Decolonization Resource Collection: Gender and Sexuality

Brahim Hadjadj, Fusia El Kader, and Samia Kerbash in Gillo Pontecorvo’s “The Battle of Algiers” (1966). Image courtesy of Youtube.

Primary sources

Maria Eugenia Echenique, “The Emancipation of Women” (1876)
Written by Argentine feminist Echenique, this brief yet impactful work stressing equal civil and human rights for Argentine women. In a tone similar to Mary Wollstonecraft, Echenique uses the Argenite Declaration of Independence as a core piece of evidence, arguing that emancipation for men must also include emancipation for women.

Rajya Sabha (Parliament of India), “Selected Speeches of Women Members of the Constituent Assembly” (1946-1947, compiled and published 2012)
This collection contains over 50 speeches from Indian women who served in the Parliament of India’s Rajya Sabha during the most transformative years of Indian independence. The speeches vary in tone and theme, ranging from education policy, religious protection, and human trafficking to vocal declarations of sovereignty and songs of independence.

Hal Lehrman, “The Battle of the Veil in Algeria” (1958)
Writing for the New York Times at the peak of the Algerian War, Lehrman reports on how religion, education, nationalism, and war impact the lives of Algerian women. Lehrman sees a distinct connection between Muslim women in Algeria and Algerian liberation from French colonial rule.

Frantz Fanon, “Algeria Unveiled” (1965)
In this essay on Algerian women and the veil, Fanon analyses French colonialism through the metaphor of the veil. France, according to Fanon, wanted to unveil Algeria, an act which would threaten the honour of the (male) nation. This theme connects Fanon’s analysis directly with a long colonial history in which populations brought under imperial control were regarded as, and sometimes regarded themselves as, weak and impotent.

Tewhida Ben Sheikh, interview (1992)
Dr. Tewhida Ben Sheikh was the first North African Muslim woman to earn a medical degree from the Faculty of Medicine in Paris, in 1936, while Tunisia was still under French colonial rule. After receiving her medical degree and returning to Tunis to direct her own women’s clinic, Ben Sheikh was active in the Tunisian nationalist and independence movement between 1952 and 1956.

Otieno, Wambu Waiyaki, Mau Mau’s Daughter, a Life History, Boulder, CO and London, UK: Lynne Rienner Publishers (1998)
Wambui Waiyaki Otieno, Kenyan activist and wife of the late S.M. Otieno, recounts her involvement in nearly 50 years of East African politics, including: her years in the Mau Mau movement; her role in women’s organizations; and the controversy surrounding her husband’s burial.

Secondary sources

Articles and essays

Branche, Raphaelle, “Sexual Violence in the Algerian War,” in Dagmar Herzog (ed.) Brutality and Desire: War and Sexuality in Europe’s Twentieth Century, Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
In this essay, Branche documents the pervasiveness (and pervasive acceptance within the French military) of rapes of Algerian women, both of women held in detention camps and of civilian women assaulted in their homes and on the streets. Unlike torture, rape was not officially permitted, nor did it serve any military purpose beyond terrorizing the local population. Nonetheless, rape was widespread, and Branche looks at this ubiquity both from the point of view of assumptions prevailing in France at that time about ‘normal’ male heterosexuality and in the context of Algerain Muslim and Kabyle conceptions of female sexual honor.

Chuku, Gloria I., “Women and Nationalist Movements,” in Toyin Falola (ed.), The End of   Colonial Rule, Nationalism and Decolonization, Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2002.
In this article, Chuku explores the role of women in anticolonial, nationalist movements across Africa. This essay is part of a collection that places the concepts of nationalism and gender at the center of African decolonization post-World War II.

Davies, Catherine, “Colonial Dependence and Sexual Difference: Reading for Gender in the Writings of Simón Bolívar (1783-1830),” Feminist Review 79 (2005).
This article explores the textual construction of gender categories in the political discourse of Simón Bolívar by means of a close critical reading of his seminal writings made public between 1812 and 1820. Davies shows how the category of “woman” is constructed ambiguously in independence/anti-colonial discourse, how gender is employed to create hierarchical systems of social organization to legitimate the exercise of power by an elite of white creole men, and how myth is deployed in order to reinforce gender hegemonies.

Hightower Langston, Donna, “American Indian Women’s Activism in the 1960s and 1970s,” Hypatia 18, 2 (2003).
This article focuses on the role of women in three red power events: the occupation of Alcatraz Island, the Fish-in movement, and the occupation at Wounded Knee. Hightower Langston draws on historical and political influences among various tribes that hosted and participated in red power events in order to better explain the role of young and elder women in the broader Indigenous rights movement of the 1960s and 70s.

