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Contested Terrain

Contested Terrain: Reflections with Afghan Women Leaders

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Contested Terrain
    Book Description:

    Sally L. Kitch explores the crisis in contemporary Afghan women's lives by focusing on two remarkable Afghan professional women working on behalf of their Afghan sisters. Kitch's compelling narrative follows the stories of Judge Marzia Basel and Jamila Afghani from 2005 through 2013, providing an oft-ignored perspective on the personal and professional lives of Afghanistan's women. Contending with the complex dynamics of a society both undergoing and resisting change, Basel and Afghani speak candidly--and critically--of matters like international intervention and patriarchal Afghan culture, capturing the ways in which immense possibility alternates and vies with utter hopelessness. Strongly rooted in feminist theory and interdisciplinary historical and geopolitical analysis, Contested Terrain sheds new light on the struggle against the powerful forces that affect Afghan women's education, health, political participation, livelihoods, and quality of life. The book also suggests how a new dialogue might be started--in which women from across geopolitical boundaries might find common cause for change and rewrite their collective stories.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09664-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Journeys through Contested Terrain
    (pp. 1-18)

    My first in-person meeting with women leaders from Afghanistan occurred in the wee hours of a stormy November morning in 2005 at the Port Columbus International Airport in Columbus, Ohio. Seven of them were coming to Ohio State University from Afghanistan, as well as from New York City and Washington, D.C., to participate in the first conference ever held in the United States to feature so many Afghan women in leadership positions. The full group included a deputy in the Ministry of Information and Culture, a judge, a medical student and children’s advocate, a gender specialist for the Asian Development...

  5. PART I. HOPE (2002–2005)

    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 19-24)

      The Afghan women leaders who arrived at Ohio State’s Mershon Center on November 17, 2005, were emissaries from a shattered and complex country. Understanding where they had come from and what had happened to them in recent years was an important part of knowing how to hear what they had to say.

      The most obvious fact about them was their status compared with that of most Afghan women. Even for Kabul-based urban elites, the five women from Afghanistan were unusually well educated, successfully employed, politically active, and economically privileged. They also had unusual levels of mobility and access to the...

    • 1 Working for Women in “Postconflict” Afghanistan
      (pp. 25-43)

      Hopeis a relative term, since it depends on expectations. So it was inspiring to see that, war-torn and battered as the OSU conference attendees and their country had been for so long, they still felt hopeful, even as they recognized that conditions at home were far from perfect. At least now, they seemed to say, problems can be aired, some progress has been made compared to the mujahideen and Taliban periods, and we can propose new solutions. Because these women were comfortable in the international arena, they were especially cheered by foreigners’ interest in Afghan women’s situation, despite the...

    • 2 Two Strong Voices: The Making of Women Leaders in Afghanistan
      (pp. 44-61)

      The women at the OSU conference represented diverse and intriguing life experiences that had led to their unusual status among their countrywomen. Geographical location, ethnicity, economic status, and family influence were obviously very important to their achievements, but not all women in their situations strove for the kinds of positions they occupied. Individual talent and commitment were also factors, but in the context of Afghan culture, achievement depends on community and familial support. As I listened to the women’s stories and descriptions of their work, I wanted to know more about the tangle of influences, beliefs, struggles, and contradictions that...

    • 3 Constructing Women’s Rights in Afghanistan
      (pp. 62-76)

      One message of the 2005 “Afghan Women Leaders Speak” conference was that the so-called “medieval rule . . . under the Taliban’s . . . repressive gender regime” was not the beginning of the struggle for women’s rights in Afghanistan (Moghadam 2003, 227). Indeed, in understanding the women’s contemporary perspectives, it was important to recognize that debates about women’s roles, identities, relationships, and dress had been a source of contention throughout modern Afghan history, long before the Taliban emerged on the scene in the 1990s. It was also important to recognize that such debates—in Afghanistan and elsewhere—are seldom...

  6. PART II. REALITY (2005–2010)

    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 77-82)

      Selecting Istanbul for my next face-to-face meeting with Jamila and Marzia in 2010 allowed me to move closer to the world in which the two women lived and offered them respite from their increasingly treacherous home terrain. They felt comfortable coming to a Muslim country that would be at least a little familiar and was then relatively peaceful. I was eager to immerse myself in a Muslim-dominated culture, which I had never done. Although I had been to the ruins at Troy, this would be my first visit to modern Turkey. I hoped that travel would be simpler for the...

    • 4 The Basics of Change
      (pp. 83-97)

      When Marzia and Jamila arrived at my hotel room for our first interview the morning after their travel ordeal, they were smiling and eager to collaborate in my research project on women leaders of Afghanistan. True to his word, Jamila’s husband, Fazal, was taking care of their three-year-old son and five-month-old daughter. And true to Afghan form, each of the women had gifts for me—Afghan almonds and sweets from Marzia and a white blouse, embroidered in pink thread, and jewelry from Jamila, who explained that the white stone-and-string necklace had come from Ghazni, her home province, where she said...

