Women in the Hirak (2/2)

Temps de lecture : 10 minutes

Women in the Hirak (2/2)

17.11.2021

Written by Inès Daoudi

Translated by Barbara Sika Kudjawu 

The Hirak, which translates as “movement” in Arabic, refers to a series of protests that followed President Bouteflika’s announcement of a fifth term. Algerian women took to the streets to protest against the government and to demand their rights and to highlight the importance of gender equality in the advent of a true democracy in Algeria.

This conquest of public space has not been easy, and many Algerian women have been victims of violence from their male counterparts. 

Violence as a tool to repress women 

From the first Hirak demonstrations, women have been harassed, physically and verbally assaulted with the sole aim of dissuading them from pursuing their cause. Despite calls for peace by people who sometimes physically intervene, the aggressors, determined to silence women, try to close the public space that allowed them to express themselves[1]Ghaliya Djelloul, « Femmes et Hirak : pratiques de « desserrement » collectif et d’occupation citoyenne de l’espace public », Mouvements, 2020/2 (n°102), p 87 URL … Continue reading.

  • New Information and Communication Technologies[2]ICTs: New Information and Communication Technologies (smartphones, internet, social networks, etc.)
    (ICTs), a double-edged sword

ICTs have played an essential role in disseminating information, and in exposing to all the magnitude of the events, which were often silenced by government-run media. As Saadia Gacem, an actress, explains: “every citizen has taken on the mission of expressing their point of view, perspective, and of mediatizing everything that is happening in the Algerian society, precisely to bear witness and to say ‘I was there, this is what is really happening'[3]RFI, Le Hirak en Algérie, le rôle des femmes et des images, 17 mars 2020 URL https://www.facebook.com/RFI/videos/208744570473991 (Accessed: 21/03/21) . Thus, many women film themselves speaking out, marching, and chanting slogans: “They film themselves existing, they film their anger, their revolt and they put it on social media[4]Habiba Djahnine, « Une poétique féministe de l’Algérie en lutte », Mouvements, 2020/2 (n°102), p 186, URL https://www.cairn.info/revue-mouvements-2020-2-page-177.htm (Accessed: 21/03/21) ”. 

But if these videos have encouraged other women to join them, they have also had a contradictory effect. Indeed, when the feminists posted videos of the attacks they suffered, despite messages of support, the violence was amplified in a “never-ending tide of comments, photos and videos calling for all sorts of violence against them. These included threats of death and acid attacks[5]Ghaliya Djelloul, « Femmes et Hirak : pratiques de « desserrement » collectif et d’occupation citoyenne de l’espace public », Mouvements, 2020/2 (n°102), p 87 URL … Continue reading”. The case of Sonia Gassemi, a 24-year-old student and women’s rights activist clearly illustrates this violence. In April 2019, a video featuring her lashing out against the feminist square’s assault (which had taken place at a previous rally) was widely shared on the internet. This led to a very violent and unprecedented media lynching[6]Jane Roussel, Sonia Gassemi : « Je continuerai de militer dans mon pays, je ne partirai pas », Le Point, 04/10/19, URL … Continue reading. Following this event, Sonia Gassemi initially decided to keep a low profile, but later stated that she was not leaving Algeria and would continue to protest for her country.

  •  An Algerian society not adequately supportive of women

Women who faced such violence could not count on their supposed allies who preferred to look the other way under the pretext that the time was not right to address these incidents and to talk about women’s rights. In fact, the weak indignation that this violence arouses is partly due to the “unitary” framing of the protest movement in Algeria, which goes hand in hand with a delegitimization of any claim perceived as specific to a group[7]Abir Kréfa et Amélie Le Renard, Genre & féminismes au Moyen-Orient & au Maghreb, Paris, Éditions Amsterdam, p 148 (be it the presence of Amazigh flags or the claims of feminist activists). Beyond the violence, there has been a lot of criticism of the feminist squares, accusing them of disrupting the unity of the Hirak. Two main accusations were made. The first from the part of the conservative voices who accused them of importing an ideology foreign to the Algerian identity. The second was from the part of the so-called progressive bodies who criticized this manner of amplifying the demands of a particular group and disturbing a movement that aimed to transcend the various divisions that permeate society[8]Ghaliya Djelloul, « Femmes et Hirak : pratiques de « desserrement » collectif et d’occupation citoyenne de l’espace public », Mouvements, 2020/2 (n°102), p 87-88 URL … Continue reading. In the face of accusations of separatism, these women demonstrated their involvement in all issues that ran through the Hirak and reaffirmed that this was, on the contrary, the ideal moment to place this issue at the centre of the debate[9]Ibid., p 88. In June 2019, some feminist organizations, especially in Algiers, refused to participate in the National Conference because of the refusal to mention equality between women and men in the roadmap submitted for discussion. The motion was finally adopted in the document, but it highlighted to some activists the importance of continuing their self-organization[10]Ghaliya Djelloul, « Femmes et Hirak : pratiques de « desserrement » collectif et d’occupation citoyenne de l’espace public », Mouvements, 2020/2 (n°102), p 88 URL … Continue reading

