UNICEF’s Special Representative to Afghanistan emphasizes the post-Soviet occupation period in this portrait of Afghan women—not a happy one, though change may be afoot.
Though their circumstances have never been exactly propitious, Afghan women also have a dreadful September date not to be forgotten: 9/27/96, when the Taliban consolidated their rule over Afghanistan and decreed that women needed permission for everything. Gone were schools, health clinics, even the opportunity to play or stretch your legs: If you were a woman and outside alone, you would pay for it. Armstrong started her investigation in 1997 and documents the physical and emotional barbarity of the Taliban’s institutionalization of misogyny, a practice that she makes clear is not exclusive to Afghanistan. She provides a brief history to acquaint readers with historical figures, forces, and political tides that have had an impact on the nation’s past, leading, by no means in a straight line, up to the Taliban. As for religious matters, she realizes that interpretation is everything and that ultimately “the Koran can be interpreted however the local power-brokers want,” but she is quick to condemn much of the international community for its silence about Afghan women, particularly the UN (“While UN officials accepted the Taliban’s strictures against women as ‘customs,’ no one ever asked the women how they felt”), while after the Taliban’s removal, the UN still had the temerity to say that “women cannot be included in the peace negotiations in Afghanistan because the situation is too complex.” Armstrong includes an overview of women’s organizations that have fought misogyny worldwide and a profile of Sima Samar, a doctor whose outspoken opposition to the Taliban put her constantly in harm’s way.
That Afghan women survive is testament to hope, and Armstrong suggests—with two now included in the Afghan government—that the time may be ripe for some of that hope to turn real. (20 b&w photos)