    • 5 The Political Is Personal
      (pp. 98-113)

      As our conversations in Istanbul turned to Marzia’s and Jamila’s own professional lives, it was obvious that the same complexities and contradictions that characterized the process of change in Afghanistan over the previous five years in general had also characterized their individual work experiences. Welcome progress in their professional fortunes inevitably accompanied disappointments and reversals, more so than they apparently foresaw in 2005.

      As Jamila began to describe her recent work activities in 2010, she projected optimism. She reported proudly that the Noor Educational Center had become the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organization (NECDO) and was active in six...

    • 6 Afghan Marriage Practices
      (pp. 114-129)

      Marzia’s and Jamila’s marriages since our last interviews were a prime topic of our conversations in Istanbul. Their changed status was made quite visible in Jamila’s case by the presence of her husband and children. I was curious about why I had gotten the news through the grapevine that both had gotten married in 2006 and why neither had mentioned her marriage to me in our e-mail exchanges before 2009. I wondered if that indicated their belief that marriage was so inevitable for Afghans that it barely deserved mention or if they were so affected by their new status as...

    • 7 Marriage Hits Home
      (pp. 130-150)

      It was clear from our conversations that marriage had changed Marzia’s and Jamila’s lives, bringing both joys and disappointments. Jamila’s life was especially changed because she had produced two children in four years. Both women believed they had married worthy men and had used their knowledge of how marriage practicesshouldwork to affect how theywouldwork in their own marriage arrangements. In their situations, it was also clear that region, economic capacity, education, and individual family practices affected their expectations of spouses and married life as well as their experiences as married professional Afghan women.

      Marzia Marzia repeated...

  7. PART III. UNCERTAINTY (2010–2013)

    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 151-156)

      Sometimes the passage of time clarifies experience. Thus, it was only in hindsight that I recognized how significant Jamila’s and Marzia’s doubts and uncertainties in 2010 actually were. During our interviews in that year, I was more struck by the women’s continued courage in the face of an increasingly dangerous climate for their activism. I marveled at their positive outlooks, focus on improvement, and investment in the future of their own causes and activities. I admired the way they had negotiated their marriages and continued their work despite familial objections and periodic lapses in their husbands’ understanding.

      Because we had...

    • 8 Addressing Afghanistan’s Problems
      (pp. 157-180)

      When we met and spoke together in 2010 and 2011, Marzia and Jamila had given much thought to the strategies their country should adopt in order to address the problems it faces. In our conversations, the women offered some pointed suggestions about moving Afghanistan forward on a number of fronts. In their usual manner, their discussion combined hopes and fears, but it was increasingly clear that obstacles were casting a longer shadow over possibilities for change than they had in 2005. I was impressed that the two women wanted to discuss strategies for change in the midst of their discouragement,...

    • 9 Fast-Forward
      (pp. 181-203)

      Because this narrative is a living document, whose ending will necessarily be arbitrary, it includes the sometimes dramatic shifts in plans and circumstances that can rewrite contemporary history in a moment. So it was that shifting events in late spring 2011 and early 2012 produced some different outcomes than Marzia, Jamila, and I had expected during our talks in the year before. For Marzia, the changes were more dramatic than her marriage. For Jamila, new circumstances confirmed both her fears about and her hopes for pursuing new options in her life’s work.

      The news from both women came to me...

    • 10 Future Prospects
      (pp. 204-228)

      Because I have so long viewed Afghanistan’s future through the lens of gender issues and women’s rights, I have been surprised to learn how few contemporary historians, economists, political scientists, journalists, or other analysts, who discuss transforming Afghanistan into a successful, independent, and rights-respecting nation, assess the role of empowering women and restructuring gender relations to such a future. Indeed, it appears that only feminist scholars and activists take seriously what many pundits note but then ignore: gender discrimination undermines Afghanistan’s survival as a state (Armstrong 2002, 184; Ahmed-Ghosh 2006, 125). Even the U.S. military has quietly concluded that “attention...

    • AFTERWORD: The Clock Is Ticking, 2014
      (pp. 229-234)

      At the time this book went to press, Afghanistan itself, as well as all the issues connected with women’s rights and advancement, seemed to be hanging over a precipice awaiting the effects of allied troop withdrawal as well as the Afghan presidential election in 2014. Would any of the opportunities for the expansion of women’s rights and opportunities that some experts foresaw be maximized? Would the insurrectional violence creeping toward the centers of power simply overtake the country like a spreading bloodstain? Would a centralized government be possible? Would the emotional and physical wounds suffered over decades finally overwhelm the...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 235-246)
    (pp. 247-254)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 255-264)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 265-270)