Women, Ethnicity and Nationalism: The Politics of Transition

Women, Ethnicity and Nationalism: The Politics of Transition

Women, Ethnicity and Nationalism: The Politics of Transition

Women, Ethnicity and Nationalism: The Politics of Transition


Women, Ethnicity and Nationalism asks whether societies caught in political or social transition provide new opportunities for women, or instead, create new burdens and obstacles for them. Using contemporary case-studies, each author looks at the interaction of gender ethnicity and class in a divided society. The varying experiences of women are discussed in the following countries: Northern Ireland; South Africa; the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia; Yemen; Lebanon and Malaysia.


Surveying the ground

Rick Wilford

…as a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.

(Virginia Woolf 1938)

In surveying the relationship between women and nationalism it is difficult to escape the conclusion that it turns on male-crafted conceptions of nation and national identity. As Pettman (1996:49) observes, ‘In a complex play, the state is often gendered male and the nation gendered female’. Women, that is, are commonly constructed as the symbolic form of the nation whereas men are invariably represented as its chief agents and, with statehood achieved, emerge as its major beneficiaries.

The ground upon which the nexus among women and nationalism is based is, though, littered with controversy. Bystydzienski (1992:209), for instance, while not uncritical of national movements, takes a more sanguine view of nationalism than Pettman: [it has] ‘empowered millions of women…created pride in indigenous cultures, a demystification of innate superiority of foreign oppressors, and a recognition of community’. Such conflicting assessments hint at the extent of disagreement that exists. Contesting theories of nationalism, debates about the relationship between ethnicity and ‘race’, ambivalence about the celebration of ‘difference’, together with the problematization of ‘women’ as an organizing construct, all combine to lay a conceptual and political minefield. It would be misleading to claim that this book settles these controversies. At a time of rapid political transitions each of the contributors does, though, help to negotiate a course across the contested terrain guided—as this introduction is-by the proposition that All nationalisms are gendered’ (McClintock 1993:61).

The inclusion of internally divided or settler societies lends a sharp focus to this edited collection. Territorial conflict imbues the politics of such societies with a zero-sum rather than a positive-sum character. While all

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