Paulette Nardal, working from a position of Catholic humanism, conceives of the woman’s role in the négritude project as one committed to social justice and charity. Rather than articulating social justice as inferior work to the cultural revolution that Césaire and Senghor preach, Nardal argues that “regarding social duty, [woman] is man’s equal” (21). Women’s calling to social work and charity are “categorical imperatives,” argues T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, in that they are duties that women have to their society, land, and fellow citizens (37). Through these duties—these vocations—Nardal argues that the Martiniquan woman experiences “the enrichment or the expansion of character” necessary to engage fully with the négritude project (45). Nardal’s conception of social action in particular focuses on education and suffrage. Through the voting process, a woman affirms her place at the center of social discourse, and contributes to the security of her nation in a way equal to any man. Voting—a right given to Martiniquan women by Charles de Gaulle under departmentalization—is the great equalizing process.
“Now, the social is the aspect of life that interests woman first and foremost. Regarding social duty, she is man’s equal. As an individual, she is also intelligent and free. But as a social being, her services are bound to humankind. Like man, she must contribute to the progress of humanity. But this service, owing to the physical and psychological differences that exist between man and woman, will be of a different kind, though not necessarily of lesser value because of its difference. In fulfilling this social obligation, she remains true to her feminine vocation” (Nardal, Woman in the City, 21).
“Social action, and its admirable accomplishments, is the modern form of charity and one of the faces of social justice. They constitute a categorical imperative for all. No woman worthy of the name woman should remain indifferent to it” (Nardal, Poverty Does Not Wait, 41).
“To [women] I repeat: you have the opportunity to change all this by just leaving behind your lethargy for one day, namely by going to cast a vote at the ballot box for a candidate of your choice. You are not aware of your own worth. You don’t count yourself as important to the nation…However, it is above all especially on that the, the day of the election that you become the equal of man. It is on that day, with all class distinctions abolished, that you, like every woman, will apprise the nation of your anonymous will” (Nardal, Abstention: A Social Crime, 75).