Algerian women in France

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People of Algerian origin account for a large sector of the total population in France[citation needed]. In spite of France's colonial rule in Algeria, many Algerians chose to immigrate to France from the 1960s to the present due to political turmoil. Tensions between the countries endure today. A recent attempt to "improve" the situation was the banning the Muslim women from being free to wear the religious attires Burqa and the Hijab in schools by Jacques Chirac. Nicolas Sarkozy furthered his support of the outlawing of conspicuous religious symbols by ridiculing the burqas as a "sign of subservience of women".[1]


Preimmigration Culture[edit]

The colonization of Algeria by Charles X greatly affected the culture of Algeria. A new ideal of individual land ownership and the exclusion of tribal practices from the work sector threatened the Algerian way of life; many revolutionaries rose up against the exploitation though Algeria was not independent until 1962.[2] Two famous academics visited and studied tribal groups in Algeria—Pierre Bourdieu, a theorist in sociology who studied the pseudo-colonized French Algeria and Melville Hilton-Simpson an anthropologist who studied the Shawía in the mountains of Algeria. Bourdieu extensively researched the destruction of Algerian culture under French rule; Algerians were forced into cities to support the economic interests of the French and destroying their old tribal living and working situations.[3] Though some definitely benefitted from the industrialization of the country, many suffered through unemployment and poverty, inciting violent revolutions and wars throughout the 20th century.[3] In his article "Culture, Violence and Art", Hassen Bouabdellah cites Algeria as the prime example of the violence that erupts after a peoples have had their culture forcibly stripped away. Though France had once enslaved them, Algerian citizens chose to migrate to France because they were still very dependent upon France for trade and many people already knew the language.[4]


The vast majority of the population in Algeria practices Islam with increasing numbers of Evangelists. Jews who left Algeria following Independence in 1962 also constitute a large number of Algerian migrants to France.


In industrialized cities of Algeria, men and women worked in harsh conditions and for little pay to maximize the profit of colonial rulers. Though most immigrants to France came from urban areas in Algeria, many of those people were pulled away from their original communities in more remote parts of Algeria. In the rural areas where surviving tribes lived, the traditional roles of males and females were quite different from those in the cities. Females were assigned to the informal work tasks of childcare and cooking as Hilton-Simpson noted when the village women prepared his meal.[5] The women made "simple" meals in their homes which are built on the sides of cliffs while males were in charge of specialized tasks, like medicine. Hilton-Simpson found interesting medical practices among the tribes that survived the French colonized Algeria. Among the Shawía, men were typically those who could train to be a healer. Hilton Simpson observed that the doctors of the tribe performed more advanced medical procedures such as surgeries in addition to herbal remedies and some more supernatural practices. However, the surgeries could not be closely studied because French colonialists banned the practice in the 1800s. Bans ultimately resulted in medicine becoming a very secretive ritual.[5]

Marital Practices[edit]

The legal age for marriage is eighteen for women, twenty-one for men.[5] Many Algerian women are getting married and starting families at much older ages than they did under French Rule. Education, work commitment, and changing social attitudes are the reasons for the change.

In 2010, the total fertility rate was 1.76 children born/woman. This is a drop from 2.41 in 2009 and 7.12 in the 1970s just after the Algerian War of Independence from France

Civil War[edit]

Shortly after gaining independence from France, Algeria began to experience serious political turmoil eventually leading to the civil war of the 1990s that caused many Algerians to leave the country. On 4 January 1992, the military took over the Algerian government, putting Mohammed Boudiaf in place shortly afterward. On 29 June 1992, Mohammed Boudiaf was assassinated by a body guard with supposed Islamic ties—this incited much more violence and the formation of the Armed Islamic Group.[6] Many changes in power occur and violence from many groups, especially the Armed Islamic Group and the Berbers, continues today. The power struggle between these two groups is the root of the upheaval in Algeria that caused these women immigrants to give up their old way of life in search of a better one in France.[6]

Emigration to France[edit]

The impact that the Arabs left on Algerian culture was large and has not yet left the minds of the people. Islam gave hope to many poorer women in the countryside, leaving a deep seated belief in Islam that was carried to France. It is mainly this clash of religious values, rituals and even rumors that has caused a cultural conflict in France.[7]

