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Algeria: Sexual Harassment and Violence Against Women in Workplace-A Phenomenon that has not Disappeared Despite the Existing Laws

2016-11-25

 

RaoufMalal/a member of Arab network of union journalists 

Algeria _ May God take revenge from him;with these words Sarah received us and told us her story with her boss who sexually harassed her; more than thirty thousand female workers are working at Sonelgazcomplex,at least 60% of them are exposed to moral harassment, which quickly turns to sexual harassment, according to the report of the Committee on Working Womenat Sonelgaz Complex of the National Autonomous Committee of Electricity And GasWorkers Union.

On the other hand, the working women are subject to harassment in the non-structured sectorsand domestic workers with all types of harassment so that the ratio of harassedwomen in this sector has reached about 70 percent, according to the report of the National Autonomous Committee of the Public Administration Workers Unionwhich highlighted this sector in particular and other sectors generally.

Sarah, 26 years old, single and an employee of SONELGAZ (National Electricity and Gas Company) – Algeria; Sarah was working as a receptionist in Annaba,she told us her unfortunate story with her General Manager who was harassing her morally and order her to perform tasks that are not under her worktasks including bringing coffee, wiping the table and carryinghis coat, then he quickly turned to blatant sexual harassment, trying to discredit her honour the ugliest ways and by all means of threatening(to dismiss her) or seduction (e.g. to promote her) or by flirting through SMSs.

Sarah couldnt take such harassment, so she decided to sue her employer for sexual harassment despite her need to work and despite the disgrace that will be caused to her especially that the Algerian society is dealing negatively with the sexual harassed women, but the Directors response was very drastic as he dismissed her from the position and threw her to the street, trying to blackmail her, urging her to withdraw the lawsuit and to surrender to his whims claiming he is powerful and has a strong influence.

Sarah Bin Maieshwas not shaken by the dismissal decision and filed a lawsuit requesting to return to her work, the Court ruled for her to get back and to rescind the arbitral dismissal, but she was shocked by the power and influence of the manager and non-respect and non-implementation of the decision of Justice which remained a dead letter.The National Autonomous Committee of Electricity And Gas Workers Unionof the Autonomous General Confederation of Workers in Algeria contributed to moral, legal and media support to her to publicize this fighter and to make her as exemplary example of women who suffer from harassment on daily basis, through national, and even international support campaigns for her cause in whichmany Arab women contributed a lot.

At the end of her painful story, she confirmed us that despite all the obstacles she encountered, she will continue her fight until she gainsher full rights and until the man who sexually harassed her is punished.

Samiah, a cleaner at a general public hospital management of the health sector in Algiers, tells us how the Hospital Director closed his door while she was cleaning and started to approach her and touching her body,she objected in face and stalled him to escape from the Office and at the stairs she met a doctor who he asked her about what happened to her and what makes her running? Samiah adds, that she informed the doctor about what happened, she told him that she fasting and a mother of four children and will not accept in any way to harass her even if she was fired from her work. Then the doctor went to manager and I don’t know what they talk about, but he told me later that he will not bother me and that I have to avoid facing him and that was the situation until the manager was transferred to another entity…

We asked Samiah, why didn’t you submit a complaint to the justice against the manager especially that he sexually harassed her?? She replied that there were no witnesses to confirm what happened and I don’t know if my complaint would be accepted or not? Add to this the power and influence of the manager and the disgrace that I would encounter in the court and in front of the neighbors in the district imagine what would the people say???

With the growing phenomenon of sexual harassment and violence against women in the workplace, the  Working Women Committee of theIndependent National Union of Public AdministrationWorkers Union  moved to organize an awareness day on November 26th in Algeria on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, corresponding to November 25th, where many workingwomen testified about the sexual violence and harassment they encounter from their seniors during the performance of their functions, they explained their situation and provided a work program to stand hand in hand against what happens in order to come up with positive result i.e. to recruit working women to organize a march in Algeria for elimination of violence against women and elimination of sexual harassment.

Mrs. MaghrawiYamina, Chairperson of the Working Women Committee of theNational Autonomous Committee of the Public Administration Workers Union (SNAPAP), conceives Algeria one of the leading countries in legislation and deterrent laws protecting women against sexual harassment and violence at workplace and even in the streets. However, enforcement of law remains the major obstacle to activate protection of women in reality and in field. Sarah and Samiah and other women are conclusive proof that the law is not enforced, and even when enforced, it applies on a minority that does not have power or influence.All conventions ratified by Algeria will remain for international bragging.

According to Mrs.Maghrawy, Algeria has accustomed the international community to ratify all conventions protecting women but in terms of enforcement, it is still too late compared with the States that had not ratified those conventions yet they have made significant strides in protecting working women.

Mrs. Amal Daryoush,Chairperson of the Commission on Youth at SNAPAP, explained to us in figures in 2016, there were 8461 certain violence casesagainst women in Algeria either verbally, emotionally or sexually. She asserted that unspoken numbers may be much more as long as the Algerian society is dealing negativelywith sexually harassed women in particular.

Cases of violence against womenhave increased for 2016 with more than 33% compared with 2014; the number of cases of violence is estimated by 6900 cases i.e. an increaseby 1561 declared case; the representative of SNAPAP Union considered it a disaster on the working women; eventually she confirmed that most women who have experienced violence or harassment are now suffering chronic diseases and using the sedatives and other medications confirming that Algerian society is now suffering serious disorder.

In terms of laws, Algeria is bound to respect the Universal Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women;Algeria allocates, for example, 5 articles in the penal code, for sexual harassment, under which the sexual harasser shall be subject to a penalty of up to three years.However, these articles are not operative since most of sex offenders are senior officials and influentialleaders.

Accordingly, most of the trade unionists in independent trade unions, particularly the General Autonomous Confederation of Workers in Algeria, asserted that they are all determined to fight for the consecration of the role of women in society and to eliminate all types of discrimination and violence against women in Algeria.