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Afghan Women by Elaheh Rostami-Povey

Afghan Women by Elaheh Rostami-Povey

Issue 57 June 2009

Afghan Women by Elaheh Rostami-Povey

Review by Hyder Abbasi


The role and status of women in Afghan society are issues fervently flagged up by Western media and governments. Indeed, it was a boast by former President George W. Bush that the toppling of the Taliban regime after the US-led invasion in 2001, led to the freedom and empowerment of Afghan women. Of course, this was grossly premature. As recently as April this year, a new family law drew widespread international condemnation, for apparently permitting rape within marriage, amongst Afghanistan’s Shi’a population. Elaheh Rostami-Povey states in her book that the number of women forced into “sex work” because of poverty has mushroomed since 2001. Thus, it is clear that much work has yet to be done to improve the situation of women in Afghanistan. 

Through years of Taliban oppression, during the US-led invasion and the current insurgency, women in Afghanistan have played a hugely symbolic role. Rostamy-Povey looks at how women have fought repression and challenged stereotypes, both within Afghanistan and in diasporas in Iran, Pakistan the US and the UK. Looking at issues from violence under the Taliban, the impact of 9/11 to the role of non-government organisations (NGOs) and the growth in the opium economy, Rostami-Povey gets behind the media hype and presents a vibrant and diverse picture of these women’s lives. The future of women’s rights in Afghanistan, she argues, depends not only on overcoming local male domination, but also on challenging imperial domination and blurring the growing divide between the West and the Muslim world. Ultimately, these global dynamics may pose a greater threat to the freedom and autonomy of women in Afghanistan and throughout the world.

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