Long Teaching Module: North African Women and the French Empire, 1850-2000

Julia Clancy Smith and Bill Velto


From the 18th century on, expanding European imperialism across the globe began to pose acute challenges to states and societies throughout Asia and Africa. These challenges held enormous repercussions for indigenous women of all social classes, religions, and ethno-racial backgrounds. Until the late 18th century, the four states of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria were provinces of the Ottoman Empire; only Morocco was an independent kingdom. European political and cultural influence in North Africa was minimal. This changed dramatically after Napoleon’s 1798 expedition to Egypt, and, above all, with France’s invasion of Algeria in 1830. This essay and the supporting documents concentrate upon the three North African states—Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco—that were part of the French Empire from 1830 until 1956 and 1962. This long teaching module includes an informational essay, objectives, discussion questions, potential adaptations, guidance on engaging with the sources, and essay prompts relating to the fourteen primary sources.


The Beginnings of North African Imperialism

Algeria’s military pacification demanded nearly 50 years of brutal warfare waged against the Muslim population by the French army. At the same time, the arrival of tens of thousands of impoverished immigrants from around the Mediterranean basin from the 1830s on inflicted additional suffering upon the Algerian people. The immigrants seized land and resources from the Algerians; some of the colonial settlers remained in Algeria until 1962, when independence was finally achieved after eight years of war. Many of the settlers displayed an aggressive racism toward indigenous Muslims and Jews virtually without parallel. As was true of all European empires at the time, the French in North Africa followed a program based upon the three “Cs” of colonialism—the civilizing mission, commerce, and Christianity. Catholic and Protestant missionary societies attempted to convert the native Muslims and Jews—although without much success, except for conversions among orphans and social outcasts. As was the case around the world, the missionaries created clinics, orphanages, and schools that influenced either directly or indirectly the lives of Arab or Berber women. The arrival of European women settlers brought complex changes. Most European women did not question the civilizing mission’s ideology of domination, although some, as members of the inferior sex within the superior race, did question aspects of imperialism, particularly colonial policies that were harmful to North African women.

French Rule and North African Response

The French conquest of Algeria proved to be a prelude to the “scramble for Africa” by European powers at the end of the 19th century. To protect L’Algérie Française [French Algeria], France eventually invaded Tunisia in 1881 and Morocco in 1912, forcibly incorporating these states into the global French Empire. However, the forms that French imperialism assumed in Tunisia and Morocco differed from Algeria, which was made an administrative part of France. In contrast, Morocco and Tunisia were Protectorates, which meant that the appearance of limited sovereignty was maintained and local ruling families remained on the throne. Nevertheless, France controlled finances; public works; education; armed forces and security; and agriculture. In addition, the legal system and courts were under colonial supervision. Both countries experienced substantial in-migration by Europeans who took land and property away from the Tunisians and Moroccans. Nevertheless, the Sunni Muslim Arab majority and Jewish communities were allowed to retain religious courts with jurisdiction over matters relating to civil status or family affairs, such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance. The Berber Muslims were a different matter, since French colonial authorities directly interfered with their systems of traditional law, which often had an impact upon Berber women. The most important change that France introduced was a system of modern education, although severe restrictions were placed upon educational opportunities for colonized children. Even as late as the inter-war period, it was quite rare for children from modest or poor Muslim or Jewish families to receive any formal instruction. Nevertheless, the nationalist movements in all three countries arose among young men—and to a lesser extent, young women—who had attended French colonial schools. With modern secular education came demands from graduates of colonial schools for legal, political, and social rights. In Algeria, colonial officials and the European settlers manipulated the stereotype of the sensuous Arab or Muslim woman to oppose granting even limited political representation to French-educated Algerian men. The argument was that: “Algerian women are confined to harems and depraved, thus their men can not exercise the right to vote intelligently.” So politics, the manipulation of women for imperial ends, and negative visual representations of native women worked hand in hand. North African responses to foreign control varied immensely. Militant anti-colonial resistance represented only one of several collective solutions to the disruptions of military occupation and dispossession. All of the European empires in the Middle East and North Africa pursued virtually identical policies, choosing consciously to collaborate generally with the most retrograde indigenous political or social groups to divide and rule, and block modernity—and eventually, democracy. The legacy of these policies is still very much in evidence today. Movements for women’s emancipation arose in those North African or Middle Eastern countries that were the least disrupted by imperialism and violence. In other words, the more that male honor and masculinity were defined by waging warfare and by a cult of violence and militarism, the more precarious women’s rights were and would remain—the classic example of this being present-day Algeria.

Sources about North African Women

History knows of no other group of women as extensively painted, portrayed, and photographed as North African and Middle Eastern women—depicted by others. Orientalist painters—for example, Ingres, Delacroix, and Gérõme—and European writers, therefore, were not innocent bystanders: their artistic production was very much implicated in justifications for empire-building. The sources in this module illustrate the complexity of forms assumed by French colonialism in North Africa as well as the range of North African responses to conquest and foreign rule. They also demonstrate that there is no monolithic “Arab woman” or “Muslim woman.” Rather, there existed wide-ranging variations in women’s legal, social, political, and cultural statuses in each country and in each historical era. The nature of the state, various social class formations, the organization of families, local traditions and interpretations of Islam as lived, levels of education, etc, all shaped women’s daily lives and thus their opportunities for independent action.

Primary Sources

Imperialism in North Africa: Personal Account, Captain Carette

To the east of Algiers is a rugged mountainous region, the Kabylia, whose loftiest peak is named after a holy woman, Lalla Khadija. The Berber-speaking inhabitants have always been known for their spirit of independence as well as for the veneration they accord to local Muslim saints, male and female. Fatima N’Soumer, a Berber holy woman, was born in 1830, the year of the French invasion of Algeria. Clad in a red cloak, she led armed resistance to the French military assaults upon the Kabyle mountains from 1854 to 1857. Fighting side by side with the men, she and her followers were able to beat off the army—for a while. As a result of her actions, Fatima’s political and religious influence stretched all over the Kabylia, where her disciples believed that she had miraculous powers from God to cure the sick, ward off evil, and foretell the future in oracles. Nevertheless, outnumbered and lacking sufficient military equipment, she was captured by the French army in July of 1857, which ended militant Kabyle resistance for the time being. Fatima was imprisoned for the next six years and, as a result, her health deteriorated; she died in 1863 at the age of 33 years. Her memory, however, has persisted to this day in oral traditions. Fatima’s leadership role in anticolonial resistance raises questions about women and warfare during the 19th-century expansion of European empires in Africa and Asia. What kinds of traditions existed in communities, like the Berber Kabyles, that allowed women a major part in militant action? An account written by a French military officer, Carette, who traveled through the Kabylia in the 1830s and 1840s, provides an eyewitness account of the region’s traditions regarding women and war. Source: Captain Carette. “Algérie.” In L’Univers pittoresque, Histoire et description de tous les peuples, de leurs religions, moeurs, coutumes, industrie. Paris: Firmin Didot, 1850. This source is a part of the North African Women and the French Empire, 1850-2000 teaching module.

