Female-only cafes challenge patriarchal culture in Algeria and create space for women to relax

Coffee cafe
6 min read
27 January, 2023

Cafés are rarely a destination for Algerian women or girls, even in major cities such as Algiers, Oran, Annaba and Constantine. However, recent years have witnessed a flurry of 'women-only' cafes being established in these cities, with such initiatives even extending into more conservative cities in the Algerian interior, like Laghouat and Bechar in the south of the country.

In 2021, Algerian journalist Hadjira Bensalem decided to set up a female-only café in the Cheraga suburb of Algiers, which would be the first of its kind in the area, to sidestep the many obstacles which women face when it comes to cafes in Algeria. She named it "Butterfly".

Breaking with tradition and forging new spaces

In a conversation with Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister publication, Bensalem says: "In the same way that women have managed to penetrate many sectors which used to be confined to men, to impose themselves and achieve successes in many fields, it is now her right to create spaces especially for herself, where she can relax and feel a sense of privacy."

"In the same way that women have managed to penetrate many sectors which used to be confined to men, and to impose themselves and achieve successes in many fields, it is now her right to create spaces especially for herself, where she can relax and feel a sense of privacy"

"Because of her enormous responsibilities, and the pressures she is under in both her professional and family life, Algerian women don't just need cafes - they need designated facilities where they can shed the fatigue left by their daily stresses and toils, even just a little, or for a small window of time."

A chance to relax

In Tipaza province, in the Village Tourism Complex, the management decided to set up a coffee shop for women only. Their decision was based on the shortage of spaces and facilities for women at the complex and they saw the café as allowing women to sit and relax without being annoyed or hassled.

Women in the area loved the idea, and the café has gained huge popularity, especially at weekends, when female employees and university students from the local area meet for tea or coffee, or to organise small parties or concerts – all of which are strictly female-only.

A female-only cafe in Algeria [Al-Araby Al-Jadeed]
Female-only cafes are gaining popularity in Algeria despite being traditionally regarded as male spaces, as women look for rest and rejuvenation in light of their busy lives at work and home [Al-Araby Al-Jadeed]

Naima Allouche, head of media at the Tourism Management Company in Tipaza (EGT Tipaza), says: "Many women like coming to the café after doing sports in the women’s gym next door. They also enjoy the services offered, which include baby and childcare […] which gives mothers the time and freedom to exercise, after which they can enjoy some time in the coffee shop without being bothered by their children." She adds: "The safety within the complex plays a big part in increasing the café's popularity. It is unlike the cafes in the city, where women are often irritated and harassed by young men and teenagers."

Women's cafes "trending"

Other women have also taken the step and opened up female-only cafes – keen for women to have a place to relax and unwind in their neighbourhood without being watched and monitored. Little by little, these cafes have become a new, popular "trend", and have overstepped the societal norm which has long held "the café" to be a place exclusively for men. 

In Aïn Beïda city in Oum El Bouaghi province in east Algeria, Wahiba Oun has set up a cafe and shop to sell traditional sweets and pastries - just for women. She believes her establishment gives women and families an opportunity to meet up, and have a drink and a cake in a relaxed atmosphere.

And there are many others which have been opened in recent years – "Dar Faiza" café for women only was opened in Annaba, "White Dream" in Mila, and "Kuttab" in Batna – which has also defined itself as a cultural café – alongside others.

Maryam Abidin opened the "Inspirational Flowers" café in Bechar city as a women's space with a distinctly feminine stamp, and it has since become a meeting spot for university professors, lawyers, and other working women who liked the idea and found in the café a breathing space. Likewise, "Jijel Table" is the first female-only café to be opened in JiJel province.

"These experiments are breaking down the deep-rooted conviction among many Algerians that cafes are men's spaces"

Recalibrating Algerian gender dynamics

These experiments are breaking down the deep-rooted conviction among many Algerians that cafes are male spaces. The idea has swiftly seen a lot of commercial success too and has gathered popularity as a means for women to gather, for rest or leisure.

Zahra Marouf is another young Algerian who has opened a female-only café, after leaving the telecommunications company she used to work for. She thinks women's cafes are a great idea, as it reflects that the lifestyle in Algeria today differs from that of the past.

"As long as women are going out to work, they will see coffee shops as a place to rest and rejuvenate, just like men; a space to get away from the pressures of the home and other responsibilities. The fact that these spaces are for women only, allows women to relax – it gives them […] a change of scene from their daily routine of chores and tasks – whether those in the home or at work. Women's cafes are also places where private meetings can take place, and spaces for cultural and social discussions."

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Aside from the respect for privacy, and the various other amenities women's cafes offer, another reason for their appeal lies in the fact that they are taking a step towards balancing out the scales whereby men previously had complete domination over public spaces.

A new social phenomenon

Some however still regard women's cafes as a dubious enterprise, in spite of the noticeable developments in Algerian society, and see them as an alien concept which has been introduced in the society. This is because the concept of cafes is still deeply entwined with men in some areas, where it is still seen as shameful – or at least, undesirable – for a woman to go to a café.

On the other hand, some sociologists have commented that these cafes are yet another indicator of the social transformations taking place within the Algerian family and society more broadly. They view female-only cafes as a new social phenomenon which is laying foundations for the sharing of public spaces and is breaking down the idea of cafés and cafe culture as a masculine domain.

Female-only cafes are a new social phenomenon challenging the entrenched belief that cafes are for men only [Farouk Batiche/AFP via Getty]

Farid Lalaouna, a sociology researcher at Jijel University says: "Women-only cafes aim at maintaining women's privacy – an important aspect of women's affairs in general – as these spaces give them a place of freedom, while the mentality is still entrenched that Algerian women shouldn't enter mixed cafes or cafes which are still male-dominated."

He adds: "There are also women who refuse to mix with men and see cafes as prohibited spaces based on social norms, and on the prevailing culture in many areas of Algeria, where cafes are only for men. While female-only cafes are still uncommon, they can give women a protected space where they will be free from stares or harassment, where they can enjoy sipping a coffee or listening to music, or celebrating an event like a birthday of a friend or daughter."

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.

Translated by Rose Chacko   

This article is taken from our Arabic sister publication, Al-Araby Al Jadeed and mirrors the source's original editorial guidelines and reporting policies. Any requests for correction or comment will be forwarded to the original authors and editors.

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