Franco-Algerian Culture[edit]

First generation Algerian immigrants generally moved to France to make a better life for themselves and for their families if they had the proper resources. Médine, a Franco-Algerian rapper, wrote an article detailing his experience and that of his parents as Algerian immigrants. Médine's parents spent most of their time in France working to be completely assimilated into French culture. If they were identified as immigrants, they were berated with racist remarks, and were subjected to repeated identification checks by police.[8] Many journalists and researchers have reported a strong sense of "homogenous national French identity" that many citizens are afraid will disappear with the influx of immigrants from Algeria and other North African countries; there have also been numerous terrorist attacks in France that have inspired a sense of fear towards Islam.[9]

The bigotry from French natives and alleged decreased rights under Islamic tradition were the least of poorer women's worries. These women both receive pressure to assimilate as well as endure increasing misogynist violence in the projects of France according to Fadéla Amara, a civil rights activist[10] France created a welfare program that targeted women and children who recently emigrated to France; the target of this program was to help women get on their feet so that they would embrace French culture instead of calling for Algerian independence.[11] These services gave women the chance to move out of bidonvilles, or shantytowns on the outskirts of the city; however, this was at the expense of giving up their cultural identity for a more Western life which to some was too great of a price.[11]


The overwhelming majority of Franco-Algerian immigrants are Muslim, as are the majority of native Algerians. Again, the culture and practice of Islam seems to be most serious issue with immigrants today after the terrorist attacks in France made my Islamic extremists—such as the 1995 public transportation bombing. After these events, 66 percent of French citizens reported that they felt "too many Arabs" were in France and 64 percent felt that the immigration of peoples from Algeria and other countries were a threat to the French identity.[12] Though this feeling of resentment has somewhat decreased, for Muslim women it is still exceedingly difficult to blend Islamic and Algerian culture with French culture. It is still a social and political issue in France today whether Muslim women should be allowed to practice group prayer, wear head scarves and participate in other specifically Muslim practices that may or may not be dangerous to their rights as women[13]

Marital Practices[edit]

The Algerian practices of marriage in France are still mostly monogamous and heterosexual though some instances of polygamy still exist; not much has changed since emigrating to France.[14] Therein lies the cause of the political and social upheaval between France and its Algerian immigrants.

However, much of the French population believes that Islam and Algerian culture has led to this violence in marriages. Thus, the "deterritorialized culture wars", a term Paul A. Silverstein coined, are a pressing issue in France today.[15] Women are strictly forbidden from exogamy and must still be tolerant of polygamy in some cases; the women who emigrate usually come to join their husbands and are still expected to obey men and tradition[16]

Art in France[edit]

In Paris, Algerian immigrants have used graffiti as an outlet for frustration and to voice their political views. The graffiti expresses the feeling of being an outsider-- "La France aux français; l'étrangeté aux étrangers" or France for the French; foreign lands for foreigners.[17] Though some of the graffiti may have been done by women, it is impossible to tell because graffiti artist remain anonymous.

Many of Algeria's artists immigrated to France during the Algerian Civil war. Art in exile has become very popular among the women immigrants in France; it expresses the loss of their country and helps exercise their newly gained freedoms. Many painters, writers and actors had to emigrate as well during the violent period of the 1990s creating a large presence in France.[18]

Cultural Conflicts[edit]

In order to preserve French culture, there is little to no consideration of multiculturalism. In the movie They Call Me Muslim, the young women interviewed expressed their concern over the issue saying that wearing the Hijab is a choice that brings them closer to God. However, the editor of Le Monde Diplomatique also said in the video that women receive pressure from males to wear the Hijab.[19] Currently, 49% of Muslim women favor the ban.[20]

Cultural conflicts are a more difficult area to explore in the lives of Franco-Algerian women. Many have reported a generally unwelcome atmosphere if they stand out from regular French culture. The young women in They Call Me Muslim reported running during lunch time to attend afternoon prayer at a mosque because such practices are not allowed in French schools.[19] The French public will have to either accept the idea of multiculturalism or keep the Algerian women from their old way of life, into accepting fully the French culture.

