Struggle for Liberation: A Battle on Two Fronts

September 30, 2011

Words by Johanna Svanelid

When talking about women in conflict we tend to focus on those subjected to male vio- lence. Less often do we remember those fighting for political causes – those not only oppressed as women, but as opponents to an occupying force or brutal dictator. Female freedom fighters are fighting a battle within their own movement, as well as against their oppressors. By being involved in a struggle for freedom and justice, they risk rape and harass- ment. Their struggle is twofold and perhaps liberation in one area is impossible without lib- eration in the other.

Rabab Amidane is a human rights activist from occupied Western Sahara. She was one of the main student activists fighting the occupa- tion and received the Norwegian Student’s Peace Prize in 2009. After Rabab received the prize she could not return home due to threats of discrimination, persecution and torture. Since the decolonisation of Africa, neigh- bouring Morocco has occupied Western Sahara. The population is split between refugee camps in the Algerian desert, and the occupied territories.

In October last year, around 20,000 Saharawi people from occupied territories established protest camps outside the capital El Ayun. They protested against discrimina- tion, poverty and human rights abuses. Noam Chomsky referred to these protests as the true start to the Arab spring. The camps were stormed and destroyed by Moroccan military forces. “They used water cannons, helicopters and firearms, beat people with batons and tore down their tents to force them to leave,” explains Rabab.

Saharawi political activists were arrested in the aftermath and many face imprisonment. People have been harassed and tortured and a high number have disappeared. For Rabab Amidane, the only option was to flee.

“I escaped from the Moroccan terror regime and settled as a refugee in Sweden. I could not live under those circumstances anymore.” The violence is still present; “I have been deeply affected by the recent violent attacks against my people. Police stormed my family’s house for the umpteenth time, and a large number of my closest friends have been imprisoned and beaten up”. For female activists, young and old, it is not uncommon to experience sexual violence and rape in prison.

To try and prevent young women from becoming engaged in the conflict, rumours are spread about the morality of activists. Many Western Saharan female activists have fought this, including Rabab Amidane, Aminatou Haydar and Soultana Khayya. These women have been fighting for a free Western Sahara whilst struggling against their position as second-class citizens.

Without recognition as an ethnic group or country, female liberation is far away. Support from the international arena is required. “The lack of support from the European govern- ments to the Saharawi people is a dangerous sign for the future. The Saharawi’s trust in the EU and the UN as institutions of peace is low. The EU, instead of supporting international law, undermines it by stealing our resources in cooperation with our Moroccan oppressors” explains Rabab.

The Students for a Free Western Sahara Society works in solidarity with all Saharawi students to raise awareness about the occupation of Western Sahara at SOAS.

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