A compilation of committed Afghan women voices that underscores the great advances made in women’s lives and the arduous job still ahead.
Former first lady Laura Bush, in conjunction with her husband George W. Bush’s Presidential Center, lends her high-profile leadership to the plight of the women of Afghanistan, still among the most oppressed people in the world. A people of remote location and clannish, insular culture, the women of Afghanistan suffered horrendously during the Soviet invasion of 1979 and subsequent 10-year war, then under the stringent “gender apartheid” of the Taliban. Afghan women are still overwhelmingly illiterate (over 50 percent), while the average life expectancy is only about 52 years. The women selected here have managed to educate themselves, either by running away from resentful male figures in their family or with the help of a rare supportive father or husband—e.g., beekeeper Zainularab Miri, whose story of the powerful but captive queen bee forms an apt metaphor for the state of physical entrapment these women have endured, followed by flight and movement. After establishing basic security—i.e., not being punished for studying, walking in public, driving, or choosing their own husbands—the women assert that finding work is the first means of self-liberation and that learning a trade, such as weaving, allows them to reject what their society reinforces in them as a sense of being “useless humans,” especially widows. Divided into sections entitled Living, Learning, Working, Surviving, and Challenging, this work continually sounds the themes of confidence and self-improvement, which can only be achieved when the women raise their voices and overcome a societal-enforced shame. Many of the writers emphasize the need to educate the men as well. Mastoora Arezoo, of the Olympic Badminton Committee, asserts the need for participation in sports to promote health and fitness, while printer Freshta Hazeq has proven that women can succeed in male-dominated fields.
A galvanizing collection of a traumatized population learning to believe in itself.