In 1954, the war for Algerian independence broke out and women joined ranks to fight for their country. Thousands of women participated as paramilitary fighters, nurses, cooks, fundraisers, and provided logistic support to the National Liberation Army (ALN) – the combat arm of the National Liberation Front (FLN), the party of the nationalist independence movement.
Since women were viewed as less dangerous by the French authorities, they got away with carrying bombs or weapons in their purses, strollers, and under their clothing. Actual women combatants however were rare — perhaps 2% of the total combatants — but they wore uniforms and trained just like their male counterparts, which was unprecedented in Islam.
At its peak, the ALN had only 40,000 soldiers while France almost ten times more. But the struggle and the guerrilla war continued between the ALN and the French until 1962, when a ceasefire and a referendum granted Algeria its independence.
When Al-Arabi magazine, which was published in Kuwait, then still a British protectorate, first appeared in December 1958, its debut issue included photos of “A Day with the Algerian Liberation Army,” featuring photographs of Algerian women soldiers. Alongside the text, filled with revolutionary slogans, the photographs showed the heroism and the daily life of women fighters (proud and unveiled). The photos would later became national symbols in Algeria.
Al-Arabi was created with a clear purpose to promote a common culture across the entire Arab world and to support the Arab independence movements. In its 1950s and 1960s issue, the magazine covered the life of men and women across the Arab world in a progressive manner: ‘Cultural Exchanges between East and West’; ‘We Want One Arab Nation Unaffected by Political Changes’ (on pan-Arabism); ‘Islam Does Not Necessitate the Hijab and Women are Permitted to Work’ (written by a Kuwaiti mufti); ‘Policewomen’ (about Arab women in the police force); ‘On Arab Nationalism’ (on the relevance of Arab nationalism and why Arabs should free themselves of parochialism); ‘Machines Take the Place of Man’ (about city planning and the role of machinery in a rapidly developing Kuwait); ‘Borrowing Ideas in Arab Thought: All Cultures Overlap’ (on the benefits of being open to unfamiliar ideas); ‘Jesus Christ as Depicted by Artists from Various Times’ (an illustrated article that mentions how Muslim Arabs celebrate Christmas alongside Christian Arabs); ‘Syrian Women Writers’; ‘Birth Control’ (an illustrated medical explanation of how it works) and ‘Kuwaiti High School Students’ (an article with photographs of young Kuwaiti girls at school conducting experiments in science labs, playing music, throwing a basketball, and posing happily for the camera).