chapter  9
18 Pages

(Gender) struggles for the nation

This chapter grows out of a period of rethinking my earlier work on African women’s participation in the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe. In the late 1980s I set out to locate African women’s participation in Zimbabwe’s ruralbased struggle for national liberation within a broader context of rural political economy. My research focused on the connections between women’s roles in peasant agriculture, gender relations within households, and the many ways in which rural African women participated in the liberation struggle. This work drew upon a substantial body of literature on women’s involvement in nationalist struggles that had been published during the previous decade. This literature highlighted women’s active participation in nationalist movements throughout the former colonial world, and illuminated the “hidden” forms of women’s participation and women’s agendas that emerged from their involvement in nationalist struggles (see Eisen 1984; Geiger 1987, 1990;Jayawardena 1986; C. Johnson 1986; O’Barr 1976; Stacey 1983; Van Allen 1974, 1976). However, recent feminist scholarship, influenced by postmodern concerns with language, representation, and subjectivity, has shifted scholarly attention away from women’s political agendas and collective organizing in the context of nationalist movements, to the multiple and even contradictory ways in which identities are implicated in the very idea or construction of “the nation.” This work has powerfully demonstrated that nations have shifting meanings and boundaries. These are premised on particular notions of family, sexuality, and citizenship that are, in turn, based upon particular ideas about masculinity and femininity (see Eisenstein 1996; Gaitskell and Unterhalter 1989; McClintock 1993; Peterson 1994; Yuval-Davis and Anthias 1989). The emphasis has shifted from conceptualizing women as an interest group or constituency that participates in a social movement in exchange for greater access to state decision-making authority and resources, to broader exploration of the ways in which conceptual categories like “the state” and “citizen” are based upon particular gender identities.