As with Albania, it was hard to find documentaries on Algeria.  I managed to watch a few clips on youtube detailing the bloody civil war which dominated the country from 1992-2002.  Basically it was the government vs. radical Islamist groups.  Close to 200,000 were believe to have been murdered during those ten years, many of them civilians.  One of the reasons that the war went on so long is that the world didn’t really know much about it due to censorship.

Algeria is now officially a democratic state, but the people–not always by their choice–follow Sharia law.  A Sharia policy from 1984 called the Family Code still stands today, and was examined in the only full-length documentary I was able to find, titled: ‘Chahinaz: What Rights for Women?’  Honestly, though I am a woman and therefore completely support equality, I was hoping for something a little more all encompassing, but beggars can’t be choosers.

The docu follows Chahinaz, a 21 year old Algerian student who lives in Constantine, Algeria.  She is on a quest to understand the Family Code:  a law which limits the rights of women.  Women technically belong to the men in their lives.  They cannot do anything without a male ‘tutor,’ not even plan a wedding!  Many of Chahinaz’s friends are quite brainwashed.  Her male friends, of course, said that they see nothing wrong with the Code.  In their eyes, it’s not “unfair.”  Her female friends believe that their society has come very far, but this is how things were meant to be.  They see nothing wrong with having to be overseen, because it “is part of their religion,” and to go against it “is to go against God.”

In some ways, they’re right.  Their society has come far—at least in the big cities.  The people have food and shelter and jobs and  cars.  Women have only been allowed to go to universities for 40 years, but they make up 60% of the student population.  Technically, they can study what they want and have whatever career they want.  That sounds all well and good, but in practice it’s not really so.  Chahinaz is one of the few women who doesn’t wear the veil.  In all the scenes where she’s walking in the street, she’s getting cat-calls and hateful mocking from every man she passes, and glares from those who are veiled. She’s studying architecture, and she knows that if she and a man apply for the same job, even if she’s much more qualified, she doesn’t have a chance.

Chahinaz decided to talk to women from around the world to see how their societies work.  First there was a devout Christian (bleh) American, then the first female President of Ireland, then two elected women in India, and finally, some Algerian migrants living in France.  The American made a fool of herself–constantly talking about her religion and getting into a political discussion, about how she supported Bush (double bleh).  The Irish woman was, obviously, very smart and charismatic, and she detailed how just 20 years ago, Irish women weren’t much different from Algerian women, except that they were even forced to quit their jobs after their first child was born.  It was France that surprised me.  I mean, we all know France is fairly xenophobic and chauvenistic, but I didn’t know that 10-12 women per month (as of 2007, at least) were killed by partners or ex-partners, and that if the killer claimed it was a “crime of passion” and that “he killed her because he loved her,” the jail sentence was automatically halved….

This documentary was interesting, but not necessarily eye-opening.  I suppose it’s because the struggle for women’s rights is fairly universal, but in a country with an emerging economy, the situation is not as bad as it is in some of the poorer nations.  Of course Algerian women should have all the freedom of men, but they’re not locked inside and forbidden to go to school or anything like that.

I would have liked to have learned more about the other regions of Algeria–not just about a girl from a major city–but alas, we can’t always get what we want, and this will have to satisfy me for now, as Algeria still has many censoring laws which make it hard for outsiders to know what trouble lies within.


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