Algerian woman becomes country's first female general

Gov't must improve overall situation of women in Algeria, human rights activist says.(The Media Line)

Algeria Abdelaziz Bouteflika 248  (photo credit: )
Algeria Abdelaziz Bouteflika 248
(photo credit: )
An Algerian woman has obtained the rank of general for the first time in the country's history. In a military ceremony marking the 47th anniversary of Algeria's independence, President Abdelaziz Boutaflika promoted the department head of hematology at the army's Aïn Naadja d'Alger Hospital to general. Colonel Fatma-Zohra Aardjoun was named a general at the National Defense Ministry, in a promotion ceremony for the National Army, along with seventeen other male colonels. Four generals were also promoted to the rank of major-general. "It's a good signal," Omar Benderra of Algeria-Watch, an Algerian human rights organization based in France, told The Media Line. "But the question is not lying in the fact that a woman, a single person is put into this position, at this rank. The question is whether there is a sound policy to improve the general situation of the women in Algeria… A single tree cannot hide the forest." Aardjoun's promotion reflects a growing trend of Algerian women taking more prominent positions in the workforce, most notably in the police and military. Algeria boasts the largest number of female police officers in the Muslim world, with eight percent of its entire police force being women. In March, a woman was named head of an Algerian police academy. During the same month, 177 female officers graduated from the Algiers police training academy. However, Benderra believes that the prestige held by women in the police and army does not reflect the general condition of women's rights in Algeria. "It doesn't translate into the visibility of the change in position of the women in society," he said. "Woman cannot work peacefully in the streets of any city in Algeria." Women's rights in Algeria have long been under fire, mainly due to the Algerian Family Code, put into law in 1984, which established women as minors and left them with few legal rights. Although the Family Code was revised in 2005, and notably allowed women to obtain a divorce without their husbands' consent, many women's rights organizations have complained that there were too many loopholes for the laws to be effective. Because the Code had been an integral part of Algerian society, some men simply chose to ignore the revisions. "The improvement in the law regarding the personal statues of divorce and so on was a necessity," Benderra explained. "The situation is that the patriarchal society is still not challenged by the authorities… There are hundreds, probably thousands of women thrown out on the streets." President Boutaflika has long advertised his dedication to the empowerment of women in Algeria; however, his remarks and actions have been the source of controversy among women's rights organizations. After the Family Code revision in 2005, he declared to female activists, "You have obtained vested rights today. Do not demand more." Since 2005, Boutaflika has been under pressure to enact more changes in favor of women's rights. Despite women's increasing roles in the Algerian professional world, under the Family Code they remain legally vulnerable. "These are cosmetic changes," said Benderra. "The wife beaters in Algeria are not regarded as criminals or delinquents; it is regarded as normal behavior."