Women's Participation in
Nationalist Movements and Liberation Struggles
Fighting Men's Wars
African women of differing backgrounds and educational attainments joined anti-colonial political movements after their inception across the continent often in the face of the resistance of men. Many sought their inspiration in their role as mothers, intent on working towards the betterment of society for their children. Whatever women's motives for joining nationalist struggles their fervour was, consciously or unconsciously, linked to the hope of gaining personal liberation. Whatever the ideology of the liberation movement, the level of participation, and the historical context, moving into the public arena of struggle resulted for women in increased self-confidence and sharpened skills in identifying aspects of their own oppression.
Nationalist movements and liberation struggles ultimately represented, however subtly, an opening of women's own radius of action, and a significant departure from their previous life. This has also meant that unlike their male comrades they started to question—however rudimentarily—prescribed gender roles. The leaders of early nationalist movements, by contrast, never even acknowledged women's specific gender interests, and the concessions made later on by the leaders of Marxist and socialist inspired movements were dictated by doctrine and strategic need rather than a willingness to question existing gender ideologies. It has therefore not been surprising that the changes of gender roles that marked the time of struggle remained largely time bound and rarely carried over into independent states.
In women lies “the total hope for progress”
Many of the women who joined nationalist movements in the 1950s were part of the new generation of urban African populations, who had developed lifestyles that were no longer strictly “traditional”, even though traditional values remained an ideal. Urban life had not only whetted women's appetite for consumer goods, and a longing for a middle-class social existence, but it had also equipped women to move beyond ethnic boundaries to a more trans-ethnic identity as Africans which helped them question the strictures of custom, and ‘traditional authority’. Because women pursued in some way or another a double agenda, seeking national and personal liberation, they were, in the words