It is interesting to understand this violence as part of an entrapment, a preventive technique to dissuade the movement. This concept, described by the sociologist Ghaliya Djelloul, is based on “the establishment of an imaginary border between the inside and the outside, producing a “domestic space”, i.e., the setting that unites the members of their “family network” by bonds of fear (towards the male members of their family) and guilt towards other women in order to limit their spatial autonomy[11]Ibid., p 83. This entrapment harms them on all levels, not only within their families. Whether it is because of the fear of the father, uncle or brother, or because of the restraint towards the mother, aunt or sister, the repercussions also reach the public sphere. Indeed, it allows them to justify the violence they might suffer outside, condemning them, in reality, to be responsible if any harm befalls them, and consequently, pushing them to stay at home to avoid any risk-taking. The sociologist adds, however, that the Hirak has allowed a real process of “loosening” the hold of families and communities on Algerian women. Indeed, the Algerians mobilize to make a public space exist in which everyone can express themselve
s and claim their truth by refusing to be an accomplice to the lies of the regime[12]Ibid., p 84-85. Moreover, this process takes place through the media and social networks that disseminate debates, ideas, slogans as well as images and videos of the rallies. This diffusion is essential for mobilization. This representation of reality structures political awareness and creates a feeling of solidarity between those involved and those who wish to join the movement.

  •  The use of women’s bodies in the public space: a true political tool 

From then on, Algerian women made political statements using their bodies. During demonstrations, they put up signs stating, “Game ovaries. Get out”, “Women against the 5th mandate”, “Women in action. The Boutef clan will not even have our bras. No to the 5th mandate.” or “neither couscous nor mesfouf until the fall of the regime[13]Abir Kréfa et Amélie Le Renard, Genre & féminismes au Moyen-Orient & au Maghreb, Paris, Éditions Amsterdam, p 147”. Between December 2019 and January 2020, a hashtag spread “my place is in the Hirak not in the kitchen” to denounce those who wanted women excluded from the public sphere[14]Ghaliya Djelloul, « Femmes et Hirak : pratiques de « desserrement » collectif et d’occupation citoyenne de l’espace public », Mouvements, 2020/2 (n°102), p 89 URL … Continue reading. They were backed by renowned figures such as Mujahidi Louisette Ighilahriz[15]Psychologist, mujahidin and Algerian feminist activist and even Djamila Bouhired[16]Mujahidi, important figure of the struggle for independence in Algeria as well as the emergence of new figures such as students, Samira Messouci[17]Student, sentenced to 6 months in prison for having brandished the Amazigh flag during a demonstration or Nour El-Houda Oggadi[18]Student, imprisoned for her publications in favour of the Hirak on social networks to name but a few[19]Karim Kebir, La femme, un acteur majeur du Hirak, Liberté Algérie, 08/03/2020, URL https://www.liberte-algerie.com/actualite/la-femme-un-acteur-majeur-du-hirak-335404 (Accessed: 21/03/21) . Similarly, several artists mobilized to support the Algerian protestors. For instance, the Algerian singer Souad Massi, with her 6th album “Oumniya”, meaning wish. She explains that she has an obligation to talk about what is happening in Algeria, to support this movement, because as a singer, she has a platform to express herself, particularly in France. In Algeria, despite the censorship, she denounces the government and the corruption that prevails, and she calls for the establishment of a democracy that would guarantee the freedoms of all, through her songs and social networks[20]TV5Monde Info, Souad Massi : la chanteuse a choisi de se faire caisse de résonance du Hirak en Algérie, 25/11/19, URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mi0JdpVxqD0&ab_channel=TV5MONDEInfo … Continue reading. The same goes for the singer Amel Zen and her song “The march of Algerian women” where the famous skater Nour Houda Foura appears in her music video[21]Amel Zen, حرّة : مسيرة نساء الجزائر Horra : Marche des femmes algériennes, 09/03/19 URLhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zD4VvDplNbU&ab_channel=AmelZen (Accessed: 21/03/21) . With lyrics as evocative as “Free Algerian, free democratic”, “Women and men, hand in hand”, or “All the stars can testify that in our history, there are women heroes”, the commitment of these two women within the Hirak is perfectly understood. In addition to this, Amel Zen’s other piece “Liberate Algeria[22]Amel Zen, يوم الشعب Libérez l’Algérie, 02/03/19 URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MX4b5WUehzY&ab_channel=AmelZen (Accessed: 21/03/21) ”, a true anthem of revolt against the fifth term of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika where many dancers, actors and musicians denounce the system, and the leaders and express in Arabic, Amazigh and French the demands of the protesters. Finally, the singer Raja Meziane with her song “Toxic[23]Raja Meziane, Toxic [Prod by Dee Tox], 28/04/19 URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E1iEJwvT5lI&ab_channel=RajaMeziane (Accessed: 21/03/21) ” which criticises the regime in place and warns that young people are ready to revolt and especially that they will not forget the acts Bouteflika committed during these long years when he was in power. 

