Djamila Bouhired – Algerian Freedom Fighter

*Trigger warning; rape & torture*

Djamila was born in Al-Qasaba neighbourhood in colonial Algeria in 1935 to an Algerian father and a Tunisian mother. Her family was a middle class family and she was the only daughter amongst seven sons.

Djamila started her national struggle against the French colonisation from a very young age. She went to a French school where they were forced to sing the anthem ‘France is our Mother’ whereas Djamila would say instead ‘Algeria is our Mother’, which ended up in her getting punished.

Aged twenty Djamila joined the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) when the revolution broke in 1954, and she was the first to volunteer to plant bombs in roads used by French military occupation. Algerian women played a major role in fighting against the French colonial regime, women were either involved in providing support for the fighters or fought in armed operations.

Djamila was involved in the battle for Algiers which occurred in 1957. Unfortunately, on April 9, 1957 she was arrested by the French occupation, when she was raped and severely tortured as the French military occupation used electro shocks on her wounded leg, her breast and genitalia which resulted in bleeding and amenorrhea. The French militants brutally tortured her hoping that she would reveal information about FLN leader Yasif Saadi, but she did not and for that reason she was sentenced to death.

Her imprisonment drew a lot of regional and international media attention. Many people marched the streets chanting for her release, and presidents such as Jamal Abed Al Nasser called for her freedom. Following that pressure on the colonial French regime, her sentence was reduced to life imprisonment. She was released in 1962 and then married her French lawyer Jacques Vergès, in 1965, and had two children Lias and Maryam. They both worked together on a magazine called Revolution Africaine, which focused on African nationalist movements. The couple separated in 1991 and she currently lives alone in Algeria.

Djamila Bouhired was an important part in the struggle for the freedom of Algeria, and is still a very significant figure that calls for protests to improve legal, social, political and economic situations of women.

She says:

“I am pleased that my life has meaning and a direction that I chose from the very beginning, which is that of the Algerian people’s struggle against colonialism and oppression from foreigners…I cannot express my happiness to be in the maquis better than by briefly taking stock of my positive experiences: Firstly, I became aware of the superiority of our organisation although I already knew that our struggle needed fighters and leaders. I understood that our army encompasses everything and assigns everybody the appropriate role and gives them the necessary responsibility…. Secondly and equally important, I understood that the enormous apparatus that our leaders have rapidly set up rests on solid and proven foundations such as the confidence, devotion, participation and even heroism of our civilian population.”

Written for Sheroes of History by Nof Nasser Eddin, Director of The centre for Transnational Development and Collaboration

Find out more…

There are several films which feature Djamila as a character and examine the Algerian War of Independence.  The 1966 film The Battle of Algiers and 1958 Jamila the Algerian and the documentary film Terror’s Advocate.

There is a longer, and more detailed account of Djamila’s life here.

See powerful photos of the Algerian-French war here and a timeline of the conflict here.

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