where they are often subjected to further violence.

The situation is exacerbated by the problems hanging over from what Professor Ertürk called Algeria’s “black decade of violence” during its civil war in the 1990s, when there was “systematic and widespread rape and sexual enslavement of women.”

But she welcomed a national charter of peace and reconciliation adopted in 2005, which excludes many of the most serious crimes such as rapes, collective massacres and bombings from a wider amnesty.

She also described the recent criminalization of some forms of sexual harassment as “a positive first step” towards tackling the problem, and endorsed a draft national strategy to combat violence against women, which is yet to be adopted by the country’s Cabinet.

If it is approved, the strategy “will mark a first step of a long process that requires close partnership between relevant ministries, the United Nations and non-governmental associations for women’s rights. Ultimately, the Government will have to be measured against the concrete measures it takes to combat violence and gender equality it is embedded in.”

Professor Ertürk, who became the Special Rapporteur in 2003, is scheduled to present a full report on her Algerian visit to the Human Rights Council by the middle of the year.


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