The Impact of War on Empowering Women in Afghanistan: The Case of Afghan Women Resident in Kabul

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Professor, Faculty of Law & Political Science, University of Tehran, Iran

2 A PhD Candidate, Faculty of Law & Political Science, University of Tehran, Iran



Afghanistan has been one the most dangerous places for women —This is the commonly accepted view, either socially or scholarly, without any further deliberation. There is a long tumultuous history of conflicts contributing to the worsening situation: the 1979 Soviet invasion, the Afghan Civil War, the Taliban rule, the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan after 11 September 2001, the stagnant conditions of governance since then, and now the ensuing conflicts. Such description should not negate the partial improvements to the status of women in Afghanistan’s politics and society, though often dubbed as one step forward and two steps backward.
 In light of such crises, a significant portion of the literature gravitates towards simply depicting women in Afghanistan as victims without due attention to their struggle for empowerment. The article aims to convey how the individuals, often labeled as victims, describe their own situation, struggle, journey, and status. As much as being a theoretical and empirical discussion of Afghanistan and women in Afghanistan, the article also urges for ethical and reflexive methodologies. The findings could be applicable to further studies on the situation of women in other conflict zones.
The authors attempt to find an answer for the main research question: How has the conflicts and war affected Afghan women? In the research hypothesis, it is asserted that despite of negative impacts of war on Afghan women, it has also created some spaces for women empowerment. Pursuing this claim, we focus on Afghan women's life experiences between the rise of the Taliban in 1996 and the exit of NATO forces in 2014. Through qualitative and semi-structured interviews with 88 Afghan women in Kabul, we assess the post-war empowering on individual and collective levels. The interviews were conducted over a five-month fieldwork in Kabul in 2019 Within the feminism theoretical framework focusing on concepts like gender, gendered power relations, gender roles, the article assesses that with devastating impacts of the war, there was a seismic transformation of gendered roles. The example of these transformations include women becoming heads of  households, change in views of women, and social changes that manifested themselves individually and within families.
With the lesser presence of men and increased participation of women in public spaces, the war's transformative deconstruction of power relations and structures triggers a series of changes in population, economic, and cultural aspects of their lived experiences, and so on. This lived experience is transformed by their meaningful ability to choose, which is how they and the authors’ of this article view as an indication of women empowerment. In Afghanistan, families are treated as one of the core units within the social and political structure of the country. Based on familial relations and tribal loyalties, the unit is constructed within an unequal power relation between genders and is deeply patriarchal. Changes in gender relations will not occur over night, but certain events such as wars can be triggers which would start or speed up the process of change.
An example is changed perception on issues such as marriage and related topics as a result of the war. Women are killed and injured during wars, they lose relatives and husbands, they struggle for survival, but a new identity is borne out of the wartime struggles. Despite the difficulties and struggles of the war, the interviewees did not acknowledge themselves as the pitiful victims of war. The majority of their answers could be grouped as expressing resolute hope, rooted in perceiving themselves as wartime heroes who survived the war and obtained their own agency. Changes in gender roles, leading families, immigrations and different lived experiences, expansion of communication and media, raising awareness among women, legal and institutional progress benefiting women specifically from 2001 to 2022, provided necessary resources and structures for increased agency among women. While the dominant traditional discourses still continue to influence women's agency actively, as one of the interviewees said, "literacy and awareness" cannot be reversed.


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