With more women than ever serving in Algerian national politics, the quota system introduced last year is under increasing scrutiny.
Nearly 150 women made their way into the Algerian legislature after the recent election, setting a post-independence record made possible by the quota system stipulated in the Constitution. But the new system is not to everyone's liking.
Prior to the November 2011 introduction of a law expanding women's representation in elected institutions, the proportion of women reached only 7.7% in the National People's Assembly (APN) and 5.1% in the National Council.
However, increasing the level of female representation has not been unanimously praised. The quota system imposed within the reforms introduced by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has come under fire from the political elite.
Nadia Aït-Zaï, director of the Information and Documentation Centre for the Rights of Children and Women (CIDDEF), is a fervent supporter.
"According to the United Nations, quotas or various special temporary measures have proved effective," she said. "After the legislative elections on May 10th, the level of female representation reached 31%, whilst it is 22.8% in Tunisia, 18.2% in France, 36.3% in Spain, 10.5% in Morocco and 1.8% in Egypt."
These numbers were made possible by Article 31 of the Constitution, amended in 2008. It aims to reinforce women's political rights by increasing their chances to be elected to the legislature. The mechanism works at the pre-election stage, when electoral lists are compiled, with the allocation to women of 33% of the total seats won from each party's lists for election to the National Assembly, constituencies and municipalities, and to wilaya assemblies in sub-regional administrative capitals and municipalities with populations of more than 20,000.
The presence of the women – 146 out of 462 – was visible as the new Parliament was instated.
"The representation of women opens up new prospects for us," said Mokrane Issmahane, elected from the Green Alliance list in M'sila.
"Women have proven they are capable of meeting challenges," she told Magharebia. "Today there is real political will for us to play our part within the APN."
On the other hand, Workers' Party Secretary-General and former presidential candidate Louisa Hanoune has never made a secret of her opposition to the quota system. "Quantity becomes more important than quality," she said, adding that a large contingent of women in Parliament would deflect attention from "parties who are not fundamentally egalitarian".
"I followed the election campaign closely; I saw lots of party campaign posters with photos of women on them," said primary school teacher Ali Maiche.
"However, I also know that in some towns the posters did not have photos of the female candidates standing for election, but just their names, because of social considerations. This proves that there is still resistance."
"For women to be present in large numbers in the APN is progress," Maiche added, "but I think a lot still needs to be done to change attitudes."
By Hayam El Hadi