Revisiting the Guinea-Bissau liberation war: PAIGC, UDEMU and the question of women’s emancipation, 1963–74 | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 14, Issue 3
  • ISSN: 1476-413X
  • E-ISSN: 1758-9509



The relationship between social revolutions and women’s emancipation remains an unresolved controversy in historical scholarship. The ways in which various constituencies of a revolutionary movement view and relate to women’s emancipation organizations raise very uncomfortable questions. Under European colonialism, no sizeable African women’s movement devoted to women’s liberation existed in any African territory. In anti-colonial movements, the absence of viable women’s organizations working for women’s liberation presented several challenges to the African feminist activists and the male-led national liberation movements. It was only after the Second World War that the demands of women across the continent converged with those of national liberation movements as women proved to be a very reliable asset. The Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC – African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde) offers a strikingly unusual example of an African national liberation movement stressing the need for equality between men and women in the context of the revolution, ensuring that women occupied leadership positions, and the União Democrática das Mulheres da Guiné e Cabo Verde (UDEMU – Democratic Union of Women of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde) in 1961. Many party members did not support this radical approach, and internal conflict among the men caused UDEMU to disband in 1966. By examining the specific challenges the women’s emancipation agenda posed to the revolutionary leadership in Guinea-Bissau, this article reveals the sociocultural and gender biases among even the most advanced male leaders. This bias, I argue, is the primary reason this unique women’s emancipation agenda remained unfulfilled. Further, such bias influenced disagreement among the women themselves and so hindered them from articulating and applying a coherent programme. Only by delving into these biases and divisions can historians and activists begin to understand both the essential connections between national liberation and women’s liberation, and the reasons for the failure to put into practice these connections.


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  • Article Type: Article
Keyword(s): Africa; gender; Guinea-Bissau; nationalism; participation; war; women
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