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Women's Work in Western Liberation Movements, 1960-1975

Research presentation

Thanks for Typing: Wives, Daughters, Mothers, and Other Women Behind Famous Men Conference, University of Oxford

In his study of Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), Robert Clark claims that the Basque nationalists demonstrated an ‘antipathy toward women,’ as evidenced by the fact that in the 1970s, fewer than one-in-ten of its members were women. This exiguous representation reflects a wider phenomenon in violent nationalist groups, and has been internalised by outside observers, who often overlook the contributions of women. This paper examines the participation of women in violent nationalist organisations, taking as its sample Western sub-state nationalisms of the 1960s and 1970s—a time when women’s liberation movements also altered attitudes towards female activism.

Female membership of these groups was often restricted to the daughters, sisters, or romantic partners of male members. This paper begins by identifying this policy as mirroring the patriarchal concept of women being under the management of male family members, and investigates how women negotiated their relationships with other nationalists and law enforcement agencies given their status as ‘wife/daughter of…’ The paper also considers how women were overwhelmingly placed in intelligence or material support-related positions. It shows how these roles were devalued by their male counterparts, and recently by historians, and yet meant women contributed to the successful execution of assassinations, kidnappings, and bombings, aimed to further separatist agendas. Finally, it will examine instances of and responses to women taking up arms.

Throughout, this paper unsettles assumptions about who was behind nationalist violence, and recognises how women struggled for equality even as they fought for national liberation.