Panel 13

Women and nation building in Portuguese speaking African countries: contributions for a theoretical reflexion

Panel organisers: Patrícia Godinho Gomes, Federal University of Bahía, Brazil and Isabel Maria Casimiro, Eduardo Mondlane University, Mozambique

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The study of Gender relations and of how research has been using the category “Gender” as a central analytical concept has been drawing a growing and systematic attention in the social sciences, especially since the 1970s. In this sense, feminist criticism drew attention in global terms to the need to “deconstruct” post-colonial studies by questioning some important precepts in knowledge production from a Gender perspective: who produces it, under what social and political conditions this knowledge is formulated, and to whom it is addressed.

As far as “African studies” are concerned, the question that arises and seems to be important is that Gender is also an epistemological issue since the conceptual category is intrinsically linked in its origin, constitution and expression to Western culture.  In other words, Gender categories derive from the foundations of European social thought and the idea that the cultural logic of social categories is based on the ideology of biological determinism. However, this “bio” logic of the social world cannot be seen as universally applicable.

The new scientific agenda and the ongoing search for research objects emerging from local social realities did not necessarily imply the participation of African intellectuals in this knowledge building process. In this regard, the African academic debate on Gender themes has since the early 1980s been systematically interrogating the applicability and the efficiency of some concepts which are universally acknowledged to define African social and historical realities. (Amadiume, 1987; Oyéwùmí, 1997).

The Portuguese Speaking African Countries, known as PALOP-Países Africanos de Língua Oficial Portuguesa, share a common colonial past and are historically known as countries belonging to the “second decolonization”. They have been independent since the mid-1970s, have experienced dissimilar historical and political pathways and have internal sociocultural differences. However, they all could count on the contribution of women in their social emancipation and national liberation processes.

Notwithstanding the important women’s role to the liberation movements in those countries, the post-independence era was arguably not followed by a political agenda in terms of Gender equity.  Contrary to expactations and considering local and regional differences, most women were confronted with  the “betrayal” of the promises that were made as far as the promotion of their socio-economic and political status in the following years was concerned. It is, therefore, important to reflect on what were the effective achievements resulting from women’s participation in the liberation struggles and, more importantly, to understand what happened once independence had been secured in 1974-1975. The question that arises concerns the extent to which (un)successful emancipation in the PALOP can be explained by an understanding of Gender which is (un)able to retrieve the realities of those countries.

From a broader theoretical discourse on Gender relations in Africa and life trajectories of women who participated in the independence processes in the PALOP, we intend to make room to analyses that seek to problematize the narratives and/or official discourses produced – discourses which, to be sure, may have been romanticised.. The proposals should focus on the methodology of oral history based on gender analysis. Rather than recognizing the importance of women’s participation in the independence struggles, our interest is to seek a better understanding of some theoretical and conceptual issues and new challenges, from women viewpoints and considering the following questions:

1-    What notions of  Gender were deployed in those settings?
2-    What processes of translation were carried out to render those concepts intelligible?
3-    What other approaches to Gender were abandoned to privilege the understanding of patriarcalism entertained by the liberation movements?
4-    How can women retrieve their own stories and negotiate political power in those countries?

Approved abstracts Panel 13

1. The Angolan women in the liberation struggle and nation building process. The case of Luzia Inglês Van-Dúnem

Author: Patricio Batsikama Mampuya Cipriano (University Agostinho Neto, Angola)

From a global viewpoint on the participation of Angolan Women in the process of independence and Nation building, and based on oral history methodology focused on the life history of a former combatant, Luzia Inglês Van-Dúnem, commonly known as “Comrade Inga”, my objective is to analyse the nation building process in Angola and women’s role in the liberation struggle context from Luzia Inglês Van-Dúnem’s experience. More specifically, I aim to:

  1. Understand the reasons behind the systematic silencing of Angolan Women’s voices and of their narratives in the Official History of the country;
  2. Discuss and reflect on the importance of promoting and disseminating the social history of Angolan Women in the liberation struggle and contribute to provide the creation of an academic space to analyse the contents and results of researches on this theme;
  3. Discuss gender equality’s issues in a historical and anthropological perspective, focusing the issue of equal opportunities.

Luzia Inglês Van-Dúnem is one of the most relevant figures in Angola today, not only because of her individual trajectory, but – also – because she represents the place of Woman in Angolan society. My work is based on the use of oral history and archival research methodology to understand the role of “History in Female” (Joan Scott). To what extents Luzia Inglês Van-Dúnem’s life history can be useful to understand the need of women’s inclusion in the nation building process and national project in Angola?

