Imagining Saharawi Women: The Question of Gender in POLISARIO Discourse

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When the Saharawis first fled their country – the former Spanish colony the Western Sahara – for the Hamada region of the Algerian desert in 1975, all able-bodied men were encouraged to depart to the frontline to struggle against the Moroccan and Mauritanian invasion. As a result, the refugee camps that gradually emerged in the Algerian desert were built, organised and administered almost exclusively by women. Indeed, women, their strong and vital role in Saharawi society, and the alleged gender equality that they enjoy, are a common focus in the revolutionary discourses and ideology of the Saharawi Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO). In this article I will explore such images of gender. First, I will focus on how Saharawi nationalists imagine the Saharawi nation and how gender is articulated within this, delineating the contours of POLISARIO ideology concerning gender and concepts of masculinity and femininity. My hypothesis is not only that assertions of gender equality are central to POLISARIO (emancipatory and revolutionary) discourse but also that they are central for specific reasons. Therefore, in the second part of the article, I will attempt to determine what internal and external functions and benefits these gender representations have for the POLISARIO. Finally, I will explore how Saharawi historical narratives are constructed to offer support and continuity to current images of gender.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)189-202
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of North African Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2010
Externally publishedYes


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