ALGIERS (ILO News) – “I am proud of my work, but the men say that we have taken their jobs. Our society is unyielding.”
This statement by a 42 year old Algerian woman from Tissemsilt shows that the employment of women is still a matter for debate in Algeria – as in numerous other countries.
Despite the considerable advances seen in the Algerian political sphere, where women constitute over 31 per cent of the deputies to the National Assembly (*), their economic participation remains very low.
In 2011, with a proportion of 17.7 per cent of women in the workforce, Algeria – alongside Iraq and Syria - was among the countries with the lowest level of female economic participation in the world – according to an ILO study pending publication (**). Women are, nevertheless, gradually beginning to enter the workforce. According to the National Statistical Office of Algeria, by 2013 the female labour force participation rate had risen to 19 per cent.
“Invisible” home-based activities
According to the ILO study, the female labour force participation rate is held back by a multitude of complex, notably sociocultural, factors.
Parts of the population do not consider that women who perform unpaid home-based activities in such areas as the agricultural, livestock, textile and clothing sectors are really part of the labour force.
The weight of tradition or certain family constraints restrict women’s work and travel opportunities.
Young women often have little contact with the world outside their family circle and are also less well informed and less prepared for entrepreneurial life. Families are often more inclined to provide moral and financial support to boys for enterprise-creation projects.
The lady from Tissemsilt herself told the ILO investigators: “I would like my daughter to go to university, but I do not want her to work. I would like her to study, to become cultured and to achieve all she can at university, that would be a good thing, but I would prefer her not to work as she will never be respected at work. The men have no respect for young women.”
This statement by a wife and mother of five children, which appears in the ILO study, speaks volumes about cultural obstacles to the participation of women in working life.
Hearing what women have to say
In addition to conducting a detailed analysis of labour market statistics for women between 2001 and 2011, the study’s authors – Jacques Charmes and Malika Remaoun – also spoke to women directly in order to compare the statistical data collected with the daily reality experienced by Algerian women.
The women described their lives and ambitions and reflected on their own family, educational and occupational experiences. The study presents a number of positive developments seen in women’s employment, which are the result of various mechanisms put in place for them by the authorities.
The report stresses, however, that women hold their destiny in their own hands and future progress will depend on their determination to push back the boundaries and overcome obstacles.
Concluding the debate more eloquently than any statistic, one woman entrepreneur from Tiaret notes:
“It is also a question of not wanting to be dependent on men, of having a career, of demonstrating one’s true abilities. And I think that women are more determined, they have more to offer.”
* In accordance with a law passed in November 2011, which imposes a female quota of 20–50 per cent of the seats on their list.
** Les contraintes et opportunités pour l’emploi des femmes en Algérie, ILO, Algiers, 2014 (pending publication).