The sociologist Nacer Djabi believes that “the Algerian woman invests the public space and contributes to change the image of the Algerian society. She leads a cultural revolution on the ground. She takes the floor in front of the public and defends her political opinions. The Hirak is a historic opportunity to display the positive transformations that Algerian society has been experiencing for years[24]Karim Kebir, La femme, un acteur majeur du Hirak, Liberté Algérie, 08/03/2020, URL https://www.liberte-algerie.com/actualite/la-femme-un-acteur-majeur-du-hirak-335404 (Accessed: 21/03/21) ”. Finally, Ghaliya Djelloul rightly explains that by encouraging women to conquer the public space, the Hirak initiates a “long process of social transformation which requires the withdrawal of disciplinary power and a process of resistance through the occupation of public space in the political sense[25]Ghaliya Djelloul, « Femmes et Hirak : pratiques de « desserrement » collectif et d’occupation citoyenne de l’espace public », Mouvements, 2020/2 (n°102), p 90 URL … Continue reading”. She also adds that thanks to the peaceful manner of the movement, this re-appropriation is possible, via the transformation of urban public spaces into scenes of free expression and the appearance of citizens within a public space that institutes and shapes a common world. 

No democracy without equality! 

“There will be no democracy without women, and there will be no equality without democracy,[26]RFI, Le Hirak en Algérie, le rôle des femmes et des images, 17 mars 2020 URL https://www.facebook.com/RFI/videos/208744570473991 (Accessed: 21/03/21) ” says Wassyla Tamzali, Algerian lawyer, writer and feminist activist.

While women have been present since the beginning of the movement to support the demands of the Algerian people, they also champion their own struggles that predate the Hirak. This activism is far from evident in a society that, already during the national liberation, advised women “not to advance their own causes in order to fight for the overall national cause[27]Florian Delorme, Algérie : vers un nouveau départ, épisode 3 : Féminismes : anciens combats, nouveaux espoirs, France Culture, 19/02/2020, URL … Continue reading” and maintained this discourse with the advent of the Hirak. In spite of everything, women persisted and that is how the first feminist squares were created to specifically carry the demands of Algerian women. For historian Sophie Bessis, “women’s rights are an indispensable c
ondition for the establishment of a true democracy. However, many men are convinced that it is not necessary[28]Ibid.”. Indeed, the beginnings of the feminist squares were not straightforward. Women’s rights were strongly instrumentalized by the regime and Western powers, hence a certain mistrust by the populations. Additionally, as the movement wanted to establish itself as unitary, minority and more targeted or specific concerns were criticised[29]France 24, « Hirak » en Algérie : un an après, le peuple demande toujours la chute du régime, 21/02/2020 URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77oFk47kBz0&ab_channel=FRANCE24 (Accessed: … Continue reading. Equality is an inseparable criterion of the demand established by the protestors and even more for these women, who are fighting against the alienation that women undergo so that they can break free. According to Feriel Lalami Fates, a doctor of sociology, society is facing a “double discourse; everything that concerns equality in public matters (labour law) is based on a principle of equality, but within the family, inequality is openly expressed. In the family sphere, there was this concern to preserve this conservatism on the part of the Algerian government. Even if the discourse celebrates women, the measures taken, never or hardly reach the principle of an egalitarian functioning family[30]Florian Delorme, Algérie : vers un nouveau départ, épisode 3 : Féminismes : anciens combats, nouveaux espoirs, France Culture, 19/02/2020, URL … Continue reading”. The problem lies precisely in this ambivalence maintained by the Algerian government, which wants to display a modern image, by putting women in the spotlight, but deep down, has no intention of profoundly altering social codes and is quite satisfied with a conservative society where women are relegated to second-class citizenship. According to Sophie Bessis, we should not expect any progress for women’s rights from the current government. However, Algerian women know that power is not the only vector of the inequalities they suffer. The society in which they evolve is also the generator of these daily inequalities. Even though President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has affirmed the importance of equality in political participation by adding articles to the constitution, feminists remain very sceptical. For them, the Assembly is in no way representative of the people, despite the women deputies who sit there. In fact, Algerian women are victims of double oppression; “that of the power and its laws and that of the society and its conservative convictions. They fight as much to change the society as to change the system[31]Karim Kebir, La femme, un acteur majeur du Hirak, Liberté Algérie, 08/03/2020, URL https://www.liberte-algerie.com/actualite/la-femme-un-acteur-majeur-du-hirak-335404 (Accessed: 21/03/21) ”.

