IDS working papers;387

Afghan values or women’s rights? : gendered narratives about continuity and change in urban Afghanistan

Published on 1 January 2011

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.
Keywords: women’s rights, gender justice, microfinance, cultural relativism, classic

Cite this publication

Kabeer, N., A. Khan & N. Adlparvar (2011) Afghan values or women's rights? : gendered narratives about continuity and change in urban Afghanistan. Working paper series, 387. Brighton: IDS.

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