Femicide and coronavirus in the Maghreb

Algeria's ongoing war against women – #WeLostOneOfUs

The Algerian state's insufficient response to a recent spate of femicides has driven hundreds of women to defy coronavirus lockdown restrictions to take part in street protests, while also rekindling a debate about the death penalty. By Dalia Ghanem

On 26 January, an Algerian journalist from the public channel TV4 Tamazight, Tinhinane Laceb, was murdered by her husband. Just two days earlier, on 24 January, Warda Hafedh, a 45-year-old mother of five, was murdered by her spouse. Warda was hit in the head three times with a hammer and stabbed in the heart five times. The attack took place in front of her six- year-old daughter.

Tinhinane and Warda are but two victims among many. Last October, the story of Chaima, a 19-year-old who was kidnapped, raped, beaten, and burned alive in the small town of Thénia, made headlines. The poignant video of Chaima's mother calling on President Abdelmadjid Tebboune to order the death penalty against her daughter's killer gave rise to a debate on social media over its use.

The death penalty is still on the books in Algeria, but has been suspended since 1993 following a moratorium. According to local media, President Tebboune called for the application of a "maximum sentence without the possibility of relief or pardon."

Chaima's murder and other recent killings have sparked outrage across Algeria. Many Algerians have expressed their anger on social media over this dangerous trend of violence against women, with the hashtag #WeLostOneOfUs trending on Twitter. In Algiers, Béjaïa, Constantine, and Oran, hundreds of women defied pandemic lockdown restrictions to protest and voice their anger over the increase in femicides in the country and the state's inertia.

 

Femicide and other gender-based violence are turning into a real public-health crisis. There are no comprehensive statistics available on gender-based violence and femicide in Algeria; however, figures published annually by the Directorate General of National Security (DGSN) and the Gendarmerie are worrying as they represent only the tip of the iceberg. Recent statistics from the police, as reported by Algerian media, indicate that more than 7,000 cases of violence against women were recorded in 2018.

As for femicide, according to the only available resource, "feminicides-dz," a website created by two feminist activists tracking the phenomenon and aimed at making the victims’ faces and stories known, 75 women from all backgrounds and ages (up to 80 years old) died at the hands of their intimate partners, fathers, brothers, brothers-in-law, sons, or strangers in 2019, and another 54 in 2020.

While the Algerian state has implemented long-overdue legal and institutional reforms to promote and protect women's rights since 2014, such measures have been unable to protect women against violence in general and domestic violence in particular. Corporal punishment of women by their husbands or male relatives is widespread and accepted in society as a method of discipline.

In addition, stigmatisation and hostility from society and police enforcement toward women who complain about or report domestic violence are also severe obstacles to women's protection as well. Successive governments have failed on two fronts: on the one hand, in making a comprehensive law to enhance women's protection and prevent domestic violence, and on the other, to provide survivors and their children with adequate support services.

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