The Gender of Resistance: Discourses and practices of female resistance in Belgium during the Second World War. 01/10/2021 - 30/09/2025


This research project aims to offer an empirical and conceptual contribution to Belgian and international resistance and women's historiography by gendering our view of resistance during the Second World War. This means that we will simultaneously focus on the activities of women in the Belgian resistance and on the discourses in which they were wrapped – systematically comparing them to the practices and norms of their male counterparts. We start from the hypothesis that in their resistance engagement, women were not – as is generally assumed – limited to a primarily supportive position and that they broke through traditional gender stereotypes by stepping out of the domestic sphere, or even by bringing the resistance into the domestic sphere. We expect to find a contradiction between the activities of women in the resistance and the discourse that was used by resistance environments to explain this presence of women in their midst. In order to mobilize women, thus the hypothesis, resistance environments needed to present a resistance engagement as an 'acceptable' activity for women, so it was tempting to present women's resistance activities as a continuation of their traditional roles. This could help to explain why, after the war, it was so difficult to give a transformative meaning to this transformative experience. In order to make this general ambition operational, this research project aims to answer two complementary questions: (1) what was the wartime discourse of the clandestine press on the role of women in the resistance, and (2) how does this wartime discourse compare to actual female resistance activity in Belgium during the Second World War? In order to answer the first research question, we will apply a quantitative and qualitative discourse analysis to the entirely digitized corpus of Belgian clandestine papers of the Second World War. To reach the second research objective, this project will conduct archival research with regard to three case-studies, allowing us to investigate the activities and position of resistance women in three different ideological and geographical contexts. For each of these contexts, the focus will be on a different resistance organization: the Belgian Communist Party in Liège, the White Brigade in Antwerpen, the Secret Army in Western Flanders. While concentrating on the archival sources for these organizations, however, we hope indirectly also to detect forms of female resistance in other organizations as well as non-organized forms of female resistance in the same locality.


Research team(s)

Project type(s)

  • Research Project