On Tuesday, the electoral authorities in Algeria gave political parties two days to display photos of women on campaign posters or be removed from the vote, says a BBC report. Parties in the Bordj Bou Arreridj Province had been putting up posters showing hijabs surrounding blank spaces alongside photos of male candidates.
“This kind of encroachment is dangerous; it is not legal and it opposes all laws and traditions,” said Hassan Noui of the Independent High Authority for Election Monitoring (HIISE).
“It is every citizen’s right to know whom he will vote for.” He said at least five parties including the Socialist Forces Front (FFS) had not been showing female candidates’ faces on posters.
The blank images have sparked a debate in Algeria.
They are seen as a tacit setback for the involvement of women in Algerian politics which started to experience positive reform 5 years ago. According to a United Nations Development Programme, in 2012, Algerian women occupied 31 percent of parliamentary seats, placing the country 26th worldwide and 1st in the Arab world.
Despite the gains, the belief among some people is that women’s participation in politics will continue to be hindered by the conservative nature of the society.
A candidate, Fatma Tirbakh, from the National Front for Social Justice party in the eastern Ouargla Province, appeared as a blank female avatar on Ennahar TV to discuss the issue.
“Displaying my photo is important, I believe. But I come from a southern region. Honestly speaking, it is hugely conservative… it is because of this that my own photo is not used,” she said.
“In all honesty, the family did force me not to show my photo on TV. But they do not have a problem with my face being on a poster,” she added. She said no one in her family had a problem with her working as a politician representing people in parliament.
Also giving voice to the reluctance to accept women’s participation in politics is Yasmina, a lawyer by training. She said that after she got married, it took a lot of courage for her to step out of her housewife status and get involved in politics.
“Leaving the house every morning to go to work and then running for local elections was an affront to the people of my village,” Yasmina says. “It was initially very difficult for me and my family to cope.”
Clearly, there is a need to reconcile the conflict between the government’s push for more women in politics, and the family or cultural systems in Algeria, which limits the role of women in politics. Algerian women should not be allowed to suffer from a patriarchal system that recognises them.