Women’s Roles in Independence Movements Throughout the Middle East Essay

Women’s Roles in Independence Movements Throughout the Middle East Essay

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Women’s roles in independence movements throughout the Middle East were as varied as their male counterparts’, though arguably not as well remembered. Many women rebelled from within traditional feminine spaces, as defined by colonizers and male nationals, rather than vying for roles in the traditional political sphere. Female and male revolutionaries risked the same dangers, but almost invariably women did not hold any significant leadership positions within nationalistic movements. Colonial powers often did not differentiate between male and female enemy combatants, punishing both with equal severity. In both Egypt and Algeria, independence movements employed a language of ‘women’s rights’ and ‘women’s issues’ to advance their aims, yet in both these countries women were especially susceptible to the violence of war and their ‘rights’ were hardly addressed again after independence had been won. This strategy is not an uncommon one in histories of colonialism and nationalism. Still, it provides a staging ground for examination of the meaning of citizenship and offers insight into the nation-making process.
Judith Tucker examines the roles of ‘insurrectionary’ women in nineteenth century Egypt: their perceived place in society, the forms of rebellion they undertook, and their results. She observes that though the history of women’s political involvement (at this time) cannot be written into the history of Egypt’s formal political sphere, it is not any less significant. She points out that only a few (female) individuals stand out against the backdrop of traditional political history, though clearly independence movements depend on the participation of all of society, a fact which is often overlooked in history textbooks. Women’s...

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...power of the Colonial power over the Algerian man. In all these cases, women’s rights were defined and manipulated by male authority figures.
In both these cases- Egypt and Algeria- there is an overriding theme of women playing active roles in Colonial resistance, and being subject to punishment because of it, but not sharing in the leadership of independence movements. Another commonality is the use of a discourse on the rights of women as a tool to fight the Colonial powers, but once the time came for nation-building those rights were never granted. In Algeria, for example, there was reference to women ‘earning’ their rights of citizenship- which begs the question, did every man have to earn his ‘rights’ as well? The answer, I believe, is obvious. Women’s participation in the formation of the new state then, was vital, but in many instances went unacknowledged.

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