Arenas for Control, Terrains of Gender Contestation: Guerrilla Struggle and Counter-Insurgency Warfare in Zimbabwe 1972-1980


Kesby, Mike. 1996. “Arenas for Control, Terrains of Gender Contestation: Guerrilla Struggle and Counter-Insurgency Warfare in Zimbabwe 1972-1980.” Journal of Southern African Studies 22 (4): 561-84.

Author: Mike Kesby


This paper explores the contingent nature of war-time developments in gender relations, focusing particularly on the experience of protected village inmates in Chiweshe. It suggests that expectations of dramatic change in the position of ordinary women were unrealistic and based on four analytical flaws: a linear model of female emancipation, a tendency to generalise from a limited set of war-time experiences rather than recognise the diversity of locally contingent circumstances, a failure to include struggles over masculine identity within the analysis of gender relations and finally, a lack of sensitivity to the social-spatial structures that are integral to rural society. The paper highlights the spatial dimensions of war-time contingency at the national and the local level and analyses how the enforced restructuring of rural communities destabilised the spatial discourses and practices that 'normally' structure gender identities and relations. The paper focuses on the extraordinary, and under researched, social arena of the 'protected villages' and analyses how, temporarily, they became terrains of gender contestation. Parallels are drawn between the social impacts of the structures of counter-insurgency warfare and the ostensibly very different time-space arenas of the temporary guerrilla encampments. While each arena had its own unique dynamic, which itself varied from region to region and over the duration of the war, both types of externally imposed structure had the effect of undermining elders' authority in their own communities and of opening up new spaces of opportunity in which young men and women could act.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Women, Masculinity/ies, Gender Roles, Gendered Power Relations Regions: Africa, Southern Africa Countries: Zimbabwe

Year: 1996

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