For many decades, scholars of gender and women's history in the Middle East and North Africa have challenged prevailing visions of an unchanged patriarchy, showing how patriarchy was transformed in relation to colonialism, and how some women struggled against it. To the contrary, this article aims to challenge our understanding of women's agency, taking Mzab as a case study. It explores the ways in which women of this Berber speaking region, inhabited by Ibadi Muslims and conquered by the French in 1882, contributed to the colonial reinforcement of male domination. Reading together works of ethnography, colonial administrative files, legal disputes, and Arabic-language newspapers, this article shows that, together with the colonial legal framework, other informal legal discourses and institutions shaped women's condition. Down the road, forms of patriarchy and notions of gender shifted.
Augustin Jomier is maître de conférences (Associate Professor) of North African history in the Arabic Studies Department at INaLCO (National Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilizations, Paris). His first book, entitled Islam, réforme et colonisation : une histoire de l'ibadisme en Algérie (1882-1962) (Éditions de la Sorbonne, 2020), explores French colonialism in Algeria through Islamic sources, and the modern history of Ibadis, a Muslim minority in Southern Algeria. His next project traces the history of stolen libraries from North Africa, and their journey to European institutions, linking colonial cultural violence, the fate of Islamic literacy, and bibliophile cultures.