Key-words: Luzia Inglês Van-Dúnem, feminism in Angola, Gender

2. The representation of the presence and participation of capeverdean women in the national liberation movement (1956 - 1974) by the colonial authorities and the P.A.I.G.C.'s structures

Author: Ângela Sofia Benoliel Coutinho (Nova University of Lisbon, Portugal)

Officially found in 1956 in Bissau, the PAIGC (African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde) has carried out its political activity until 1974, being one of the very few african liberation movements to obtain the political independence through a war.

Having the armed struggle taken place in the territory of Guinea-Bissau, since 1963, involving the population of this former portuguese colony, the participation of guinean women has been known throughout the whole process.

The participation of capeverdean women, in a much smaller scale, has been instead largely unnoticed, being usually refered only the names of two or three persons.

After the independence, this aspect of the struggle for national liberation became hardly perceivable, even invisible to most of the citizens of the archipelago of Cape Verde.

Nevertheless, about 40 capeverdean women were identified having actively militated in the P.A.I.G.C. in different periods of the whole larger one took into consideration (1956 – 1974). These women, coming from several islands or from the countries where capeverdean communities are established, were born between the decades of 1920 and 1940, and they had then several social origins.

In this communication, we aim, firstly, to rebuild their trajectories as militants, trying to understand the roles they played in this process. Through the anaysis of the testemonies and the archival documentation, it will also be possible to question the way as, on the one hand, the colonial authorities, and on the other, the P.A.I.G.C.’s structures perceived, interpreted and represented the presence and the participation of these women in this socio-political movement that has conducted the most significant changes in the capeverdean society until now.

3. Struggling gender in Guinea-Bissau: Women's participation on and off the liberation record

Authors: Catarina Laranjeiro (CES, University of Coimbra, Portugal)
Inês Galvão (ICS, University of Lisbon, Portugal)

The participation of women in Guinea-Bissau's liberation struggle was one of the main political banners presented by PAIGC for legitimating its anti-colonial program, amidst an international field framed by Cold War anxieties. Views on the struggle as a fight against a double colonialism, tangling established patriarchy with European domination, would inform nation-building narratives as well as gender policies throughout and after independence.

In order to understand how this state-building project dialogued with contemporary political agendas and feminist theory, we cross dominant narratives with oral histories told in a persistently marginal countryside, where few written or visual records are kept. Being there, we've been confronted with performativities fragmented by moments of both proud enthusiasm and stillness or muttering, as well as by a significantly complex set of translation and mediation.

Variations on national liberation history invite us to rethink readings on past and present unitarian discourses. It also invites us to disassemble gender categories put forward by people's mobilization and by our own academic and personal backgrounds. Our presentation is based on an ongoing exercise of contrasting sources of shadow and re/iteration, indulging in a quest for recovering social textures that may help build up sensibilities to further understand emotions around notions of female subalternity or dependence, and emancipation or autonomy.

4. From emancipation to liberation. Women’s participation in the armed struggle in Mozambique (1962-1974)

Author: Isabel Maria Casimiro (Eduardo Mondlane University, Mozambique)

In the 60s and 70s, the Mozambique Liberation Front, FRELIMO argued that the emancipation of women should take place simultaneously with the struggle for liberation from colonial rule, within the building of a new society, adding that only the participation of women in the fight, and on all fronts, could advance the revolutionary process with a view to a society free from all forms of oppression. This position was embodied in the phrase "Women's participation is a necessity of the revolution, ensuring their continuity, condition of its triumph", pronounced by Samora Machel during the creation of the Mozambican Women's Organisation, OMM, in 1973 . The armed struggle has shown that one of the main indicators of progress and setbacks of the revolution, was connected to the women's liberation process and their participation has forced a rethinking about their role in society, on social relations with men on the division of activities between women and men, and about the kind of society to build, resulting in a symbolic rupture in gender relations. But the vision of FRELIMO on the participation of women during the armed struggle and after independence of Mozambique in 1975, seeks greater equality between women and men, without changing the stereotypes, sexual division of labor at the household level, the gender relations and power, access and control of resources and ideology. It is not a vision of woman’s liberation, of equality of rights, recognizing the differences between women and men. It is a vision that reproduces and does not challenge the tasks of the "woman, mother, wife and tractor driver", within the sexual division of labor, being women seen as a passive recipient of development.

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