Afghan values or women’s rights? Gendered narratives of continuity and change in urban Afghanistan IDS Working Paper No. 387

There is considerable debate about the extent to which gender equality and womens’ rights are universal values. This debate has been particularly heated in Afghanistan where the violation of women’s rights by the Taliban regime was one justification used by the US and its allies for their invasion of the country. There is, however, very little research on how ordinary Afghan women view their lives and their place within a highly patriarchal society and how their views might fit into these debates.

This paper explores these issues using in-depth qualitative interviews with 12 Hazara women and their husbands in Kabul. These women are all associates of microfinance organisations and the paper also explores the extent to which access to microfinance has contributed to changes in their attitudes and relationships with others in their families and communities.

The paper finds that microfinance is only one of the many changes that these women and their families have experienced in the course of their lives. While many of these changes have been extremely traumatic, they have also expanded women’s horizons, opening up the possibility of new ways of organising gender relations within the family and community. The paper concludes that while the Afghan women in the study may not espouse the idea of individual rights, they would like to see a fairer gender distribution of rights and responsibilities.

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