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date: 28 May 2020

Summary and Keywords

Born in Bissau in 1936, Carmen Pereira was the daughter of a Guinean lawyer (one of only two Guinean lawyers at the time). She studied at the primary school in Bissau, and married in that city in 1957. In 1961, following her husband’s flight to Senegal to avoid being arrested as a political agitator, Carmen joined the independence movement led by the PAIGC (African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde), with three small children in her charge.

Guinea-Bissau was then a Portuguese colony, with a far-right dictatorship based in the metropole. So-called Portuguese Guinea was about the size of Belgium or Haiti, and had a tropical, hot, and humid climate; most of its inhabitants, who belonged to more than twenty different peoples, were dedicated to agriculture. In the 1960s the majority of Guinea-Biassau’s inhabitants were Animists; there was also a significant Muslim population, and a few, like Carmen Pereira herself, were Catholics.

The guerilla war began in Guinea-Bissau in 1963, and lasted until independence was declared in 1974. During this period Carmen travelled to the Soviet Union, where she studied to be a nurse. On her return to Africa she was given responsibility for the Health sector in the South region, where she also became the Political Commissioner for the areas controlled by the PAIGC, as a consequence of her proven leadership skills, and in accordance with the PAIGC’s policy of giving women equal opportunities and rights within the movement.

Carmen Pereira is an important figure in African history, principally because she was the only woman to be elected a member of the Executive Committee (formerly the Political Bureau) of the PAIGC, which is itself significant as one of the few African movements for political liberation that led a successful war for independence. In the new state of Guinea-Bissau, Carmen Pereira was elected President of the Parliament, and appointed Health Minister, Minister for Social Affairs, and State Council member. She died in Bissau in June 2016.

Keywords: Guinea-Bissau, independence movement, women, PAIGC, political leadership, colonization, Portugal, Carmen Pereira

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