Algeria, torn between the terrorism of religious fundamentalism and the abuse of a totalitarian political system struggling to survive, is at present experiencing such a particularly traumatic situation that it would seem trivial, thirty years later, to talk about the Algerian women who fought in the national war of liberation. In fact, there is a clear continuity between those women who took part in the armed struggle for independence and the women who now demonstrate in the streets against intolerance and for the right to live in peace in different ways, the mark of a constantly developing Algeria. For the Islamic fundamentalists, the emancipated woman no doubt represents modernity. Fundamentalists strive, therefore, to maintain or re-establish a patriarchal order, which, while subjugating women, would stop Algerian society from developing, and perhaps even go back to the mythic golden age of the early days of Islam.
Apart from illustrating the unfeasibility of a plan to exclude women, the armed battle by Algerian women during the war of 1954–62 is worth studying because it marks the beginning of women making their presence felt. In 1954, Algerian women were totally excluded from public life. Nearly all illiterate, with only 4.5% among them able to read and write, they did not have access to the world of work except in the sectors that did not demand professional qualifications. Those who had skills had acquired them through experience. Whether they were peasant women or domestic servants, work for them was a part of their struggle for survival. There were no more than 6 women doctors and only 25 teachers at secondary schools, but none in higher education. The University of Algiers had no more than 500 Algerian students, among whom were about 50 girls.
As far as the colonial powers were concerned, Algerian women had no political rights, not even the right to vote. In the two political parties, the PPA-MTLD (Parti du peuple algérien/Algerian People’s Party, Mouvement pour le triomphe des liberté démocratiques/Movement for the Triumph of Democratic Liberties) 2 nationalist party, and the PCA 3 communist party, where women had an insignificant presence, they were relegated to organizations for women only. As far as men were concerned—nationalists, as well as communists—any thoughts about the condition of women were invariably put aside to be considered later, until after independence for some, and to the time when there would be a socialist government for others.
As soon as war broke out, Algerian women joined in the struggle. There were 10,949 fighting women, 3.1% of all those taking part in active combat. This percentage, which might seem negligible, is approximately the same as the percentage of European women who took part in World War Two. 4 Algerian women who joined the struggle consisted, not merely of sympathizers or militants on a short-term basis, but proper fighters who [End Page 62] joined the National Liberation Army or the Civil Organization of the National Liberation Front. When a family gave refuge to members of the Algerian maquis, the armed (national) resistance, only the woman in charge of the refuge was considered...