Each man and each woman who sets out to change conditions in order to bring progress and relief to a nation or to mankind is faced with the following fact: only as an individual is one ultimately free to pursue his or her own ideas. One is guided solely by one’s own values, while not being bound by the restraints and restrictions of a group’s dynamics, the opinions of others or “false compromises”. Yet, to achieve one’s goal of changing the course of a country or a nation, one must possess the qualities of persistence and the willingness to sacrifice. And of course, they alone are by no means a guarantee of success.
Nevertheless, the importance of an individual’s efforts to improve social and political conditions, and his or her ultimate ability to shape and change things for the better, despite all the obstacles, have been proven throughout history. What could better illustrate this fact than the words that Robert Kennedy chose to address a group of students of the University of Cape Town in South Africa on June 6th, 1966: “It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
On the other side of the spectrum we have the political process, the activities of parties and groups in various shapes and forms. We also have the results before us of man’s combined search and efforts to establish political ideologies and state systems that were created to provide justice, peace and equality to their respective citizens. Some of these group efforts indeed brought hope and betterment; others resulted in the opposite - in oppression and tyranny.
Young woman Lawyer, ever since I began to volunteer and work for charitable institutions and associations and became politically conscious, I have come to believe that each individual who tries to change things in society needs to adopt the mindset of an individualist, but also needs to thoroughly understand and apply the rules and laws of the political democratic process, and this means not only the political system of one’s own country. It is because of this understanding that one might be able to share one’s views and ideas more effectively with others, and to participate in the democratic process in such a way that a change in society is eventually possible and that others join in the effort to reform a political system in a peaceful way.
I am a female citizen of a country that for centuries had to endure occupation by other nations in various different forms. It led a painful war to liberate itself from its last occupier, and, more recently, has suffered, and is still suffering from, a long and cruel civil war. Growing up in this country, I have been involved in political work since my adolescence -then an elected municipal councilor and member and spokesperson in several international bodies and committees. I am currently working for International NGO's in Maghreb Region, willing to see some progess made for women and within their daily lives.
These past experiences and my day-to-day work as a political official and leader in Algeria have taught me numerous important lessons: As a woman in a male-dominated society I have to live under a double standard, constantly being forced to do better work than the other(s) (men) in order to defend my position, while being constantly discriminated against for what I think, say or do - because I am a woman. This painful experience nevertheless has provided me with the necessary self-esteem and self-assertiveness that is crucial to possess in order to make a difference in society.As a political leader I also learned that it is imperative to know the problems, desires and hopes of my fellow citizens. Having established a position of power in public life, one might easily get embroiled in party disputes and/or power struggles. During my professional career, I have always been aware of that fact, and have never forgotten where I came from and who I actually represent.
Algeria must abandon its discriminatory Family Code, adopted in 1984, eventhough amanded in 2004, and which has relegated women to the status of legal minors. Furthermore, this law has effectively shut many women out of public life and has provided fertile ground for countless abuses and violence against women and girls. This of course is of special concern for me, both as a woman and attorney.
The government of Algeria must also end the discrimination of ethnic and religious minorities. To accept and honor the diversity of the people is actually the first step to create unity among the citizens that ultimately form the nation.
The country needs to gradually and effectively reduce the political power of the Algerian military to its actual necessary functions and to place it under the control of a strong and independent civil government.
Corruption, social inequality and injustice have plagued the country for years. To survive in a rapidly changing global community, the people of Algeria must take back the economic power from those who controlled and abused it and reform it effectively so it can never fall back into the hands of a few who only see to their personal profit and power.
Last but not least, a complete judicial review and legal inquiries must be conducted to reveal and disclose the events of the past civil war. The perpetrators of these horrible crimes and those who ordered them must be brought to justice. This is absolutely necessary in order to uphold the rights hundreds of thousands of victims to justice and rehabilitation.
I am aware that it will take a lot of effort, strength and persistence by many people to turn the above mentioned demands into reality. The fellowship program could provide me with a unique opportunity to look for possible solutions for my country by comparing the actions that political parties, federal institutions, legislators and private citizens in the United States undertook to find remedies to similar problems in their society.
As for my personal plans, during the upcoming years I will be engaged in a project that I have recently initiated. I will document the history of the Algerian Family Code, its negative effects and abuses, and provide the general public with the facts. This project will tell the story of how the law came about, its legal consequences for Algerian women in general, and the activities of female activists to get it renounced. It will feature testimonies from women that have experienced the effects of the law and suffered from the atrocities of the years of civil war. This project will serve as a public indictment of those in the Algerian government who introduced the law and kept it alive in order to oppress women and to ban them from public life.
As a closing point I would like to point out that I sincerely believe that despite the terrible events of the past years, the first order for the Algerian people is to re-establish the original goals and ideals for our nation. These goals were put into words in 1937 by the man who is viewed by many as the spiritual father of the Algerian nation: Messali Hadj. He envisioned an “emancipated Algeria that comprises an autonomous and independent administrative, political and economic system that has been formed through a democratic process” and whose citizens “enjoy actual democratic liberties”.
Thanks for your attention.