Conclusion

The Hirak represents a profound change in Algerian society. However, women still face a lot of unjustified violence. Although some feminists want a “dismantling of the patriarchy[32]Ibid., p 182”, it seems clear that the road is still far, because even the left-wing movements, so-called progressive political circles, are not devoid of patriarchal reflexes that remain very anchored[33]Ibid., p 181. These parties want to control emerging feminist groups at all costs in order to ensure that the demands made are oriented in their favour. Indeed, they do not intend to take the risk of radically transforming society and frightening voters who must be kept at all costs. The historian Sophie Bessis rightly says: “women’s rights are an indispensable condition for the establishment of a true democracy in Algeria”. Thus, the establishment of a new system must absolutely consider the feminist struggles in order to claim to be democratic. However, many are afraid of these demands for equality that transform society, even though they are necessary for the advent of democracy in Algeria. Finally, the struggle of Algerian women in the Hirak, “is part of a long trajectory even if the modalities are different, societies are confronted with two antithetical concepts: the conservative societal vision carried by political Islam and a democratic societal vision that cannot exist without gender equality.

Bibliography

ARTE, Benjamin Stora : le Hirak, nouvelle révolution algérienne, 28 minutes, 04/07/20 in https://www.arte.tv/fr/videos/098678-001-A/benjamin-stora-le-hirak-nouvelle-revolution-algerienne-28-minutes/

BENDERRA Omar, et al., « Introduction » dans Hirak en Algérie, l’invention d’un soulèvement, Paris, La Fabrique Éditions, 2020, p 7-11 dans https://www.cairn.info/hirak-en-algerie–9782358721929-page-7.htm

DELORME Florian, Algérie : vers un nouveau départ, épisode 3 : Féminismes : anciens combats, nouveaux espoirs, France Culture, 19/02/2020, in https://www.franceculture.fr/emissions/cultures-monde/algerie-vers-un-nouveau-depart-34-feminisme-anciens-combats-nouveaux-espoirs

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KEBIR Karim, La femme, un acteur majeur du Hirak, Liberté Algérie, 08/03/2020, in https://www.liberte-algerie.com/actualite/la-femme-un-acteur-majeur-du-hirak-335404

KREFA Abir et LE RENARD Amélie, Genre & féminismes au Moyen-Orient & au Maghreb, Paris, Éditions Amsterdam, 179 p

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ROUSSEL Jane, Sonia Gassemi : « Je continuerai de militer dans mon pays, je ne partirai pas », Le Point, 04/10/19, in https://www.lepoint.fr/afrique/sonia-gassemi-je-continuerai-de-militer-dans-mon-pays-je-ne-partirai-pas-04-10-2019-2339306_3826.php

TV5 Monde Info, Algérie/Hirak : les femmes ont tout à gagner – Amélie Le Renard, 21/02/2020 in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUABdvG3v1E&ab_channel=TV5MONDEInfo

TV5 Monde Info, Souad Massi : la chanteuse a choisi de se faire caisse de résonance du Hirak en Algérie, 25/11/19, in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mi0JdpVxqD0&ab_channel=TV5MONDEInfo

ZEN Amel, حرّة : مسيرة نساء الجزائر Horra : Marche des femmes algériennes, 09/03/19 in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zD4VvDplNbU&ab_channel=AmelZen

ZEN Amel, يوم الشعب Libérez l’Algérie, 02/03/19 in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MX4b5WUehzY&ab_channel=AmelZen

To cite this article: Inès Daoudi, “Women in the Hirak (2/2)”, 17.11.2021, Gender Institute in Geopolitics.

The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.

