Female candidates wanted for Algeria’s parliament quota

Sunday 12/03/2017
Beyond tokenism. Algerian women pass by the People’s National Assembly building in Algiers, on March 2nd. (AP)

Algiers - Algerian law requires that the next parliament re­serves 30% of the seats for women but political parties across the spec­trum have struggled to field enough female candidates to fill the quota.
Universities in Algeria are in­creasing their numbers of female students but politics is still largely a male domain. A relatively macho culture, especially in the desert and rural heartland, has left many par­ties short of female options as they sift through thousands of potential candidates to finalise party lists for the May 4th elections.
Parties reached out to journal­ists, teachers and other female pro­fessionals to try to persuade them to join male rivals who are clam­ouring to run for parliament, often attracted by the political power and financial privileges of a legislative seat.
“I was never involved in politi­cal or union activity but I was al­ways interested in politics, through newspapers, television. I don’t know what parliamentary work consists of but the challenge inter­ests me a lot,” retired teacher Aziza Boudia said. The Algerian National Front party asked the energetic 55-year-old to be the No. 2 candi­date for the party’s list in Boume­rdes, east of Algiers.
Television presenter Nora Hamdi is more reticent and does not want to be seen as a token woman. Con­tacted by the minority Algerian Popular Movement party, she said: “It will depend on the position I would have on the list.”
When Algeria’s 22 million vot­ers are called upon to choose 462 members of the lower house of parliament, 145 seats are reserved for women under a 2012 law cham­pioned by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to promote women in politics.
While the National Liberation Front party (FLN) is expected to keep its parliamentary majority, the legislative elections are an im­portant gauge of political shifts at a time when the president’s health is a widespread concern. Bouteflika has rarely been seen in public since a 2013 stroke and recently can­celled a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the last minute for health reasons.
“We have received 6,228 dossiers from candidates overall but barely more than 100 from women,” Dja­mal Ould Abbas, general-secretary of the FLN, said two weeks before the filing deadline.
Sociologist Nasser Djabi de­scribed it as a “problem of society. Algerian political parties are ma­cho. They haven’t invested in pro­moting women in politics.”
“They are disconnected to the evolution of Algerian society, in which girls are in the majority in universities and girls have higher success rates on exams,” he said. “Certain professions that have be­come more female, like the media, the legal system, education, health. But I see that the political parties remain closed in on themselves and haven’t followed this movement of evolution.”
Feminist law Professor Nadia Ait Zai welcomed Bouteflika’s “cour­age” in pushing for the law. “For years they did nothing to favour the emergence of women political lead­ers,” Zai said.
While some welcomed the quo­tas, in effect for the first time at a national level in this year’s election, Professor Zalane Abderrahmane of the University of Algiers was less enthusiastic.
“There’s no point in having 30% of women in parliament if they are coming just to be… decorative plants,” he said. “Women should be there because of their ideas, their capacities, their personalities, their commitment, because they are the future of Algeria.”
(The Associated Press)