Promoting Equality and Empowerment

Vol. 21 No. 2

By

Kahina Bouagache is an Algerian lawyer and women’s rights activist. With over 12 years in nonprofit and corporate legal work, she is seeking a nongovernmental organization where she can make big contributions for positive change.

 

“She was born to be a lawyer” is what my dad has been telling the world since I graduated from Algiers Law University in Algiers. He recalls how disciplined I was growing up in Algeria. For example, when my dad (who studied law and finance and became a banker) was in charge of me, he would take me to the university where he did some part-time teaching. I sat quietly, fascinated by his lectures, and never needed to entertain myself with the books I’d brought along.

I couldn’t agree more with my dad about my calling to join the legal profession. Instances of injustice have always affected me. I recall one instance when I was seven and, as I was leaving school at the day’s end, I saw a boy my age selling candy. I wondered why he hadn’t been in school. I kept hammering away at my parents to understand the situation and figure out how we could help him go to school.

As I grew older, I wanted to be L.A Law’s Grace Van Owen, a smart woman making her way in a man’s world. I related to this character because even though I was raised in a male-dominated society, I was blessed to have an open-minded family that encouraged me to follow my dreams.

To help my homeland—which had endured centuries of occupation by other nations, waged a painful war to liberate itself from the last occupier, and still suffers from a long and cruel fight against terrorism—I volunteered and worked for charitable institutions and became politically conscious. I was elected to the city council in Tizi-Ouzou in eastern Algiers, for which I was acting vice president in charge of communications and an international spokesperson from 2002 to 2005. I also served at the international level as a vice president of the International Union of Socialist Youth from 2002 to 2004. But even as I served national and international organizations, I lived under a double standard: I had to do better work than the men to defend my position, yet I was constantly discriminated against for what I thought, said, or did because I was a woman.

This painful experience nevertheless gave me the self-esteem and self-assertiveness that are crucial to make a difference in society. I also came to understand that it’s almost impossible for a woman in my country to succeed in politics—no matter how good she is—if she stands up for her principles. So I left the world of politics and moved to the “rule of law,” where I focus on women’s equality and youth empowerment.

I started working for organizations such as the American Bar Association and AMIDEAST (America-Mideast Educational and Training Services, Inc.) and assisted judicial training centers in developing a curriculum on ethics in Morocco and Algeria. My focus has been on initiatives to establish women’s rights under the new family law in Morocco, strengthening the capacities of bar associations and judges’ unions in Algeria, and better utilizing United Nations International Conventions at the local level to protect women’s and children’s rights.

I have also been involved in youth empowerment by organizing trainings and grant opportunities for young entrepreneurs from Algeria and Tunisia and by helping young Algerians get sponsored curricula in American universities in the region.

Through my work, I’ve come to believe that each person who tries to change things in society needs to adopt the mindset of an individualist, but also must thoroughly understand and apply the rules and laws of the political democratic process. By sharing views with others and participating in the democratic process, people can make changes in society and reform political systems peacefully.

These efforts will take a lot of strength, and persistence . . . but I am holding onto my dreams of gender equality and youth empowerment, and I am aiming for the stars.

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