Claude Antoine Rozet Paintings

One of the first tasks undertaken by the French military after the 1830 invasion was to visually depict, and thus classify, places, things, and people so as to rule more effectively. This is a pattern seen in all modern colonial regimes worldwide. To this end, in addition to cannons, rifles, and supplies, the French expedition also included a cohort of skilled artists and draftsmen. Since photography had not yet been invented, military draftsmen portrayed Algerians of all social classes and ethnic, racial, or religious backgrounds. The women of Algiers—rich and poor, Jewish and Muslim—were a favorite topic. These two paired images were done by a military officer, Claude Antoine Rozet (1798-1858), are among the earliest colonial representations of Algerian women since they were published only three years after the invasion. The first is entitled A Rich Moor [Moor meaning an Arabic-speaking urban dweller] and Moorish Woman in Algiers with a Head Covering. The second set of images is entitled Moorish Artisan and Moorish Woman in Algiers—it being understood from her costume that she, too, is from the artisan class. And indeed, clothing and costume served as critical markers distinguishing different social, political, or cultural groups from one another in Algeria. In his illustrations of, and writings about, Algeria’s peoples, Rozet and other military officers attempted to construct a racial taxonomy, even as they admitted that the country was made up of extremely heterogeneous elements and that the notion of “race” did not traditionally exist, nor was it applicable. Eventually the colonial regime in Algeria constructed a hierarchy of privilege and difference, enshrined in French law, based in large part upon racial categories. From this resulted a body of jurisprudence that locked colonized peoples into a system of legal dispossession and inequality. Finally, the image of the “Moorish woman” endured until the 20th century, mainly as an exoticizing—indeed eroticizing—label imposed upon Algerian women, whose images were reproduced in colonial picture postcards by the tens of thousands (see document number five, below). Most of these representations were studio portraits constructed in such a way as to give the sensation of a sly, illicit glance into the intimacy of the Muslim household’s interior, which was increasingly open to imagined public view by the end of the 19th century. This source is a part of the North African Women and the French Empire, 1850-2000 teaching module.

Imperialism in North Africa: Personal Account, A Visit to Tunisian Harem

The harem (or harim) has exercised a powerful fascination over the Western imagination for centuries. Rarely (if ever) visited by European men, the secluded female quarters in urban elite households were, however, imagined and depicted by Western male writers and painters as places of deviance and oppression in terms of male-female relations, sexualities, and even governmental institutions. Thus, the harem has been the subject to much fantasizing; yet it was presented to the European public as representative of all Muslim societies over time, of entire cultures and civilizations. Indeed, the French colonial regime in Algeria after 1830 manipulated the fiction of the harem and polygamy as a political device to deny Muslim Algerians basic civil rights. Against imagined views of the harem from “outside” should be juxtaposed the view from the “inside.” For North African or Middle Eastern people of ordinary station, the harem was as exotic a notion as it was for Europeans. Few women, aside from a handful from the upper ranks of urban elites, ever lived in harems. Among many families of whatever social class in “traditional” North African society, monogamy appears to have been more prevalent than polygamy. What did the harem constitute culturally and socially for those relatively few women who lived within its confines? Simply stated, the harem was a private social space within a large household where elite women from an extended family lived, worked, and interacted with their children and servants on a daily basis. While off limits to men from outside the immediate kinship circle, the female quarters were more or less accessible to male family members as well as to women visitors, whether North African or from Europe. The following account was provided by an young English woman, Miss Smith, who resided in the 1840s with the family the British counsel general, Sir Thomas Reade, stationed in Tunis as a diplomat. Miss Smith accompanied Mrs. Reade and some other English ladies to the harem or household of the family of Prince Muhammad, brother of the ruler of Tunisia, Ahmad Bey (reigned 1837-1855). Source: “On the Tunisian Harem.” Based upon three different eyewitness accounts by European women furnished to James Richardson, an English traveler in Tunisia. In his “An Account of the Present State of Tunis.” London Public Record Office, Foreign Office records, Tunisia, 102/29, 1845. This source is a part of the North African Women and the French Empire, 1850-2000 teaching module.

Imperialism in North Africa: Letters, Lalla Zaynab

In North Africa, Muslim and Jewish women’s quotidian religiosity was expressed in popular observances and festivals preserved chiefly, but not exclusively, in oral traditions. The most visible embodiment of these beliefs and practices were saints’ shrine where women (and men) honored especially pious individuals, who could be either male or female, living or dead. Lalla Zaynab (1850?-1904) was an Algerian woman born some 20 years after the French invasion in an oasis on the Sahara’s northern rim. She was revered in her lifetime as a living saint, spiritual patron, and mystic by the Muslim faithful in the community. Due to her reputation in Algeria, a number of Europeans visited her as well, invariably remarking upon the fact that she held both “spiritual and temporal power” and had attained a remarkable level of erudition as a scholar, yet was humble in manner and appearance. Zaynab enjoyed an elevated socio-spiritual position due to a number of factors: she succeeded her father as a religious leader; her family claimed descent from the Prophet Muhammad; and she had achieved advanced learning in the Islamic sciences. Moreover, she was, in a sense, “elected” to sainthood by her disciples, who venerated her as an exceptionally virtuous, pious woman blessed with miracle-working powers. Late in her life, Lalla Zaynab fashioned another source of empowerment for herself. In a bitter dispute over her father’s succession after his death in 1897, she successfully defied French colonial authorities in the Sahara. While Zaynab’s father had designated her as his heir and successor to religious leadership, colonial authorities did not want a Muslim woman holding spiritual and social power. Therefore, they selected a male successor—Zaynab’s cousin—to assume local religious leadership. However, Zaynab refused to yield. By the late 19th century, French officials had developed a whole range of mechanisms for dealing with rebellious Algerian men but, when confronted by a woman, they proved powerless. In the letters translated below and written in 1897 to the French general in charge of the region, Zaynab appeals to French justice in an adroit maneuver to force colonial officials to abide by the laws that they claim to uphold. She also reminds French officials that her recently deceased father was a Muslim leader who attempted peacefully to come to terms with French colonialism in Algeria. Zaynab resisted through peaceful means and won; she remained as head of her father’s religious center until her death in 1904. Afterwards, Zaynab’s tomb-shrine was visited by Muslims pilgrims, male and female, from across Algeria and North Africa, where she is still reverently remembered in oral traditions today. Source: Clancy-Smith, Julia. “The House of Zainab: Female Authority and Saintly Succession in Colonial Algeria.” In Women in Middle Eastern History: Shifting Boundaries In Sex and Gender. Edited by Nikki R. Keddie and Beth Baron. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992. Documents from the Archives d’Outre-Mer, Aix-en-Provence, Algeria, 2U22, 1897. This source is a part of the North African Women and the French Empire, 1850-2000 teaching module.

