Southall Black Sisters (SBS) is a collective of South Asian women.1 We operate an advice, resource, and campaigning centre for women in Southall, an area in west London with a large South Asian population. In comparison with many other Asian communities in this country, Southall is heterogeneous and has a cosmopolitan feel to it. All religions and ethnic groups of the Indian Subcontinent are present there, although the Punjabi Sikh ethnic group and religion are dominant.
The first part of the strange title of this article originates in a personal experience. In 1962, after a seven-year bloody war, which made two million victims, Algeria became independent from French colonisation. Shortly after independence, some of us were being introduced, as ‘Algerians’, to some left intellectuals in Paris who had been in favour of our liberation movement.
Despite the extensive literature on nationalism, there are relatively few systematic attempts to analyse women’s integration into nationalist projects. The few there are convey seemingly contradictory messages. Like Jayawardena, those who link the rise of feminist movements to anti-colonial and nationalist struggles note its coincidence with a move towards secularism and a broader concern with social reform.1 Nationalist aspirations for popular sovereignty stimulate an extension of citizenship rights, clearly benefiting women.
Marieme Hélie-Lucas Founder and former international coordinator of WLUML
Algerian sociologist, mother of four, born in Algiers 1939 to a family of feminists. Active in the liberation struggle of Algeria. Taught epistemology and methodology in the social sciences in Algiers University before founding WLUML.
Deniz Kandiyoti Reader in the Department of Development Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies and Chair of the Center of Contemporary Central Asia and the Caucasus, University of London, UK
But it is quite ironical that though fundamentalist forces have been systematically rehabilitated and encouraged through the two military governments it is through their participation in the pro-democratic movement and the support which they gave to a democratically elected government of 1991, that they emerged stronger than before.
Issues related to the ‘public sphere’,1 such as laws which concern work or political participation, have undergone many developments. Personal status, however, has remained the last bastion of male dominance. It has become, in many contexts (e.g. Muslim countries or minority or immigrant communities), a symbol of religious/cultural differences and closely intertwined with the group religious/national identity. It has remained, in most cases, under the authority of the religious institutions and any attempts at reform always spur strong reactions.
Who remembers the “cleansing campaign” under President Chadli, more precisely in 1982? When you went out for a walk with your girlfriend/boyfriend, you could not walk 2 steps without running into ‘gendarmes’ or policemen who demanded your marriage certificate, or if you could not produce it, would take down your identity. It [seems to have] started all over again just like in 1982, couples in search of some green in Tipasa (a small town on the West coast of Algiers) have been taken to the police station by gendarmes or municipal guards – What’s the crime? Walking hand in hand.
She ran from the table and locked herself in the bathroom. He had had no idea, he said later, weeping out loud, that what she was doing was climbing out the window.
I remember going to their apartment the day after her death for ‘aza (condolence). She had survived for only a few moments on the pavement, a crowd forming round her as she moaned in great pain, and then had died, no one she knew at her side. She was buried the same day. She was forty-two.