Anthropology in Action: Women and Human Rights in Western Sahara

Posted on 3/17/2015 8:30:04 AM

Tara Deubel, University of South Florida, will present “Working Towards Empowerment: Sahrawi Women and Human Rights in the Western Sahara Conflict” on March 24 at 6:45 p.m. in the HUB Susquehanna Room.

In 1975, Morocco annexed the Western Sahara on its southern border following the end of Spanish colonial rule of the desert territory. Over 150,000 refugees fled to camps in neighboring Algeria in the wake of a violent conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front resistance fighting for the independence of the former colony. Now 40 years later, Morocco continues to administer this disputed territory, which remains the last part of the African continent to complete decolonization. Refugees continue to live in Algeria under the governance of a state in exile, and Western Saharans (Sahrawis) living under Moroccan rule face discrimination and political repression.

Based on anthropological field research in the region from 2006 to 2009, this talk highlights the central role of Sahrawi women in the social and political life of the refugee camps and the ongoing struggle for self-determination in the Western Sahara. Since the onset of the conflict, women have emerged as key leaders in the camps and the Western Sahara independence movement with the work of activists such as Aminetou Haidar, recipient of the 2008 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. Deubel will examine salient discourses of nationalism, women’s empowerment, and human rights in promoting Sahrawi women in public life, and will also question the extent to which empowerment is possible under present conditions that constrain contemporary Sahrawi communities living on both sides of the protracted conflict.

Deubel is assistant professor of Anthropology at the University of South Florida in Tampa. She holds a PhD in Anthropology with a minor in Near Eastern Studies from the University of Arizona. Her research in cultural and applied anthropology focuses on gender and development, human rights, cultural heritage conservation, and performance. She has conducted ethnographic research in North Africa with Sahrawi communities in southern Morocco, Mauritania, and Algeria. Deubel has also worked with international aid organizations in Mali, Guinea, and Niger to study the impacts of food security and women’s microfinance programs in rural West African communities. She is the co-editor of Saharan Crossroads: Exploring Historical, Cultural and Artistic Linkages between North and West Africa (2014).

Department of Anthropology