Beautiful Fatima

Photography was critical to imperialism. The French army (and the British army in India) employed the camera’s lens to chronicle military exploits, first in Algeria during the 1850s, and later in Tunisia and Morocco. With advances in photographic technology, portrait studios were established in Europe and in European empires. Most studio photography in this period produced family portraits that were staged and arranged by the photographer. However, as the demand for images of non-Western exotic peoples, particularly of women, swelled in Europe and elsewhere, postcards illustrated with posed studio photographs were produced by the tens of thousands. By the late nineteenth century in Algeria and elsewhere, contrived photographic images of the “Arab woman” or “la Mauresque” [The Moorish woman]—who was provocatively presented either covered or uncovered—were widely produced. Many were done in studios in Algiers (or in France or Europe) and employed the same stage “props”—water pipes, oriental carpets, lavish “traditional” costumes, and allegedly “native” women and men. Often, however, the people posing were not even North African. This image of “Beautiful Fatima” was produced in a studio in Algiers and used as a postcard sent home by travelers or tourists to Algeria. This particular pose does not seem especially offensive, although the languid, fey pose assumed by the woman suggests indolence as well as sexual availability. Other postcards, however, were sexually suggestive or explicitly racist, showing men and women—supposedly Algerian—in a demeaning manner. Visually representing “the” Arab or Muslim or Algerian woman in strange, exotic, or erotic ways served to distance the colonized from modern, enlightened, Western societies, and thus to justify their subjugation under the colonial regime. Thus, images and representations of various kinds have always served imperial aims. This source is a part of the Women and Empire teaching module and the North African Women and the French Empire, 1850-2000 teaching module.

Imperialism in North Africa: Newspaper, Hubertine Auclert

From the middle of the 19th century on, European women settled in colonial empires in Asia and Africa in greater numbers. Some, even many, attempted to effect changes for the good of colonized women. One example of this in French Algeria was Hubertine Auclert, (1848-1914), the radical Parisian feminist writer and women’s suffrage activist. Auclert lived in Algeria from 1888 to 1892 and published an important work in 1900 on Algerian women, Les femmes arabes (Arab Women). In addition, she devoted numerous articles to the cause of Algerian women’s emancipation through modern education, access to work, and transformations in a colonial legal system that disenfranchised the colonized, reducing many to misery. Traditional female crafts—for examples, pottery, embroidery, textile weaving, and carpet production—had suffered greatly in Algeria due to competition from imported, machine-made products. Since they lost their status as artisans and producers, women also lost economic independence in their own society. In addition, Auclert critiqued the French colonial regime in Algeria for refusing to establish sufficient schools for girls and even closing some academic institutions to replace them with native handicraft workshops. On the 28th of May 1892, Auclert published an article in La petite Republique Française entitled “Women’s Work and Handicraft Production.” In another newspaper, Le Radical, Auclert again wrote of the urgent need for girls’ education in an article entitled “Women and Algeria,” published on November 22, 1896. Source: Clancy-Smith, Julia. “A Woman Without Her Distaff: Gender, Work, and Handicraft Production in Colonial North Africa.” In A Social History of Women and the Family in the Middle East. Edited by Margaret Meriwether and Judith Tucker. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1999. Documents from the Bibliotheque de la Ville de Paris, Fonds Bougle, Manuscrits Hubertine Auclert, “La Presse et le Feminisme, 1880-1914.” This source is a part of the North African Women and the French Empire, 1850-2000 teaching module.

Imperialism in North Africa: Report, M. Coriat

North Africa has long been home to ancient, diverse communities of Jews, originally from Spain, Italy, Palestine, or elsewhere. Many claim to have inhabited the area stretching from Morocco to Tunisia for nearly two millennia—since around 70 CE—although others trace their roots even farther back in time to the Punic or Carthaginian period (ca. 814-146 BCE). Traditionally, Morocco boasted a large Jewish community whose numbers reached in the hundreds of thousands. As the notion of the civilizing mission spread throughout the French empire during the nineteenth century, French Jews from Paris embraced this idea to promote the cultural regeneration of non-European Jews—mainly in North Africa and the Middle East—by introducing modern education. In 1860, a new, private Jewish organization was founded in Paris—the Alliance Israélite Universelle—whose goal was to teach modern French ideas in the realms of social, political, and cultural life, above all, in primary education, to Jews outside of Europe. To that end, French or European Jewish teachers trained in modern pedagogy, books, and curricula were dispatched as “missionaries” to places like Morocco. The kind of education and social organization advocated by the Paris-based Alliance Israélite constituted a revolutionary break with the past for North African Jews. At first, schools were only for boys, but by the late nineteenth century, girls schools had also been created in Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco. One of North Africa’s leading Jewish writers and novelists—Albert Memmi, born in 1920 in Tunis—was educated in a school established by the Alliance. Despite their good intentions, French Jews attempting to modernize their fellow Arab Jews encountered resistance, particularly when it came to changes in gender relations, women’s legal status, and girls’ upbringing. In Mrs. M. Coriat’s 1902 report, “A Sympathetic Account of the Condition of the Women of Marakesh, submitted to the Alliance, ” we see some of the same attitudes that Christian missionaries held toward non-Christian peoples in Asia and Africa, or, indeed, middle-class social reformers in the United States or Europe toward working-class peoples in American or European cities. Source: Clancy-Smith, Julia. “Albert Memmi and The Pillar of Salt.” In African Literature and Its Times. Edited by Joyce Moss. Los Angeles: Moss Publication Group, 2000. This source is a part of the North African Women and the French Empire, 1850-2000 teaching module.