Legal Conflicts[edit]

In the France's constitution, there is a clause named Laïcité which denotes the separation of church and state. Many Muslims who would like to wear the Hijab of their choosing cite this part of the Constitution.[21] On the other hand, Laïcité also could be used to prohibit the display and practice of religion in schools, making daily prayer and the Hijab constitutionally unacceptable.[22] The French are afraid not only of the destruction of their culture, but of the destruction of women's rights. Muslim women's views on the issue range widely depending on the cultural context. While women in Britain say that the hijab frees them from the predatory gazes of men; in France women are angry that they do not get to choose to wear the Hijab, while women in Iran have expressed that it is a symbol of male governmental oppression.[20][19] There eventually was a law passed by the French National Party and Nicolas Sarkozy making it illegal to wear a Hijab or any other conspicuous religious symbol (such as a large crucifix) in French schools.[20]

In addition, there are conflicts in schools over Muslim girls' participation in mandatory Physical Education courses that require swimsuits or other clothing deemed unacceptable by the Muslim community. Teachers complain that their classes have been disrupted by such complaints and there is no protocol for dealing with the situation. After 50 or more years of large numbers of Algerian immigrants, the cross cultural differences still have not been reconciled.[20]


  1. ^ Agencies, Our Foreign Staff and (2009-06-22). "Nicolas Sarkozy: burqa not welcome in France". ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2018-02-08.
  2. ^ Creamean, Letitia "Membership of foreigners: Algerians in France". 1996 Arab Studies Quarterly 18(1).
  3. ^ a b Bourdieu, Pierre. 2008 Political Interventions: Social Science and Political Action. Gregory Elliot trans. London: Verso Press
  4. ^ Bouabdellah Hassen "Culture Violence and Art". pg 2
  5. ^ a b Hilton-Simpson, Melville Among the Hill-folk of Algeria. 1921, New York: Dodd, Mead and Company.
  6. ^ a b BBC News "Timeline: Algeria" October 21, 2009.
  7. ^ "Quelsques Observations Sur la Psychologie en Algerie" International Journal of Psychology
  8. ^ Médine 2005 "How Much More French Can I Be?". Time 166(20).
  9. ^ Geesy, Patricia "North African Immigrants in France: Integration and Change" 1995 Substance 77(76) p138.
  10. ^ Crumley, Bruce "Acting on the Outrage". 2004 Time Europe October 11
  11. ^ a b Lyons, Amelia H. "The Civilizing Mission in the Metropole" Geschichte und Gesellschaft, 32(4) 489-516
  12. ^ Memet, Gerard Francosopie. Racsim is high toward People of North African Descent in France and many youth feel alienated by their french peers,thus the government promotes terrorist activities in its home soil by refusing to allow Franco-Algerian citizens to integrate for the past 40 years.1993 Paris: Larousse.
  13. ^ Silverstein, Paul A. Algeria in France: Transpolitics, Race and Nation. 2004 Bloomington: University of Indiana Press. p13
  14. ^ Geesy, Patricia "North African Women Immigrants in France: Immigration and Change" 1995 Substance 24(76):p137-153.
  15. ^ Silverstein, Paul A. Algeria in France: Transpolitics, Race and Nation. 2004 Bloomington: Indiana University Press. p2.
  16. ^ Alexander, Livia 2000 French-Algerian: A Story of Immigrants and Identity. Archived 2008-10-06 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ Geesy, Patricia "North African Immigrants in France: Integration and Change" 1995 Substance 77(76) p137.
  18. ^ Bedarida, Catherine "Algerian Women in Exile". World Press Review July 1995 42(7): p46
  19. ^ a b c Ferrero, Diana They Call Me Muslim. Italy/France/Iran: 2006.
  20. ^ a b c d Margaronis, Maria "Letter From Paris". The Nation: March 15, 2004.
  21. ^ Ferrero, Diana They Call Me Muslim italy/France/Iran: 2006
  22. ^ Creamean, Letitia Membership of foreigners: Algerians in France. Arab Studies Quarterly 1996 18(1)