The Faces of Emancipation: The Action of Messalist Women during the Algerian Revolution

By Nedjib Sidi Moussa

The Algerian revolution illustrates a particular type of revolution, the woman-in-the-family model, which excluded or marginalised women from the process of defining and building independence, liberation and freedom. This categorisation corresponded quite closely to the dominant ideology of Messali Hadj’s partisans, whose activities and newspapers promoted a differentialist feminism, anchored in the Arabo-Islamic tradition and with a charitable dimension. In response to the outbreak of armed combat and colonialist propaganda that emphasised women’s emancipation, the context became favourable to a redefinition of the role assigned to Muslim Algerian women. This phenomenon, which we will investigate in terms of the conditions for its emergence and its scope, was stronger among Algerian emigrants in France, and found its institutional framework in the short-lived Messalist union, the Union des syndicats de travailleurs algériens (USTA). These union members were just as preoccupied by women’s emancipation as by national independence or workers’ demands, and they enabled the Messalist movement to show faces that were acceptable for its French interlocutors and to distinguish itself from its rival, the National Liberation Front (FLN).

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