Photograph of Fatima the Moroccan

By 1900, only the Kingdom of Morocco remained more or less independent of European rule, although European competition for Morocco was intense between Spain, France, and Germany. Between 1899 and 1912, French armies progressively occupied the country using Algeria as a base. In 1912, the French and Spanish protectorates were declared, with the lion’s share of Moroccan territory going to France. Nevertheless, it took France several decades to quell the numerous rural revolts sparked by military occupation. These rebellions had scarcely been suppressed when the Moroccan nationalist movement emerged in the post-World War I era. One of the ironies of colonialism is that native peoples worldwide were forced into the imperial armies of the French, British, Italian, and other empires. Moroccan soldiers served under the French flag—as did Algerian and Tunisian soldiers—in large numbers. Some were forced into the army against their will; others were enrolled as “volunteers”—“perfect mercenaries” for combat in Europe or other French possessions worldwide. During World War I, France sent tens of thousands of North African soldiers to fight in the trenches in Europe, where they often were deployed as “cannon fodder.” Some 173,000 Algerians served in the French army during the “Great War.” In addition, the North African units were segregated from French soldiers and often housed and fed in an inferior manner compared to European combatants. At the same time, the European empires employed propaganda to enlist women in the war effort—for example, by laboring in jobs traditionally restricted to men, such as manufacturing weaponry. Women as warriors, as soldiers, women bearing arms, however, has always been problematic. Thus, this photo from the French newspaper, Le Miroir, dated June 13, 1915, is entitled “Women who fight as real soldiers,” raises many issues. The text reads: “Fatima [Fathima in French], the Moroccan woman, whose portrait we reproduce here, followed into battle from the beginning of the war our [North African] units and fought courageously like a man.” We have no other information on Fatima, the Moroccan, or how she got to the European front during the war. Did she disguise herself as a man? Historically speaking, this was a way that women seeking to fight could do so. Or was she already in France before the war and subsequently volunteered when Moroccan units, perhaps including male family members, arrived to fight with France against Germany? And what propaganda uses were made of her image? Was the photo of her, dressed in a soldier’s uniform, meant to encourage Moroccan soldiers fighting in a strange land for a cause that was not theirs? Or was this image aimed more at European audience, intending to demonstrate the loyalty of the colonized in a world war of Europe’s own making? The questions are endless. Although one hint lies in the weekly Le Miroir’s statement that it “would pay any price for photographic documents relating to the war and presenting a particular interest to the public.” Nevertheless, one thing is certain—this image contrasts with the depiction of “Belle Fatima,” the sensuous woman clothed in oriental finery and posed reclining in a studio photograph in accordance with the dictates of European male fantasies. This source is a part of the North African Women and the French Empire, 1850-2000 teaching module and the Primer: Imperialism methods module.

Imperialism in North Africa: Autobiography, Fadhma Amrouche

Fadhma Amrouche was the illegitimate daughter of an impoverished, illiterate Berber peasant woman. Born a Muslim, she was converted to Christianity by Catholic missionaries, produced one of the first autobiographies ever written by an Algerian woman, became a naturalized French citizen, and raised two children who became well-known French literati—Taos Marie-Louise Amrouche, a poet and novelist, and Jean Amrouche, also a poet. The remarkable life odyssey of Fadhma Amrouche mirrors many of the realities—as well as contradictions—of colonialism as lived, particularly for women. She was born in a remote village in the rugged mountains of Kabylia in 1882, under less than auspicious circumstances. When the villagers discovered that Fadhma’s mother, Aïni, was pregnant out of wedlock, they attempted to kill her as an adulteress. But plucky Aïni placed herself under the protection of the local French colonial magistrate, thus saving Fadhma’s life. After the child’s birth, her mother—a Muslim—took her to a Catholic convent so that her daughter would have a better life. When that did not work out satisfactorily, her mother entrusted her to the care of secular missionaries in a distant girls’ boarding school. Fadhma spent ten years at the school under the care of Madame Malaval, who, like Hubertine Auclert, tirelessly promoted indigenous girls’ education. After colonial administrators closed the school, Fadhma found work at another Catholic mission, where she met her husband, Belkacem, also a Berber and a convert to Catholicism. Fadhma and the family—she bore eight children—moved to Tunisia in the years before World War I. In 1946, her son Jean, by then a recognized poet in France, asked Fadhma to write her memoirs, which, however, were not published until after her death in 1967 as Histoire de ma vie (My Life Story, 1968). She was also known for her musical talents as a singer and also as a repository of Kabyle oral traditions—songs, poetry, legends, and lore. This excerpt is from Fadhma’s recollections of the happy days that she spent as a young girl at the orphanage and school run by Madame Malaval. Source: Amrouche, Fadhma. My Life Story: The Autobiography of a Berber Woman. Translated and with an introduction by Dorothy S. Blair. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1989. This source is a part of the North African Women and the French Empire, 1850-2000 teaching module.

Imperialism in North Africa: Interview, Tewhida Ben Sheikh

Tewhida Ben Sheikh [1909-2010] was the first North African Muslim woman to earn a medical degree from the Faculty of Medicine in Paris, in 1936, while Tunisia was still under colonial rule. After she was awarded her medical diploma in France, Madame Ben Sheikh returned to Tunis, where she opened a women’s reproductive health clinic, often providing free medical services for poor women. She was also very active in the nationalist movement until independence from France was won in 1956. Julia Clancy-Smith interviewed Madame Ben Sheikh at her lovely home in Tunis during the summer of 1998; the two-hour discussion was conducted in Tunisian Arabic and French. Clancy-Smith asked Madame Ben Sheikh to narrate the events leading up to her medical studies in Paris in the inter-war period. She recalled the pivotal role that her illiterate, widowed mother played in her education from primary school on, and then the assistance of a French doctor, Dr. Etienne Burnet, and his Russian wife, then residing in Tunis. After Tewhida graduated from secondary school 1928, she wanted to engage in social work. Dr. Burnet—who worked at the Pasteur Institute in Tunis—and his wife realized that Tewhida showed promise in the medical field. At the time, there was only one place in North Africa to obtain a medical degree—Algiers; but Tewhida’s family did not want her going there. This left the School of Medicine in Paris, where the Burnets hoped the young woman would be able to enroll. But Tewhida’s family was of elite status and very socially conservative; she had never been outside of Tunis, thus the idea of going to Paris with the Burnets was unthinkable. Tewhida had been so gifted in secondary school that all her professors went to her family and urged her mother to allow her to pursue medical studies in Paris. One of them said: “It is a crime if she does not pursue her studies in Paris.” Here is a verbatim transcript of another interview with Dr. Ben Sheikh, recorded by Perdita Huston circa 1992, that provides additional details on her family and life. Source: Huston, Perdita. Motherhood by Choice: Pioneers in Women’s Health and Family Planning. New York: The Feminist Press, 1992. This source is a part of the North African Women and the French Empire, 1850-2000 teaching module.

