Leaders in the desert: The Sahrawi women of Western Sahara
This report is based on research conducted in the Sahrawi refugee camps in southern Algeria in September of 2014. As two anthropologists we travelled to the refugee camps near Tindouf in southern Algeria to learn more about the leaders of the camps who we had heard were predominantly women. The Sahrawi became refugees after the Moroccans invaded Western Sahara after the Spanish withdrew as a colonial power in 1975 starting the Sahrawis long struggle for independence. Throughout our research in the camps women did not speak of violence or of rape. They did not complain of harassment or physical violence from their husbands. They instead spoke of the burning heat, the difficulties of not having enough water and their struggles for independence. The governing body of the Sahrawi, the Polisario Front was built with women’s equality being one of the strongest features of their social organization and that women’s equality was the dominant theme of life in the Sahrawi camps. Islam has also played a key role in the empowerment of women as the Sahrawi understand Islam as acknowledging men and women equally throughout the Koran and that Islam calls for the respect of women. Thus the example of the Sahrawi demonstrates that the equality amongst men is not only possible but that it is possible regardless of environment, culture or religion.
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