Macoucou in Beijing. The International Arena: A Political Resource for African Women in the 1940s and 1950s

By Pascale Barthélémy

Until now, the struggles against colonial domination in the 1940s and 1950s have primarily been analysed as a face-to-face confrontation between the metropoles and their colonies. This paper proposes a change in scale and analytical angle, by focusing on how African women combined the imperatives of national liberation and internationalism, and used the international arena to structure their local struggles, as well as to circumvent male domination and cope with repression by the French. More precisely, the aim is to trace the history of contacts and exchanges between women from French West Africa (women from Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and Mali, among other countries) and the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF), founded in Paris in 1945. The WIDF is still not very well known, but it was the largest international women’s organisation in the 1950s in terms of the number of members. Based on colonial archives, the WIDF’s monthly newsletter and published testimonials, we investigate the influence that the WIDF may have had on African women and especially the use that they made of their ties with the federation in order to organise women’s militant sections that were autonomous but dependent on the men of the Rassemblement démocratique africain (RDA), the African Democratic Assembly, which was the main opposition party to the colonial authorities at the time. This paper deciphers the presence of these women in the WIDF’s international congresses, their modes of action, and the references and values that they adhered to. It applies a threefold perspective of the history of women and gender, transnational history and connected history.

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