Reaching beyond sensational headlines, Land of the Unconquerable at last offers a three-dimensional portrait of Afghan women. In a series of wide-ranging, deeply reflective essays, accomplished scholars, humanitarian workers, politicians, and journalists—most with extended experience inside Afghanistan—examine the realities of life for women in both urban and rural settings. They address topics including food security, sex work, health, marriage, education, poetry, politics, prisoners, and community development. Eschewing stereotypes about the burqa, the contributors focus instead on women’s empowerment and agency, and their struggles for peace and justice in the face of a brutal ongoing war. A fuller picture of Afghanistan’s women past and present emerges, leading to social policy suggestions and pragmatic solutions for a peaceful future.
Part I. Perceptions and Realities
1. The Politics of Zan from Amanullah to Karzai: Lessons for Improving Afghan Women’s Status
Shireen Khan Burki
2. Between Covered and Covert: Traditions, Stereotypes, and Afghan Women’s Agency
Margaret A. Mills
3. Centuries of Threat, Centuries of Resistance: The Lessons of Afghan Women’s Resilience
Anne E. Brodsky
4. Don’t Say What, Who, and When, Say How: Community Development and Women
5. Afghanistan Blues: Seeing Beyond the Burqa on YouTube
Part II. A Woman’s Place
6. Women’s Political Presence: A Path to Promoting Gender Interests?
7. Voices of Parliamentarians: Four Women MPs Share Their Thoughts
Massouda Jalal, Malalai Joya, Fawzia Koofi, and Azita Rafat
8. Nothing Left to Lose: Women in Prison
9. Selling Sex in Afghanistan: Portraits of Sex Workers in Kabul
10. Between Choice and Force: Marriage Practices in Afghanistan
Deborah J. Smith
Part III. To Be Whole in Body and Mind
11. The Hidden War against Women: Health Care in Afghanistan
12. Challenges to Cripple the Spirit: A Midwife’s Experiences
13. Women with Disabilities: Recollections from Across the Decades
14. A Question of Access: Women and Food Security
15. Psychological Impacts of War: Human Rights and Mental Health
Part IV. Making the Rubble Bloom
16. Mending Afghanistan Stitch by Stitch: How Traditional Crafts and Social Organization Advance Afghan Women
17. Rural Women’s Livelihood: Their Position in the Agrarian Economy
Jo Grace and Adam Pain
18. Chadari Politics: Translating Perceptions into Policy and Practice
19. When the Picture Does Not Fit the Frame: Engaging Afghan Men in Women’s Empowerment
Part V. “Don’t Eclipse My Happy New Moon”
20. Empowering Women through Education: Recipe for Success
21. From Both Sides of the Mic: Women and the Media
22. Painting Their Way into the Public World: Women and the Visual Arts
23. A Hidden Discourse: Afghanistan’s Women Poets
Epilogue: Great Expectations
24. Hopes and Dreams: Interviews with Young Afghans
About the Contributors
Jennifer Heath is editor of The Veil: Women Writers on Its History, Lore, and Politics (UC Press) and author or editor of numerous other books. Ashraf Zahedi is a sociologist at the Beatrice Bain Research Group at the University of California, Berkeley.
“Land of the Unconquerable is a timely collection of insightful articles and reflections. The first person accounts by long-time Afghan activists are especially moving. It is far too rare to hear Afghans, particularly Afghan women, speak in their own voices about their realities, and this volume addresses this lack with both courage and clarity.” —Kavita N. Ramdas, former President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women and current Visiting Scholar and Fellow at Stanford University
“This is a valuable book addressing a question that needs to be understood if peace in Afghanistan is ever to be achieved.” —Haleh Afshar, co-author of Women in Later Life: Exploring Race and Ethnicity
“This book urgently and importantly avoids politicizing women’s issues for personal gain.” —Sima Wali, former President of Refugee Women in Development and former Peace Talks delegate at the Bonn Conference
“The United States and its NATO allies declared they would liberate the women of Afghanistan from years of brutal exploitation and tyrannical rule when they entered the country and toppled the Taliban in late 2001. This timely and informative book counters that claim and describes how women continue to suffer since the Taliban fell from power. A diverse group of writers and activists put forth a good review and analysis of the current situation for women in Afghanistan and provide a significant contribution to an extremely important but still neglected subject. Essential reading for those with a serious interest in topics relating to women in Afghanistan.” —Hafizullah Emadi, Development consultant, Afghanistan
“Land of the Unconquerable provides a nuanced picture of the complex and diverse lives of Afghan women, and it successfully dispels much public misinformation about Afghanistan and its people. This is an outstanding and timely volume.” —Rickie Solinger, co-editor of Interrupted Life: Experiences of Incarcerated Women in the U.S.
“This edited collection about the constraints, opportunities and contexts in which Afghan women are living today is a triumph. The essays are well-written, apt, interesting and close to the ground. This will be tremendously useful to scholars and activists around the world.” —Shahla Haeri, Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Boston University
CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, American Library Association
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