Cover Image

Larger ImageView Larger


Land of the Unconquerable

The Lives of Contemporary Afghan Women

Jennifer Heath (Editor), Ashraf Zahedi (Editor)


Other Formats Available:
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.

Jennifer Heath

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
Wahid Omar

5. Afghanistan Blues: Seeing Beyond the Burqa on YouTube
Dinah Zeiger

Part II. A Woman’s Place
6. Women’s Political Presence: A Path to Promoting Gender Interests?
Anna Larson

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
Lizette Potgieter

9. Selling Sex in Afghanistan: Portraits of Sex Workers in Kabul
Alisa Tang

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
Sima Samar

12. Challenges to Cripple the Spirit: A Midwife’s Experiences
Pamela Chandler

13. Women with Disabilities: Recollections from Across the Decades
Mary MacMakin

14. A Question of Access: Women and Food Security
Elizabeth Stites

15. Psychological Impacts of War: Human Rights and Mental Health
Nahid Aziz

Part IV. Making the Rubble Bloom
16. Mending Afghanistan Stitch by Stitch: How Traditional Crafts and Social Organization Advance Afghan Women
Rachel Lehr

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
Lina Abirafeh

19. When the Picture Does Not Fit the Frame: Engaging Afghan Men in Women’s Empowerment
Ashraf Zahedi

Part V. “Don’t Eclipse My Happy New Moon”
20. Empowering Women through Education: Recipe for Success
Sakena Yacoobi

21. From Both Sides of the Mic: Women and the Media
Aunohita Mojumdar

22. Painting Their Way into the Public World: Women and the Visual Arts
Lauryn Oates

23. A Hidden Discourse: Afghanistan’s Women Poets
Zuzanna Olszewska

Epilogue: Great Expectations
24. Hopes and Dreams: Interviews with Young Afghans
Amina Kator

Selected Bibliography
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.
“[Paints] a textured picture of the lives of both Afghan women and men. . . . [The book doesn’t] sugar coat the experiences of Afghan women and girls, but provides them with texture and nuance, and reflects their strength.”—Huffington Post
“The carefully researched and nuanced articles are a valuable introduction to the political, economic, and cultural context of today’s Afghanistan, in which women are forced to navigate. Indispensable reading for anyone sincerely interested in fostering peace and well-being for Afghanistan and its people.”—Choice
“The book provides insights into the many-layered lives of Afghan women with all their contradictions and pitfalls, as well as the moments of hope and laughter. Finally, the book manages to provide a glimpse of ordinariness, and of the rhythm of women’s routine lives, in all their complexity and simplicity – perhaps Land of the Unconquerable’s greatest achievement.”—Taran N. Khan Himal Southasian
"One comes away from this mosaic-like presentation with the sense of having traveled through a wide variety of Afghan milieus accompanied by highly knowledgable guides and having had informative first-hand experiences of problems facing Afghan women."—Ann Elizabeth Mayer Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice
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

<p>Fig. 2: A young nomad woman grazing her flock of sheep. <br />Courtesy of Afghan Student News and Jennifer Heath, 1966.</p> <p>Fig. 3: A young man sells lilacs outside the author’s Kabul home. <br />Courtesy of Jennifer Heath, 1965.</p> <p>Fig. 4: Two small girls sweep sidewalks in Kabul. They are among thousands of Afghan children who must work to help support their families. <br />Photo by Sheryl B. Shapiro, 2003.</p> <p>Fig. 5: A sewing class at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Kabul.<br />Photo by Sheryl B. Shapiro, 2003</p> <p>Fig. 6: Women and their children in the farming village of Bustan, Afghanistan.<br />Photo by Sheryl B. Shapiro, 2003.</p> <p>Fig 9: A gathering at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Kabul. Photo by Nilab Habibi for Pajhwok Photo Service, Pajhwok News Agency, 2009</p> <p>Fig 10: A woman begging in Kabul.<br />Photo by Sheryl B. Shapiro, 2003</p> <p> Fig. 11: A woman in Kabul casts her vote in the August elections. <br />Photo by Safya Saify for Pajhwok Photo Service, Pajhwok News Agency, 2009</p> <p>Fig. 12: A woman in Kunduz Province bathes her child in water from a stream. <br />Sheryl B. Shapiro, 2003</p> <p>Fig 13: A widow draws water from a well in her small back yard outside Kabul. She is part of the PARSA (Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Support for Afghanistan) Widow’s Garden Program founded by Mary MacMakin and conceived by Zarguna Hashimi, PARSA’s former director of Literacy and Early Childhood Development Service, who lost her husband during the Soviet War. The program serves twenty widows. <br />Photo by Sheryl B. Shapiro, 2003.</p> <p>Fig 14: Two girls pose in a candy shop in Kabul. <br />Photo by Sheryl B. Shapiro, 2003</p> <p>Fig. 15: Mursal listens to her teacher in an Afghans4Tomorrow Vocational and Training Center in Kabul. She wrote the following on a postcard for her English teacher, Marsha MacColl, during a writing assignment: “Hello Hi! My name is Mursal I have two sister and I haven’t brother and I have a sweet mother and sweet father I am 12 years old and I am in A4T school in fourth class I love my teachers ok good bye Mursal I am from Afghanistan.” <br />Photo by Susan Hall, 2007.</p>

Join UC Press

Members receive 20-40% discounts on book purchases. Find out more