“We are equal to men in ability to do anything”: African Jamaican women and citizenship in the interwar years

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In recent years, the concept of citizenship has received much attention in feminist scholarship. It is generally defined as both a status and practice; that is, to be a citizen is to have a set of legal rights and duties endowed by the state and also to posses the ability to exercise these rights and duties and assert agency in civil society organisations. This paper applies this concept of citizenship to African Jamaican women between the end of the First World War and 1938. In 1938, Jamaica was plagued by labour riots that helped to put the island on the road to independence by leading to a West India Royal Commission (WIRC), which investigated the reasons behind the riots and recommended reforms that would give the island greater independence within the Empire, and also by facilitating the rise of political parties that demanded self-government.
The paper is divided into three sections. The first examines African Jamaican women’s citizenship as a status by exploring not only the demands that African Jamaican women made to increase women’s rights but also their views on the duties of female citizens. They articulated their demands in articles in the Gleaner, the biggest-selling newspaper in the island, and in Public Opinion, a progressive magazine set up in the late 1930s, and also in speeches made at meetings of a variety of civil society organisations, which were often published nearly verbatim in the Gleaner. The second section treats citizenship as a practice by setting out the marginal place that African Jamaican women occupied in civil society organisations on account of their gender, race or both and the methods they employed to obtain full and equal membership. The last section summarises African Jamaican women’s notion of citizenship and poses the question whether the women whose views are studied here can be termed feminists.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWomen's activism: global perspectives from the 1890s to the present
ISBN (Print)978-0-415-53576-2, 978-0-415-53575-5
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • citenship
  • gender
  • race
  • nationalism

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