When Algerians of the 1920s and 30s imagined the future of their country, women’s liberation was foundational to their vision. From the first generation of French-educated schoolteachers, to urban domestic workers who challenged spatial and economic divisions, to nationalist journalists pushing back against French colonial claims, Sara Rahnama describes how a range of Algerian actors conceived of women’s rights and responded to new developments in their own country and across the Middle East.
The Future is Feminist: Women and Social Change in Interwar Algeria (Cornell University Press, 2023) reveals a broad consensus that the advancement of Muslim women was necessary to Algeria’s progress. Rahnama draws on new sources to explain the “ecosystem of intellectual energy devoted to Muslim” that debated girls’ education, women’s employment, voting rights, and women’s and men’s headwear. The book places Algeria in a broader regional conversation, as writers turned to Islamic teachings and history and looked to contemporary changes to women’s political and social opportunities in Egypt, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Palestine to justify needed reforms in Algeria. These discussions in the interwar period sowed seeds that would blossom in the 1950s and 60s as Algerian women joined the nationalist movement, and gained new platforms to contribute their own opinions to these contested issues.