Interview: Samira Hadj Djilani

To what extent are women in Algeria involved in the country’s political system and governance?

SAMIRA HADJ DJILANI: Historically, Algerian women have participated actively in the liberation of their country, as much as their male counterparts, and this generation of strong women has also greatly impacted society. For example, women in Algeria have always been a part of the constituent assembly, and now there are 143 female members of Parliament. Initiated by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, there is a whole set of laws that guarantee women’s rights, and notably the Constitution enforces that at least 30% of election participation lists be made up of female candidates.

Additionally, in February 2016 a new law enforced full parity at every level of the administration governance. Nonetheless, there is still a huge gap between the promulgation of laws and their application in society. It is a pity, because if we look at success rates at the university level, women are leading in every academic field. I truly believe that the country would benefit from more female participation in its governance. There is the political will to make things evolve, but there is also an inertia that we need to break.

How would you assess the extent of women’s involvement in the business world?

HADJ DJILANI: The participation of women in the Algerian economy remains modest. Female entrepreneurship really started alongside the creation of the National Youth Employment Support Agency (l’Agence Nationale de Soutien à l’Emploi des Jeunes, ANSEJ). Female-owned businesses are still in the minority, but many women have used the help of this agency to get started. Among the 360,000 businesses that have been helped by ANSEJ in the last 10 years, 10% were created by women. This is still a small share, but we are speaking with more female students at university about their entrepreneurial options. Algeria is currently in a crisis, and many young people cannot get a job. Our programme should boost ventures and create opportunities for women who cannot find work in more traditional areas of employment.

Do women face discrimination when operating within the Algerian economic system?

HADJ DJILANI: There are some inequalities, especially when it comes to accessing the banking system. It is a complicated process for a woman to obtain a business loan. We try to raise awareness of this issue by petitioning for banks to allocate a specific desk for women. Similarly, access to public tender is very limited for women, despite the law that is supposed to grant them 30%. In order to be more powerful, women in Algeria need to come together to defend their rights to be entrepreneurs, and to participate in the economy according to their skills and work capacity.

There should be no positive discrimination, we do not want to win public tenders just because we are women, but similarly, we do not want to be blocked because of our gender either. In Algeria 95% of companies owned by women are micro-enterprises; we want these companies to grow, but it’s impossible if we forbid them access to public markets, especially in a country where the public sector represents such an important part of the economy.

How would the country benefit from higher levels of female participation in the economy?

HADJ DJILANI: In the modern world, women’s significant participation in the economy and society is seen as a sign of a developed nation, and global institutions and experts evaluate this parameter when assessing the sustainability of an economy. In addition, the inclusion of women can multiply business opportunities. Women are increasingly participating in Algeria’s economy, as a support network is forged with female entrepreneurs from Canada, Tunisia and the US, to help guide Algerian businesswomen in their development and growth.