Levine, Philippa, “Gendering Decolonisation,” Politique, Culture, Societe 11 (2010).
This essay explores the contributions of women to decolonization struggles from the perspective both of women involved in anti-colonial movements and women who were part of the colonial authority structure. It argues that without a gendered analysis, our understanding of decolonisation remains partial, minimising women’s roles and replicating masculinist political structures.

Melstrom, Tina, “Saintly Patriotism: Vincente Graz and the Women of the Chilean Independence Movement,” Decimonónica 10, 1 (2013).
In this article, Melstrom focuses mainly on the works of Chilean writer Vincente Grez, who wrote about the women of the Chilean Independence Movement of 1810-1823. Melstrom argues that Grez, drawing heavily on the hagiographical genre of the medieval and early modern periods, wrote Chilean women as lay saints whose image contributed to the consolidation of Chilean national identity.

Reid, Susan E., “Cold War in the Kitchen: Gender and the De-Stalinization of Consumer Taste in the Soviet Union under Khrushchev,” Slavic Review 61, 2 (2002).
Reid focuses on the intersection of gender and consumerism during the 1950s and 60s in the communist Soviet Union. Reid argues that the changing consumer demands, particularly of Soviet women, during the Khrushchev era helped to shape the Soviet public’s response to the Cold War.

Santoru, Marinu, “The Colonial Idea of Women and Direct Intervention: The Mau Mau Case,” African Affairs 95 (1996).
In this article, Santoru argues for women’s political agency in attempting to replace Kenya’s patriarchal colonial regime with a more class-egalitarian society. This article incorporates a variety of sources and histories in order to demonstrate the progressive involvement of women in resistance and nation-building movements.

Shepard, Todd, “‘Something Notably Erotic’: Politics, ‘Arab Men,’ and Sexual Revolution in Post-Decolonization France, 1962-1974,” Journal of Modern History 84, no. 1 (2012).
In this essay, Shepard focuses on rapidly evolving perceptions of sexuality, eroticism, and ethnic identity in France five years after Algerian independence. Shepard seeks to understand how and why French attitudes towards sex and Algerian immigrants changed during the late 1960s, and how this change impacted the French imperial mindset.

Sinha, Mrinalini, “Refashioning Mother India: Feminism and Nationalism in Late-Colonial India,” Feminist Studies 26, 3 (2000).
Sinha fills the void left by scholars of Indian nationalism by demonstrating the intrinsic connection between feminism and nationalism in India and its complexities. By incorporating feminism into the history of Indian nationalism, Sinha highlights the differences between nationalist movements from the mid-nineteenth century onward.

Turshen, Meredith, “Algerian Women in the Liberation Struggle and the Civil War: From Active Participants to Passive Victims?” Social Research 69, 3 (2002).
In this article, Turshen explores and compares the complicated fates of Algerian women who participated in the War for Independence in the 1950s and the Algerian Civil War in 1991. Turshen compares and contrasts women’s identity and agency during these two violent periods in Algerian history, illuminating how opportunities for decolonization brought both liberation and oppression for Algerian women.

White, Aaronette, “All the Men are Fighting for Freedom, All the Women are Mourning their Men, but Some of us Carried Guns: A Raced-Gendered Analysis of Fanon’s Psychological Perspectives on War,” Signs 32, 4 (2007).
White applies a gendered critique to Fanon’s analysis of violent insurgency and its influence on the individual. In this dense yet informative essay, White argues that “Fanon was overly optimistic about the psychological potential of revolutionary violence,” a misperception rooted in his ignorance of the “gendered aspects of anticolonial war.”

White, Luise, “Separating the Men from the Boys: Constructions of Gender, Sexuality, and Terrorism in Central Kenya, 1939-1959,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 23, 1 (1990).
In this article focusing on gender in pre-Mau Mau Kenya, White focuses not on Kenyan women, but Kenyan men, who, White argues, have been studied as “patriotic, zealous, enemies of imperialism.” White focuses instead on the nature of men’s domestic rights and how these private battles sometimes coincided but often conflicted with their role as warriors and revolutionaries.

Books and readers

Allman, Jean, Susan Geiger, and Nakanyike Musisi (eds.), Women in African Colonial Histories, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2002.
By considering the lives of ordinary African women—farmers, queen mothers, midwives, urban dwellers, migrants, and political leaders—in the context of particular colonial conditions at specific places and times, this collection challenges the notion of a homogeneous “African women’s experience.” While recognizing the inherent violence and brutality of the colonial encounter, the essays in this lively volume show that African women were not simply the hapless victims of European political rule.