Imperialism in North Africa: Law, Code of Personal Status

In 1956 one of the most revolutionary family law codes in the Arab or Islamic world was proclaimed in the newly independent Tunisian state which, paradoxically, had not suffered a political revolution in the way that colonial Algeria would. What historical factors explain why Tunisian women won comparatively more legal and social rights than women in Algeria or Morocco? While the colonial regime in Tunisia was marked by extensive violence and a refusal to properly educate native girls, there did emerge a Tunisian reform movement focusing upon women’s rights by the early 20th century. The reformers called for modern education for all children, changes to religious (i.e., Islamic) laws and traditions judged prejudicial to women, unveiling, and, eventually, the vote. Movements for modernizing reforms typically attracted the support of middle-class, urban men and women who were tied in one way or another to the nationalist movement. By the inter-war period, Tahar al-Haddad, a Tunisian Muslim reformer, proposed a new reading of women’s rights in Islamic law and campaigned to educate women as national mothers—an entirely new role for Tunisian women, demonstrating the influence of nationalist thinking. Finally, the French colonial regime in Tunisia, while repressive, sought to avoid the errors and excesses committed in Algeria. Tunisian men and women had been obliged to take up arms to fight the French colonial regime to achieve independence but the level of institutionalized violence and social disruption never reached the proportions suffered in Algeria. This allowed nationalist leaders, such as Habib Bourguiba, the first president of Tunisia (1956-1987), to institute far-reaching legal and other types of changes beneficial to women and thus to society as a whole. These were enshrined in the 1956 Code, which governed such critical matters as marriage, divorce, inheritance, alimony, child custody and adoption. Polygamy was outlawed as was the husband’s right to repudiation. Since then, inspired by the spirit of the original family code, Tunisian women have seen their right to education and to equal pay for equal work legislated as well. Source: Charrad, Mounira. States and Women’s Rights: The Making of Postcolonial Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.; Clancy-Smith, Julia. “Colonialism: 18th to Early 20th Century.” Methodologies, Paradigms and Sources of the 6-volume Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures, Vol. 1. Edited by Suad Joseph. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2003. This source is a part of the North African Women and the French Empire, 1850-2000 teaching module.

Imperialism in North Africa: Interview, Djamila Bouhired

By the eve of the revolution, Algerian demands for even limited political and civil rights had been repeatedly rebuffed by the French colonial regime and the nearly one million European settlers in the country. The only possible solution was armed conflict, which broke out on All Saints Day, November 1954. Thus began one of Africa’s cruelest anticolonial wars—an immense human tragedy that endured for eight long years, one whose consequences are still felt today in Algeria and France. Since the rebels were vastly outnumbered by the French army and had little in the way of military equipment or supplies, the fighting was mainly in the form of guerrilla operations in rural areas. Depending upon where they lived—city or village—and their level of education, Algerian women participated in the struggle in three capacities. Rural women either joined the Army of National Liberation or provided food, provisions, and havens for the guerrillas; about 80% of the women who actively participated resided in the countryside. In cities, they joined the FLN (National Liberation Front) or served in support capacities. As Marnia Lazreg’s research shows, the urban women who participated in the nationalist struggle were often young, middle-class graduates of French lycées, for example, Djamila Boupacha and Djamila Bouhired. They were particularly important during the Battle of Algiers which took place in 1957 and was later immortalized by Italian film maker, Gillo Pontecorvo, in his 1965 film, La bataille d’Alger. French-educated women, who had never worn the traditional veil, adopted it as a military strategy in order to carry bombs, money, or messages from one zone of Algiers to another without being detected. A number of women were captured by the French police or army, imprisoned, and subjected to horrible torture as was Djamila Boupacha, who was raped with a broken wine bottle. Louisette Ighilahriz, who joined the FLN after her father was seized by colonial authorities, was imprisoned and tortured in Algiers’ notorious Barbarossa prison in 1957. Djamila Bouhired, who was recruited in 1956 for the FLN by her older brother, also became a cause célèbre after her arrest in 1957 for carrying a bomb. These women were eventually released due to international pressures from human rights groups and French intellectuals—but only after terrible suffering. Despite the enormous risks, what did participation mean for women at the time? The words of one Algerian woman who fought with the maquis reflects the experience of many. What impact did the national liberation struggle have upon the lives of women once the treaty of peace was signed with France? During the fury of the war, Frantz Fanon had predicted that a new social order would emerge from the dreadful carnage in Algeria—but he was wrong. Rather, the urgent human need for social order and the problem of appropriate cultural models for Algerian Muslim women arose after 1962. In an effort to assert political authority and cultural authenticity as well as restore their masculinity so badly bruised by colonial rule, male nationalist leaders proved notoriously resistant to demands for female emancipation once they assumed power. After 1962, the independent Algerian government registered nearly 11,000 women as war veterans, but this figure greatly undervalued the actual number of women who actively contributed to the war effort. How do these women who once fought for freedom from colonial rule view their situation at the present time? Today Djamila Bouhired, now a grandmother, still militates. However, her battle is of a different sort—she is actively involved in feminist protests advocating immediate improvements in the legal, political, and social status of Algeria’s women. The fact that women’s rights are more restricted and less secure than in Tunisia raises questions about women, gender, colonial violence, and nationalism. In Tunisia, independence was achieved in 1956 with relatively little upheaval, while unspeakable violence, bloodshed, and social chaos reigned for years in Algeria. Herein lies one of the greatest paradoxes of colonialism and nationalist struggles—a paradox which women and gender studies can help resolve. The greater the institutionalized violence and the violation of basic rights under an imperial or colonial system of rule, the less likely it is that far-reaching, permanent changes in women’s status, condition, and lives will occur. Indeed, women can lose precious, hard-won rights that they had secured earlier due to invasion or imperial interventions—as events in U.S.-occupied Iraq prove today in 2005. Source: Lazreg, Marnia. The Eloquence of Silence: Algerian Women in Question. New York: Routledge Press, 1994, 123. This source is a part of the North African Women and the French Empire, 1850-2000 teaching module.