References

References
1, 5 Ghaliya Djelloul, « Femmes et Hirak : pratiques de « desserrement » collectif et d’occupation citoyenne de l’espace public », Mouvements, 2020/2 (n°102), p 87 URL https://www.cairn.info/revue-mouvements-2020-2-page-82.htm (Accessed: 21/03/21)
2 ICTs: New Information and Communication Technologies (smartphones, internet, social networks, etc.)
3, 26 RFI, Le Hirak en Algérie, le rôle des femmes et des images, 17 mars 2020 URL https://www.facebook.com/RFI/videos/208744570473991 (Accessed: 21/03/21)
4 Habiba Djahnine, « Une poétique féministe de l’Algérie en lutte », Mouvements, 2020/2 (n°102), p 186, URL https://www.cairn.info/revue-mouvements-2020-2-page-177.htm (Accessed: 21/03/21)
6 Jane Roussel, Sonia Gassemi : « Je continuerai de militer dans mon pays, je ne partirai pas », Le Point, 04/10/19, URL https://www.lepoint.fr/afrique/sonia-gassemi-je-continuerai-de-militer-dans-mon-pays-je-ne-partirai-pas-04-10-2019-2339306_3826.php (Accessed: 21/03/21)
7 Abir Kréfa et Amélie Le Renard, Genre & féminismes au Moyen-Orient & au Maghreb, Paris, Éditions Amsterdam, p 148
8 Ghaliya Djelloul, « Femmes et Hirak : pratiques de « desserrement » collectif et d’occupation citoyenne de l’espace public », Mouvements, 2020/2 (n°102), p 87-88 URL https://www.cairn.info/revue-mouvements-2020-2-page-82.htm (Accessed: 21/03/21)
9 Ibid., p 88
10 Ghaliya Djelloul, « Femmes et Hirak : pratiques de « desserrement » collectif et d’occupation citoyenne de l’espace public », Mouvements, 2020/2 (n°102), p 88 URL https://www.cairn.info/revue-mouvements-2020-2-page-82.htm (Accessed: 21/03/21)
11 Ibid., p 83
12 Ibid., p 84-85
13 Abir Kréfa et Amélie Le Renard, Genre & féminismes au Moyen-Orient & au Maghreb, Paris, Éditions Amsterdam, p 147
14 Ghaliya Djelloul, « Femmes et Hirak : pratiques de « desserrement » collectif et d’occupation citoyenne de l’espace public », Mouvements, 2020/2 (n°102), p 89 URL https://www.cairn.info/revue-mouvements-2020-2-page-82.htm (Accessed: 21/03/21)
15 Psychologist, mujahidin and Algerian feminist activist
16 Mujahidi, important figure of the struggle for independence in Algeria
17 Student, sentenced to 6 months in prison for having brandished the Amazigh flag during a demonstration
18 Student, imprisoned for her publications in favour of the Hirak on social networks
19, 24, 31 Karim Kebir, La femme, un acteur majeur du Hirak, Liberté Algérie, 08/03/2020, URL https://www.liberte-algerie.com/actualite/la-femme-un-acteur-majeur-du-hirak-335404 (Accessed: 21/03/21)
20 TV5Monde Info, Souad Massi : la chanteuse a choisi de se faire caisse de résonance du Hirak en Algérie, 25/11/19, URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mi0JdpVxqD0&ab_channel=TV5MONDEInfo (Accessed: 21/03/21)
21 Amel Zen, حرّة : مسيرة نساء الجزائر Horra : Marche des femmes algériennes, 09/03/19 URLhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zD4VvDplNbU&ab_channel=AmelZen (Accessed: 21/03/21)
22 Amel Zen, يوم الشعب Libérez l’Algérie, 02/03/19 URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MX4b5WUehzY&ab_channel=AmelZen (Accessed: 21/03/21)
23 Raja Meziane, Toxic [Prod by Dee Tox], 28/04/19 URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E1iEJwvT5lI&ab_channel=RajaMeziane (Accessed: 21/03/21)
25 Ghaliya Djelloul, « Femmes et Hirak : pratiques de « desserrement » collectif et d’occupation citoyenne de l’espace public », Mouvements, 2020/2 (n°102), p 90 URL https://www.cairn.info/revue-mouvements-2020-2-page-82.htm (Accessed: 21/03/21)
27, 30 Florian Delorme, Algérie : vers un nouveau départ, épisode 3 : Féminismes : anciens combats, nouveaux espoirs, France Culture, 19/02/2020, URL https://www.franceculture.fr/emissions/cultures-monde/algerie-vers-un-nouveau-depart-34-feminisme-anciens-combats-nouveaux-espoirs (Accessed: 21/03/21)
28 Ibid.
29 France 24, « Hirak » en Algérie : un an après, le peuple demande toujours la chute du régime, 21/02/2020 URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77oFk47kBz0&ab_channel=FRANCE24 (Accessed: 21/03/21)
32 Ibid., p 182
33 Ibid., p 181