Women in the Algerian War
|Women in society|
Women fulfilled a number of different functions during the Algerian War (1954–1962), Algeria's war for independence. The majority of Muslim women who became active participants did so on the side of the National Liberation Front (FLN). The French included some women, both Muslim and French, in their war effort, but they were not as fully integrated, nor were they charged with the same breadth of tasks as their Algerian sisters. The total number of women involved in the conflict, as determined by post-war veteran registration, is numbered at 11,000, but it is possible that this number was significantly higher due to underreporting.
There exists a distinction between two different types of women who became involved: urban and rural. Urban women, who constituted about twenty percent of the overall force, had received some kind of education and usually chose to enter on the side of the FLN of their own accord. Largely illiterate rural women, on the other hand (the remaining eighty percent), became involved due to geographical proximity to FLN operations paired with force, although some of them did join out of compassion.
Women operated in various areas during the course of the rebellion. Meredith Turshen claims, “Women participated actively as combatants, spies, fundraisers, as well as nurses, launderers, and cooks.” Gerard De Groot adds, “women assisted the male fighting forces in areas like transportation, communication and administration.” The range of involvement by a woman could include both combatant and non-combatant roles. While the majority of the tasks that women undertook centered on the realm of the non-combatant, those that surrounded the limited number that took part in acts of violence were more frequently noticed. The reality was that “rural women in maquis [rural areas] support networks” contained the overwhelming majority of those who participated. This is not to marginalize those women who did engage in acts of violence, but simply to illustrate that they constituted in the minority.
Despite the fact that destruction of civilian and military targets by women through paramilitary activities included less than seventy women, or about 2% of the total females in the military arm of the FLN, it was these acts, especially during the Battle of Algiers (1957), which received most of the attention given to women in this conflict.
A reason for such attention was that included in the women who perpetrated direct violence against the French were Djamila Boupacha and Djamila Bouhired, combatants in the Battle of Algiers. Eventually captured, the trials of these women, specifically Bouhired, gained recognition from international audiences. Another reason is that the violent nature of such activities, especially when carried out by women, were much more sensational than feeding and nursing FLN soldiers.
In addition to general support tasks, women possessed gender-specific abilities that allowed them to carry out clandestine tasks that would have proved difficult for men. Though women used these capabilities in both the urban and rural arenas of the war, it was the nature of the urban dimension of the war that contained the highest concentration, both in number and frequency, of covert activities by females. The best documented example of this is in the Battle of Algiers. In this battle male FLN operatives, driven underground by the French, stayed out of the public realm, avoiding detention and interrogation, while the women who helped to keep them hidden were able to move about freely and smuggle weapons and other sensitive materials as a result of their manipulation of personal appearance. The manner in which women did this was twofold; first by the religious practice of wearing the veil, which the French saw as above suspicion, or, adopting a European appearance seeming to demonstrate their adherence to French values and way of life. Women like Djamila Bouhired, due to the incapacitation of men, were also charged with carrying out terrorist attacks ordered by FLN leadership and did so by again using changes in dress to their advantage.
The desire to pull off the veil by the French manifested because the Algerian woman was a target of French male lust. To not arouse suspicion, Algerian women used western style implements like strollers and handbags to conceal explosives while sporting western attire without any veils.
An attempted bombing was carried out by Yasmine Belkacem
FLN and women
Externally the FLN pursued policies that highlighted women in the Algerian War. El Moudjahid, a publication of the FLN, sought to create the ‘myth’ of the female warrior and to idolize her as a martyr and linchpin in the war. Articles published, including contributions by women to a series ‘Diary of a Guerilla’, cast the female in a heroic light highlighting her bravery and contributions to the war effort. The writings of Frantz Fanon also lent themselves to FLN propaganda because he championed the idea that by simply participating in the war women were engaging in an act of liberation. The FLN was then able to formulate a motivation for women based on an “abstract notion of ‘freedom’” linked with strong nationalism as opposed to a goal of social progress, avoiding the need to engage in a discussion of women’s issues because they equated it to freedom from colonial rule. Publicly, the FLN identified the contributions of women, but avoided promising specific rewards as a result.
Internally FLN attitudes towards women are described in a statement by an FLN commander Si Allal:
“it is forbidden to recruit djoundiates [female soldiers] and nurses without the zone’s authorization. In independent Algeria, the Muslim woman’s freedom stops at the door of her home. Woman will never be equal to man” 
There existed obstacles precluding the involvement of women, including desire by some men to not subject women to any additional danger outside of the significant risks of simply living in Algeria at this time; the dramatic change, which many FLN members were not convinced could occur, that would be required of women going from secluded home life to active participation; and a general lack of trust in women, especially their ability to keep FLN secrets if captured. Upon entry into the resistance there were additional requirements as well, an investigation of adultery that carried a penalty of death, and a possible test of her virginity. The involvement of women, especially those who were literate and had proactive tendencies, sometimes made their often-illiterate male counterparts uncomfortable. As a result of this and other factors the FLN enacted a deportation to surrounding countries of these progressive female elements, a large percentage of which were removed from Algeria by 1958.
Laundry, cooking, or medical work was performed by most of the women in the FLN.
France and women
By 1957, largely through torture of captured women, the French came to acknowledge the different roles played by female FLN members including their terrorist actions. Around this time the French initiated a campaign of ‘emancipation’ directed at Muslim women that sought to draw them away from the FLN. This included the Plan de Constantine aimed at increasing female education, Ordonnance 59-274 giving women more say in their marital status, public unveiling of female Algerians by French women, extension of the vote to women in 1957, and the symbolic installation of Muslim women in public office, among others. Unfortunately for the French this campaign, while it did have some successes, was largely ineffective.
Women in Algeria, regardless of their involvement and contributions to the conflict, nevertheless remained in their pre-war subservient position afterward as a result of the prevailing societal, religious, and cultural conditions.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Women of Algeria.|
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