Imperialism in North Africa: Autobiography, Leila Abouzeid

In Morocco, after 1912, the colonial regime eschewed, for the most part, introducing overt changes into Islamic personal status law. Indeed the patriarchy of the reigning dynasty, the ’Alawis, and of the leaders of the great tribes, was reinforced, since France wanted Morocco to theoretically remain “traditional,” untouched by modernity. Nevertheless France’s divide-and-conquer strategy indirectly politicized Islamic family law by opposing it to customary law. The colonial administration transformed cities, built roads, and introduced rudimentary health care, but severely circumscribed modern education, especially for girls. After World War I, a massive influx of European settlers and land expropriations fed the growing anticolonial nationalism. Rural, militant resistance—in which women had always played an active part—to the occupying French army had never ceased and continued in one form or another until the outbreak of the nationalist revolt during the aftermath of World War II. The humiliations suffered by France during World War II weakened French rule in the colonies and strengthened nationalist parties throughout the French Empire. The 1952 Casablanca massacres, in which the police and army shot down hundreds of unarmed civilians, constituted a watershed, since they served to politicize the masses. In 1953, the colonial regime in Morocco made a major tactical political error by exiling the ruler, Sultan Mohammed V, which, however, transformed him into a nationalist symbol. From that time on, a guerrilla war raged between nationalists, male and female, and the French military. As was true in Algeria and Tunisia, Moroccan women were key to the struggle, since they could move about more freely than Moroccan men due to the colonial assumption that colonized Muslim women, whether veiled or not, were apolitical. In 1956, the French, embroiled in a deadly war in Algeria, decided to grant independence to both Morocco and Tunisia. Independence, however, brought bittersweet fruit for certain social classes, particularly women of ordinary means. Illiteracy among women and girls was much higher in Morocco than in Tunisia or Egypt. In 1955, only six girls had attained secondary school diplomas; it was only in the 1950s that Khalila Bennouna published the first novel written by a woman. Five decades later, the situation has dramatically changed due to education and other changes. Leila Abouzeid, born in 1950, is Morocco’s best known female writer. In addition to poetry, newspaper articles, short stories, and translations, she has published three books: a novel, Year of the Elephant in 1984 (translated into English in 1990), an autobiography, Return to Childhood: The Memoir of a Modern Moroccan Woman in 1993 (English translation, 1998) and in 2003, The Last Chapter, a semi-autobiographical work dwelling on identity, gender, and male-female relations. Abouzeid has deliberately chosen to write in Arabic—not in French—although many of her works have been translated into foreign languages. In Return to Childhood, Abouzeid breaks a taboo by revealing clan secrets and at the same time legitimizes autobiography which, as an imported literary genre, was not held in high esteem until very recently. A narrative of her family’s struggles during the nationalist fight for independent, the memoir reveals the contradictions and ambiguities that real people—particularly women—encountered on a daily basis. As is true in all political upheavals, women played a critical role in militant resistance but once the fighting was over, men and society expected them to return to their restricted traditional roles. In the excerpt below, we hear two voices, Leila and her mother, both recalling events. Her mother, although illiterate, courageously brought food to Abouzeid’s father after he was incarcerated in colonial prisons for his militant opposition to the French Protectorate. She also offered biting insights into the politics of oppression, yet did not—as we see in the second excerpt—fully realize the urgent necessity of sending her daughters to modern school. Source: Abouzeid, Leila. Return to Childhood: The Memoir of a Modern Moroccan Woman. Austin, Texas: The Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 1998. This source is a part of the North African Women and the French Empire, 1850-2000 teaching module.

Imperialism in North Africa: Song, Amina Annabi

North African women have long, rich traditions of vocal and instrumental music. At weddings and other joyous occasions, including religious celebrations, female musicians sing, perform, and dance. One of the most popular singers and composers in Europe today is a Tunisian woman, Amina Annabi, whose music—and life—fuses traditional Arab, Middle Eastern, and West African musical genres with Western music, particularly blues, jazz, reggae, rap, and rock ‘m’ roll. Amina’s is a complicated story, however, since it is not merely the tale of a talented musician making it in the world music movement from the 1980s on. Her life is intertwined with the postcolonial reality of millions of North Africans who reside permanently in European nations; many were born there and are from second- or third-generation migrant families. While they hold legal citizenship in France, the UK, Italy, Spain, or Belgium, their family origins as Muslims, Arabs or Berbers, or Africans often brings rejection or marginalization at worst—at best, partial social and cultural integration. Annabi was born in Carthage, a suburb of Tunis in 1962. She is the product of a “mixed marriage”—her father is French, her mother Tunisian. Amina’s mother came from a family that boasted gifted female musicians and composers, including her grandmother. The social composition of Carthage in those days was still very culturally diverse, with large Mediterranean expatriate communities; each had its own diverse musical traditions that Annabi intertwines with Tunisian Arab classical forms, such as “Malouf.” In addition, Tunisia has hosted international summer musical festivals for decades in Carthage and Tabarka which brought in vocalists, like James Brown, Tina Turner, Joan Baez, Algerian and Senegalese musicians, and performers from around the world. Thus the young woman was raised in a milieu saturated with heterogeneous musical influences. In 1975 she went to Paris with her mother, where she pursued music at France’s leading world music station, Radio Nova. Her first recorded album, “Yalil” (Night), included songs like “Belly Dance,” and, reflecting her own background, fused an eclectic range of musical styles characterized as “ethno-techno.” “Yalil” was released in over twenty countries; as a result, in 1991 she was named the “Best Female Singer of the Year” in France. That same year, she joined an international musicians’ peace project to protest the first American invasion of Iraq. In addition, Amina represented France at the 1991 Eurovision Song Contest held in Rome, where she received a second place. Again, in 1994, she was invited to participate in a multi-artist album entitled Paris, which celebrated the French capital. Thus one sees a progression in her career—from first prize winner to actually representing France and French culture in international competitions—by combining the musical traditions of former French colonies with those of Europe or the West. One of her most popular songs is entitled “Yanari”—which means “Life is Difficult”—a piece about migrants, immigration, visas, and the traumas of transnational families. In July 2001, she toured the United States with French musical groups, performing in New York, Washington, D.C., and other major cities. One wonders—given the political climate in the United States currently and the fact that a huge number of foreign artists have been refused permission to enter the country—whether she would be allowed now to sing. (She is also a film actress, playing in such films as Bertolucci’s “The Sheltering Sky” [1990].) In many of Amina’s songs, she embraces the old Orientalist and colonial stereotypes of the sensuous depraved Eastern woman and inverts them, making musicial parodies of cultural parodies. Together with a growing number of North African artists, such as the Algerian raï singer Khaled, Amina has managed to break out of the postcolonial cultural and political ghetto experienced by so many African migrants residing in Europe—through art and performance. From the French military depictions of Algerian women done in the 1830s and the colonial postcards of “la Belle Fatima,” we have come to Amina, who demands in one of her most famous songs: “Tell me, in the name of which nation do you raise your voice in my house; he who speaks the loudest is always the one who is right.” (From “Le dernier qui a parlé” or “He Who Has the Last Word.”) This source is a part of the North African Women and the French Empire, 1850-2000 teaching module.