Bier, Laura, Revolutionary Womanhood: Feminisms, Modernity and the State in Nasser’s Egypt, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011.
The first major historical account of gender politics during the Nasser era, this book analyzes feminism as a system of ideas and political practices, international in origin but local in iteration. Drawing connections between the secular nationalist projects that emerged in the 1950s and the gender politics of Islamism today, Bier reveals how discussions about education, companionate marriage, and enlightened motherhood, as well as veiling, work, and other means of claiming public space created opportunities to reconsider the relationship between modernity, state feminism, and postcolonial state-building.

Bourbonnais, Nicole, Birth Control in the Decolonizing Caribbean: Reproductive Politics and Practice on Four Islands, 1930-1970, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017.
Over the course of the twentieth century, campaigns to increase access to modern birth control methods spread across the globe and fundamentally altered the way people thought about and mobilized around reproduction. This book explores how a variety of actors translated this movement into practice on four islands (Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, and Bermuda) from the 1930s–70s. The process of decolonization during this period led to heightened clashes over imperial and national policy and brought local class, race, and gender tensions to the surface.

Bouwer, Karen, Gender and Decolonization in the Congo: The Legacy of Patrice Lumumba, Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
Patrice Lumumba’s legacy continues to fire the imagination of politicians, activists, and artists. But women have been missing from accounts of the Congo’s decolonization. Through analysis of Lumumba’s writings and speeches, the life stories of women activists, and literary and cinematic works, this book challenges male-centered interpretations of Congolese nationalism and illustrates how generic conventions both reinforced and undercut gender bias in representations of Lumumba and his female contemporaries.

Kumar, Megha, Communalism and Sexual Violence in India: The Politics of Gender, Ethnicity, and Conflict, London, UK: IB Tauris, 2016.
This book examines the specific conditions motivating sexual crimes against women based on three of the deadliest riots that occurred in Ahmedabad city, Gujarat, in 1969, 1985 and 2002. Using an in-depth, grassroots-level analysis, Kumar moves away from the predominant academic view that sees Hindu nationalist ideology as responsible for encouraging attacks on women. Instead, gendered communal violence is shown to be governed by the interaction of an elite ideology and the unique economic, social and political dynamics at work in each instance of conflict.

Levine, Philippa (ed.), Gender and Empire, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Focusing the perspectives of gender scholarship on the study of empire produces an original volume full of fascinating new insights about the conduct of men as well as women. Bringing together disparate fields – politics, medicine, sexuality, childhood, religion, migration, and many more topics – this new collection of essays demonstrates the richness of studying empire through the lens of gender.

Schmidt, Elizabeth, Mobilizing the Masses: Gender, Ethnicity and Class in the Nationalist Movement in Guinea, 1939-1958, Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2005.
Based on previously unexamined archival records and oral interviews with rank-and-file Rassemblement Democratique Africain (RDA) members, this book reinterprets nationalist history by approaching it from the bottom up. It illuminates the ways in which grassroots activists shaped the movement’s vision, objectives, and strategies.

Smith, Evan and Marinella Marmo, Race, Gender and the Body in British Immigration Control: Subject to Examination, New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
This book analyzes the practice of virginity testing endured by South Asian women who wished to enter Britain between the late 1960s and the early 1980s, and places this practice into a wider historical context. Using recently opened government documents the extent to which these women were interrogated and scrutinized at the border is uncovered.

Thapar-Bjorkert, Surichi, Women in the Indian National Movement: Unseen Faces and Unheard Voices, 1930-1942, New Delhi, India: Sage, 2006.
This book, significantly, focuses on the nationalist participation of ordinary middle-class women in India’s freedom movement, especially in the United Provinces (modern Uttar Pradesh). To construct the nationalist narrative of unheard voices, Thapar-Bjorkert goes beyond conventional sources of history such as official and archival records, instead employing a diverse range of materials-including oral narratives, poetry, cartoons, vernacular magazines, and private correspondence-in order to let these women speak for themselves.

Vince, Natalya, Our Fighting Sisters: Nation, Memory, and Gender in Algeria, 1954-2012,  Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2015.
Between 1954 and 1962, Algerian women played a major role in the struggle to end French rule in one of the twentieth century’s most violent wars of decolonisation. This is the first in-depth exploration of what happened to these women after independence in 1962. Based on new oral history interviews with women who participated in the war in a wide range of roles, from urban bombers to members of the rural guerrilla support network, it explores how female veterans viewed the post-independence state and its multiple discourses on ‘the Algerian woman’ in the fifty years following 1962.