At Home or in the Grave: Afghan Women and the Reproduction of Patriarchy (W-70)

At Home or in the Grave: Afghan Women and the Reproduction of Patriarchy (W-70)

Publication details

  • Tuesday | 01 Jan, 2002
  • Rubina Saigol
  • Working Papers
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Rubina Saigol 2002 Abstract This paper is based on 50 interviews of Afghan refugee women, collected by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Islamabad.  The purpose of the in-depth interviews was to explore issues of identity, nationhood, state, belonging, home, family and location in the context of the prolonged Afghan conflict and its impact upon women’s lives. Apart from the interviews of refugee women, other materials used include reference papers, newspaper and magazine articles, books on the Afghan war, and the reports and papers of UN and other aid agencies engaged in Afghanistan.  The methodology is based on a deconstructive analysis of the narratives of Afghan refugee women, and a critical content analysis of the discourse of aid agencies.  The reference material was used to substantiate or support the arguments presented in the paper. The research study revealed several aspects of the situation of women in Afghanistan and in the refugee camps.  Some of the main findings include the following:  the prolonged Afghan war which has lasted over 22 years, has led to a situation of statelessness in Afghanistan with the result that there are hardly any modern administrative, justice and penal systems in place.  The result of state absence is that women have been rendered more completely at the mercy of local tribal jirgas and shuras, which reflect and promote patriarchal values and norms detrimental to women’s rights and well being.  The persistent condition of conflict among various factions has led to increased levels of violence against women including rape, murder and mutilation.  One effect of the perpetual threat from other factions is that increased controls on women’s movement, behaviour and freedom have been placed as a way of ‘protecting’ them from the ‘enemy’.  The frustration resulting from injury and maiming, and the perceived threat to women from opposing groups, has led men of the group to commit acts of violence against their own women.  Added to the increased pressure to preserve the group’s moral purity, are economic burdens upon women who now go out in search of cheaply paid domestic labour in order to survive.  The conflict decomposes, and simultaneously recomposes patriarchies. Well-meaning scholars and aid officials have reinforced conservative and traditional patriarchal values, especially with regard to education, as a way of ‘helping’ Afghan women by reaching them only via their men.  This has led to a further disempowering of women by reinforcing male control over the direction and flow of aid. However, Afghan women have not passively accepted patriarchal practices and control over their lives.  Resistance by women has been evident in cultural as well as political forms, and at the individual as well as collective levels.