The “Shawia woman”

Since education of the daughter is entrusted to her mother, who teaches her household tasks and her social duties, the little Shawian girl is from the outset rapidly initiated into the secrets, intrigues, ruses and tricks of feminine society, and so feels very strongly that sentiment of solidarity, bordering on complicity, which unites women across differences in age and social condition and which is constantly being strengthened by their common cares and toil and, above all, by their need to unite against a “common adversary,” man. This society of women, strong in the magic by which it hopes to assure its domination over men, strong in its cohesion and, in both Aures and Kabylia, in its tireless activity (care of the children, domestic tasks, handicrafts, work in the fields), is one of the characteristics of North African civilization.

Perhaps as a consequence of the above, another paradoxical feature is the separation between woman’s very unfavorable legal situation and her relatively favorable actual situation. While the life of the Shawia woman is very hard, primarily because of the many heavy tasks she is called upon to perform, and while, in early marriage, her actual situation corresponds to her legal situation — complete submission to her husband who may exercise over her the “right of correction” and who allows her no say in important decisions — she nevertheless rapidly acquires considerable influence. She will tolerate neither polygamy nor infidelity on the part of her husband and prefers divorce. Within the home the husband and wife are, in fact, equals; the wife has an advisory, if not a decisive, voice in domestic affairs, with the exception of the budget and the management of reserves. Women have even been known to take part in political disputes (quarrels of the çoffs). Another feature is that the marriage payment remains to such a degree her property that she may, if she wishes, reduce its amount by subtracting from it the theoretical sum she might be called upon to contribute to the future almsgiving of her husband, or she may allow her husband complete use of the marriage payment, which thereby becomes a purely nominal sum. She does this to avoid being bound by any conjugal ties and to reserve for herself the possibility of a divorce without restitution of matrimonial compensation.

Bourdieu, Pierre, The Algerians, Boston: Beacon Press, 1958, pgs. 29-30.

One thought on “The “Shawia woman”

  1. I should be doing the work I’m being paid for, but…

    Franz Fanon says: “It was the women who was given the historical mission of shaking up the man.” (“A dying Colonialism” p.39)

    I wonder if he got it wrong, meaning traditional Berber values and that of instilled hegemony by the French. I know there are many recent articles about Maghrebi women suffering identity crisis due to traditional female independence in North Africa, and conflict with the strong Muslim influence which makes women subservient to the man.

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