Our fighting sisters

Nation, memory and gender in Algeria, 1954–2012

Natalya Vince
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Between 1954 and 1962, Algerian women played a major role in the struggle to end French rule in one of the most violent wars of decolonisation of the twentieth century. Our Fighting Sisters is the first in-depth exploration of what happened to these women after independence in 1962.

Based on new oral history interviews with women who participated in the war in a wide range of roles, from members of the Algiers urban bomb network to women who supported the rural guerrilla, the book explores how female veterans viewed the post-independence state and its multiple discourses on ‘the Algerian woman’ in the fifty years following 1962, from the euphoria of national liberation to the civil violence of the 1990s. It also examines the ways in which these former combatants’ memories of the anti-colonial conflict intertwine with, contradict or coexist alongside the state-sponsored narrative of the war constructed after independence.

Part of an emerging field of works seeking to write the post-independence history of Algeria, this book aims to go beyond reading Algeria through the lens of post-colonial trauma or through a series of politicised dichotomies pitching oppressed citizen against oppressive state, official commemoration verses vernacular memory or contrasting narratives of post-independence decline with post-colonial success stories. Instead, this book is about the contradictions and compromises of state-building and nation-building after decolonisation. Its wider conclusions contribute to debates about gender, nationalism and memory.

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Winner of the Women's History Network Book Prize, 2016


‘For me, this is the most accomplished published work in recent years. Based on a thorough reading of the existing literature, an intimate knowledge of the field of research and in-depth interviews, the work of this young researcher is remarkable by the insightfulness of its observations and the pertinence of its conclusions…a landmark in the writing of the history of the Algerian women's movement.'
Khaoula Taleb Ibrahimi, University of Algiers 2 – Algeria
Women's History Review

‘Memories of wars matter. In their intimate and collective forms, wartime memories can shape current post-war identities, loyalties, understandings, aspirations, fears and, of course, silences…one of the most notable decisions that Natalya Vince has made in writing Our Fighting Sisters is choosing the dates for her subtitle: '1954–2012.' By choosing 2012 as her end point, she immediately highlights the analytical time frame of her investigation. She tells us that she does not think the Algerian anti-colonial war simply ended when the French pulled out. Rather, she contends, the war's gendered ripple effects have extended into 'peacetime.'
Cynthia Enloe, Clark University, Worcester, MA, USA
Women's History Review

‘Natalya Vince's book on women's contribution to the Algerian War of Independence, and on the legacy of their struggle until 2012, offers a ground-breaking view of the history of postcolonial Algeria. The fruit of years of research using archives in Algeria and, most import-antly, interviews with women remembering the war and commenting on their position and role in its aftermath, the book covers unprecedented terrain in its revelation of a little-charted history.'
Jane Hiddleston, Exeter College, University of Oxford
Bulletin of Francophone Postcolonial Studies

‘Our Fighting Sisters is an extremely rich and well-documented monograph.'
Emmanuel Pierre Guittet
Explosive Politics

‘Our Fighting Sisters: nation, memory and gender in Algeria, 1954–2012 by Natalya Vince definitely meets the expectations that the title anticipates: this well organized and clearly written book is rich in its elaboration of the topics of nation, memory and gender. It is based on a deep historical analysis of the role of women during the Algerian War of Independence and afterwards. With her book, Vince opens up a debate on the role of women in the war that continues to be dominated by the official post-colonial and nationalist state discourse in Algeria.'
Nadine Siegert, Iwalewahaus, University of Bayreuth – Germany
Women's History Review

‘Scholars from multiple disciplines will therefore find much of interest and value in this excellent study of memory and gender in Algeria.'
Claire Eldridge, University of Leeds
Journal of Contemporary History 52(2)

‘This book is one of the first to take an interest in the place of women in discussions of the Algerian nation from the War [of Independence] to the 2000s. It is very exciting in a number of ways.'
Raphaëlle Branche, Vingtième Siècle: Revue d'histoire

‘A fascinating, worthwhile book on female war veterans' memory of their role in the war and how it coincides with the national image of the Algerian woman shaped and re-shaped during the decades and political phases until 2012 contrasting their real life conditions.'
Katharina Marlenehey, LMU Munich/ENS Paris
French History
May 2016

‘Four dimensions make this book remarkable: it covers a long period (from the origins of the independence fight to the Facebook pages devoted to these women); it refuses academic chronological patterns; it breaks the historiographic silence of the post-independence years in Algeria (resulting from the impossible access to national archives); and it challenges many received ideas-for instance, the 'women returning to the kitchen' one. The book's coherence is underpinned by interviews held with 27 women belonging to two groups: a few rural women from small Kabyle villages who supported the guerrillas, and a greater number of urban women who were involved in the Algiers network.'
Marc André, Paris-Sorbonne
Modern & Contemporary France
December 2015

‘It is hard to underestimate either the value of this resource or the originality of the insights derived from it...Specialists in women's history and historical memory will find rich pickings throughout, and perhaps most of all in a searing final chapter, "Being remembered and forgotten" in which the post-colonial disappointments of nationalist activism and modernist idealism are laid bare.'
Martin C. Thomas, University of Exeter
May 2016

‘This sophisticated and thought-provoking study shows how the memory of the war simultaneously unites Algerians while offering a space to fight for gender rights and equality.'
Allison Drew, University of York
Labour History Review, vol. 81, no. 1
May 2016

‘Well written and meticulously researched, Vince's book offers important insights into Algeria's past and present. Challenging stereotypes and engaging in debates concerning gender, nation-building, and memory, the text encourages readers to view Algerian women as more than 'wombs of the nation, guardians of national essence, courageous teenage fighters' (212). Natalya Vince reminds us to see them all - the few high-profile women whose names became known beyond Algeria, and the many anonymous militants - as important contributors to an epic narrative of resistance that did not end in 1962.'
Mildred Mortimer from the University of Colorado
Journal of North African Studies
February 2016

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