Apr 26, 2010
In recent weeks, women working in Hassi Messaoud in the south of Algeria once again are victims of violence by gangs of young men. These thugs in masks, equipped with knives or sticks, assaulted women in their homes, stealing their meager belongings and trashing their apartments – as well as brutalizing them and raping them.
The victims of this outburst of violence are single women. In order to feed their families, these women come to Hassi Messaoud seeking work with one of the many foreign companies operating there. They live there, in miserable housing in searing desert heat because it’s their last resort. Wages are higher there. And the high unemployment that hits all Algerians bars them from a decently paid job in the north.
These women are trapped by the Islamist family code adopted in 1984. In Algeria women are legally minors all their lives in matters of marriage, divorce and inheritance. So they have no way to live and support their children when they are abandoned by their husbands.
The thugs who attacked and humiliated the women reproach them for stealing the jobs of men. These unfortunate women receive no help from the authorities. Some who went to complain at a police station were told, “What do you want us to do? Go home to where you came from. Here it’s too dangerous for women like you.” No police helped these women. No police said, “Do you know who these young men are?” The women don’t even know if policemen were among their attackers. The justice system is completely unwilling to investigate and prosecute these men, even if their identities are known.
Nor was the latest attack an isolated incident. An imam in 2001 gave a sermon about punishing the “lost women” of Hassi Messaoud. Several hundred men then attacked women living there. Some victims were stoned, tortured, raped and even buried alive. To this day, no man has been prosecuted for these barbarous acts, nor have any women received reparations. Known attackers live freely in the area.
A book was written in Algeria on the conditions of women. Included was the testimony of two women from Hassi Messaoud about what happened on that night of horror in 2001 and about the lack of justice that followed.
But such attacks don’t happen only in Algeria. Women are victims of rape and brutality in many other places that have no Islamic family codes of law. Look at the U.S. Army – which pretends it is rescuing women from their degradation in Afghanistan. Women soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have been raped by fellow soldiers.
So long as men, encouraged by certain religious and political figures, maintain the attitude that women are inferior, that they should not do the same work as men, be paid the same, have the same rights – such attacks will continue.
In southern Algeria, some reactionary brutes continue to attack women simply because they are women who must work to live. These men must be stopped there – and everywhere!