Teaching Strategies

Given current U.S. military interventions in the Arab and Muslim worlds, there are important lessons to be gained by delving into questions of women and gender in the French Empire in North Africa. First and foremost, pervasive, monolithic, and very negative portrayals of Arab or Muslim women as inherently oppressed, powerless, voiceless—as lacking any agency—are immediately challenged by the region’s recent history. In addition, the wide variations in women’s responses to imperialism—from militant action, to peaceful resistance, to obtaining a modern, French education in order to oppose the colonial order—demonstrates clearly that North African women were not passive bystanders. Moreover, students begin to perceive at the same time that invoking a monolithic, unchanging “Islam” for explaining women’s lives and social status fails to explain much, if anything. It also becomes clear how much politics, violence, and militarism in various guises dramatically influence women and gender relations not only in colonial states but also in postcolonial states. All of these lessons and insights drawn from the North African case study have wide, nearly universal applicability to other empires, whether modern European empires, or the American Empire. Finally, by choosing to narrate individual women’s life stories, and employing this strategy as the principal frame for the module, I hope to show the immense power of biography to take us into the past, where we question received wisdom or unexamined assumptions—invariably about ourselves and the social universe we inhabit.

Discussion Questions:
  • How did different manifestations of French colonialism impact the lives of the North African women whose voices are heard in, or through, the fourteen documents found in this module? How and why did women’s daily experiences of French imperialism differ in each of the three North African countries?
  • How did imperial politics and policies and colonial representations of North African women intersect?
  • How do the stories of these individual women contradict the images and stereotypes of Arab or Muslim women found in current American media?

Lesson Plan

Treatment of Women in Colonial North Africa
Time Estimate

Three to four 45-minute class periods.


After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

  1. summarize the treatment of North African women by both North African men and the colonial powers.
  2. compare the treatment of European and North African women during this time.
  3. evaluate the multiple perspectives of the treatment of North African women.
  • Sufficient copies of the following sources (in this order): Source 10: Interview, Tewhida Ben Sheikh Source 13: Autobiography, Leila Abouzeid Source 4: Letters, Lalla Zaynab Source 2: Paintings, Claude Antoine Rozet Source 5: Photograph, Beautiful Fatima Source 8: Photograph, Fatima the Moroccan Source 7: Report, M. Coriat Source 9: Autobiography, Fadhma Amrouche Source 3: Personal Account, Visit to Tunisian Harem Source 1: Personal Account, Captain Carette Source 11: Law, Code of Personal Status
  • White/black board and markers/chalk, or overhead, transparencies, and pens (if desired)
  • Primary Source Analysis Worksheet: Images (if desired)
  • Primary Source Analysis Worksheet: Texts (if desired)
Differentiation Advanced Students:Ask the students to examine the following three translations of the same verse of the Qur’an: “Men are overseers of women because Allah has given the one more strength that the other, and because men are required to spend their wealth for the maintenance of women. Honorable women are, therefore, devoutly obedient and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah requires them to guard (their husband’s property and their own honor). As to those women from whom you fear disobedience, first admonish them, then refuse to share your bed with them, and then, if necessary, beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them and do not make excuses to punish them. Allah is Supremely Great and is aware of your actions.” (4:34). —Translated by Muhammad Farooq-i-Azam Malik; published by The Institute of Islamic Knowledge “Men are the support of women as God gives some more means than others, and because they spend of their wealth (to provide for them). So women who are virtuous are obedient to God and guard the hidden as God has guarded it. As for women you feel are averse, talk to them suasively; then leave them alone in bed (without molesting them), and go to bed with them (when they are willing). If they open up to you do not seek a reason for blaming them. Surely God is sublime and great. (4:34).” —Translated by Ahmed Ali; published by Princeton University Press “Men are in charge of women, because Allah has made some of them excel the others, and because they spend some of their wealth. Hence, righteous women are obedient, guarding the unseen that Allah has guarded. And for those of them [women] that you fear might rebel, admonish them and abandon them in their beds and beat them. Should they obey you, do not seek a way of harming them; for Allah is Sublime and Great.” (4:34). —Translated by Majid Fakhry; published by New York University University Press As Reza Aslan points out in No God But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, due to the variations in meaning of a number of Arabic words, multiple translations can be correct in meaning, grammar and so on. For example, “qawwamuna ‘ala an-nisa can be understood as ‘watch over,’ ‘protect,’ ‘support,’ ‘attend to,’ ‘look after,’ or ‘be in charge of’ women.” (70). Discuss with the students how the variations of meaning in the passages above have contributed to the different perceptions of the treatment of women in Islamic regions of the world. Less Advanced Students: Do more of the document investigation in groups (reading partners/buddies) where the students read the documents to each other and work together to fill out the document analysis sheets. Or, read the documents aloud together as a class and fill in the sheets as a class to try to ensure comprehension. To build vocabulary, have the students identify words needing clarification. Assemble a list on the board. Have dictionaries scattered through the room (ideally one per group) to which students may be referred. This could also be done as a group brainstorm. For the DBQ, have students fill out the Essay Writing Guide Worksheet and evaluate it based on use of evidence and structure before having the students write out the full DBQ.
  1. Historical Background/Prior Knowledge: Students should be familiar with the origin and early history of Islam before attempting this lesson. An understanding of the role of the Qur’an in Islam is important, though familiarity with it and/or knowledge of specific passages is not necessary. Students should be familiar with the Age of Imperialism and how France, Britain, Belgium, and other European nations treated the colonial people under their control. It would also be helpful if students had some knowledge of Western documents advocating freedoms/liberties like the English Bill of Rights and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man.
  2. Hook:Read or write on the board the following quote from the Qur’an. “Enjoin your wives, daughters, and believing women that they should draw their outer garments over their persons. That is more proper, so that they may be recognized and not bothered.” (33:59). Have the students think about the meaning of this quote. Ask the students to brainstorm reasons why women were asked to do this. Why not men?
  3. Treatment of North African Women by North African Men:Give the students copies of Source 10: Interview, Tewhida Ben Sheikh. Have the students read the document and underline or highlight words or phrases showing evidence of how North African women were treated. Discuss the students’ findings. Distribute copies of Source 13: Autobiography, Leila Abouzeid to the students. Once again, ask them to read the document and find evidence of how North African women were treated by North African men. Discuss the similarities and differences between the accounts of the two women seeking an education. Have the students read Source 4: Letters, Lalla Zaynab. Students should understand the patriarchal nature of North African societies. Ask the students:
  4. -Why was the author forced to appeal to the colonial authorities? -Would this have happened if it was a European woman? -How widely were Western women educated at this time? -How much control over property did Western women have? -Is the issue religious or simply based on gender? -Think of Elizabeth Blackwell earning a medical degree in 1849 or Olympia Brown being ordained a minister in 1863; how long was it until large number of women followed in their footsteps? Remind the students that property rights really only came in the late-19th century and voting in the early to mid-20th century. Most British and all German women got the vote in 1918 and American women the vote in 1920; most major powers extended the franchise prior to WWII with the exception of France and Japan, which did not allow women to vote until 1945; Switzerland not until 1971.
  5. Treatment of North African Women by Colonial Powers: Distribute copies of Source 2: Paintings, Claude Antoine Rozet and Source 5: Photograph, Beautiful Fatima. After the students study the images and fill out the Primary Source Analysis Worksheet: Images for each source, ask them to compare the images of women portrayed. Why the differences? Pass out copies of Source 8: Photograph, Fatima the Moroccan. Have the students study the image using the Primary Source Analysis Worksheet: Images as a guide. Does this image reinforce either of the other two images? Why or why not? Give the students copies of Source 7: Report, M. Coriat and Source 9: Autobiography, Fadhma Amrouche. After the students read the documents, ask them what the goals of the French schools were. Discuss the three “C's” of colonialism mentioned in the introduction to the unit (the civilizing mission, commerce, and Christianity). To what extent did the schools promote these goals? The students should understand that Islam alone doesn’t explain the treatment of women, as evidenced by the photos. Ask the students if the photos support or refute the verse from the Qur’an in the "Hook." The students should understand that the extent of the three “C’s” of colonialism depended on what was best for France. Native views toward assimilation were not considered.
  6. Multiple Perspectives: Ask the students what they think of when they hear the word harem. After listing the students’ responses on the board or overhead, write the following quotation from Qur’an on the board or distribute as a handout. “If you have to ask his [Muhammad’s] wives for anything, speak to them from behind a curtain. This is more chaste for your heart and for theirs.” (33:53). Ask the students to discuss this quote in light of their brainstorm on the harem and the prior discussion regarding the photos and the verse from the Qur’an in the "Hook." Distribute copies of Source 3: Personal Account, Visit to Tunisian Harem. Discuss meaning. Ask students to explain whether their perception of the harem has changed from the earlier brainstorm of harem and discussion of the quote and what they think of it after reading and discussing the document. Distribute Source 1: Personal Account, Captain Carette to the students. After they read it, ask the students to contrast the image of women in it with the account of the visit of the harem. What about with the quotations from the Qur’an found above? The French have held the idea of personal liberty dear since the French Revolution, yet they refused to educate native women in Tunisia. Distribute Source 11: Law, Code of Personal Status to the students. Have them read the document. Afterwards, ask the students to explain how a “repressive” culture (Muslims) could grant more rights to women than a Western democracy did.

