artikelfotoAlgerije
Business women in Algeria ?
Economie, 17 July 2007
Algerian women (courtesy of 'Instablogs Network')

In years gone by, Algerians who used the term "women's work" would probably have been referring to tasks such as weaving, the manufacture of terra cotta pots, and the production of traditional cakes. Custom in this predominantly Muslim country of North Africa ensured that women were first and foremost wives and homemakers. But, no longer.........
 
These days, Algerian women are slowly but surely carving out a niche for themselves in sectors that were once the exclusive preserve of men -- notably business.

While businesswomen still account for just 9.1 percent of about a million business people in Algeria, their number grew by 5.9 percent last year -- this according to the National Trade Registration Centre (Centre national du register de commerce, CNRC). More than 5,000 women entered the commercial arena in 2005.

"(It is) encouraging to see women becoming involved in companies and business at the same level as men, without restrictions," says Aicha Djerrar, a female professor of town planning at the University of Constantine, in northern Algeria.

The shift reflects tougher economic conditions in Algeria: figures from the National Statistics Office put unemployment in the country at 17 percent.

"The number of women involved in business always tends to grow in a socioeconomic situation characterised by unemployment," Larbi Ould Ahmed, a manager at the Department of Commerce in the central Kabylie region, told IPS.

"If you go back in time 10 or 20 years, you will see that the Algerian woman preferred an uncomplicated job that enabled her to attend to her children at the same time...The economic situation never forced women to work."

This view is echoed by sociologist Brahim Touhami, also a professor at the University of Constantine.

"The socioeconomic situation of the country is pushing more women to...provide for the needs of their families. This is opening the way for them in commercial activities, where they perform with ease," he notes.

"Unemployment and the lack of jobs suitable for them are directing (women)...towards business."

Fatiha Illoul, an advocate by training who now has her own construction business, is one of the women who have stepped into the marketplace. "There is no restriction of any sort that prevents us from conducting business activities," she told IPS. Illoul puts the annual turnover of her Kabylie-based business, which builds and sells accommodation, at about 150,000 dollars.

Similar words come from Salima Bensalem, who works in the clothing industry in the capital, Algiers: "Thank God, I do not encounter any difficulty in doing the job that I chose. On the contrary, the government encourages the involvement of women in profitable undertakings..."

And, banks -- says Lahcene Aziz, a manager with the Local Development Bank in Kabylie -- are even-handed in their treatment of women.

"The banks are not governed by any law which treats women differently to men," he told IPS. "They enjoy the same rights as men in the financing of their projects."

A CNRC analysis of the businesses managed by women shows that 36 percent involve services, more than 26 percent industrial production, and about 17 percent imports. A further 17 percent of women are involved in imports and exports.

Women are less interested in transport, the cork and mining industries, and in agriculture, notes the Centre for Applied Economics and Development Research -- based in Algiers. Activities such as welding also remain male-dominated.

But, while women such as Illoul and Bensalem see the business world as their oyster, their counterparts in religiously conservative Muslim communities may have a different experience. Abdenour Larabi, a fruit and vegetable seller in central Algiers, is amongst those who are openly opposed to having women work.

"The woman must devote herself exclusively to domestic tasks and to the education of children," he told IPS.

"Even when she leaves (home) on an urgent matter, the woman must be accompanied by her guardian or husband."

Such views persist despite a more liberal interpretation of Islam at government level.

Said Bouyzri, a manager in the Department of Religious Affairs in Kabylie who also has a doctorate in sharia (Islamic law), maintains that Islam allows women to be active in the business world.

"Women are allowed to conduct business activities, but this is not obligatory because it is the man who is expected to provide for the needs of the family," he explained.
 
Kaci Racelma
 
Algerian journalist Kaci Racelma writes for the daily Algerian newspaper La Nouvelle Republique, Magharebia, IPS, Afrique Echos Magazine and others

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