Document Based Question

Document Based Question (Suggested writing time: 40 minutes)

Directions: The following question is based on the documents included in this module. This question is designed to test your ability to work with and understand historical documents. Write an essay that:

  • Has a relevant thesis and supports that thesis with evidence from the documents.
  • Uses all or all but one of the documents.
  • Analyzes the documents by grouping them in as many appropriate ways as possible. Does not simply summarize the documents individually.
  • Takes into account both the sources of the documents and the authors' points of view.

You may refer to relevant historical information not mentioned in the documents. Question: To what extent did the treatment of women in North Africa change over time as the region went from being colonies in the 19th and early 20th centuries to independence in the mid-20th century? Be sure to analyze point of view in at least three documents or images. What additional sources, types of documents, or information would you need to have a more complete view of this topic?


Baker, Alison. In Voices of Resistance: Oral Histories of Moroccan Women. Albany: SUNY Press, 1998.
This is an indispensable source for understanding the roles played by women from different social classes in the anticolonial movement in Morocco. The author interviewed a wide array of Moroccan women who participated in various ways in the nationalist struggle.
Charrad, Mounira. States and Women’s Rights: The Making of Postcolonial Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.
This is a comparative historical and sociological analysis of the current differences in the legal statuses of women in the three former French colonies. The author locates present-day variations in the legal status of women in the pre-colonial and particularly the colonial periods.
Clancy-Smith, Julia. “Colonialism: 18th to Early 20th Century.” In Methodologies, Paradigms and Sources, vol. 1 of Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures. Suad Joseph. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2003.
This article surveys the impact that European imperialism exerted upon knowledge about Muslim women and Islamic cultures. It focuses upon the two major colonial powers—Great Britain and France—although other European nations are considered for comparative purposes. The essay’s historical parameters run from 1750 until the eve of the Great War.
Clancy-Smith, Julia and Frances Gouda, eds. Domesticating the Empire: Gender, Race, & Family Life in the Dutch and French Empires. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998.
This multi-author volume has a number of essays devoted to women and gender in the French Empire; three chapters deal specifically with 19th- and 20th-century Algeria.
Lazreg, Marnia. The Eloguence of Silence: Algerian Women in Question. New York: Routledge Press, 1994.
This historical survey analyzes Algerian women’s condition from the precolonial through the postcolonial periods. Lazreg takes to task not only France and French imperialism for the fact that Algerian women lack many basic civil and legal rights even today, but also male nationalist leaders who refused to recognize women’s contributions to the nationalist struggle after independence was won in 1962.


About the Author

Julia Clancy Smith is Professor of History of the Middle East and North Africa at the University of Arizona. She is the author of numerous books, including Rebel and Saint: Muslim Notables, Populist Protest, Colonial Encounters (Algeria and Tunisia, 1800-1904) for which she received awards from the French Colonial Historical Society, the Phi Alpha Theta International Honor Society in History and the Middle East Studies Association. Her numerous other publications have been featured in journals such as The Journal of World History, The International Journal of Middle East Studies, and The American Historical Review. She is interested primarily in Middle Eastern/North African women’s history and literature and gender relations in imperialism/colonialism, and has received many grants and awards supporting her research.

About the Lesson Plan Author

Bill Velto is an Upper School History Teacher at Cary Academy in Cary, North Carolina, teaching World History and an elective, Terrorism: Modern Political Violence. Prior to that, he taught at James Pace High School in Brownsville, Texas, and Potsdam High School in Potsdam, New York. Bill holds degrees from St. Lawrence University and the University of Texas at Brownsville. He is a Teaching Fellow for the Choices Education Program at the Watson Institute for International Studies and has presented at numerous national conferences on a variety of topics. This teaching module was originally developed for the Women in World History project.

How to Cite This Source

"Long Teaching Module: North African Women and the French Empire, 1850-2000," in World History Commons, https://worldhistorycommons.org/long-teaching-module-north-african-women-and-french-empire-1850-2000 [accessed June 22, 2024]