Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Afghan Refugee Women's Organizations in Pakistan (1980-2001): Struggles in Adversity

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Afghan Refugee Women's Organizations in Pakistan (1980-2001): Struggles in Adversity

Article excerpt

This paper presents an historical overview of Afghan women's refugee organizations in Pakistan from 1980 to 2001. It demonstrates the individual and collective responses of Afghan women in challenging war and the violation of women's rights, These responses form the building blocks for the future of the women's movement in Afghanistan. The paper also explores the role of the international community and provides concrete policy suggestions for the women's movement and its allies, in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Ce travail presente un apercu historique (1980-2001) des organismes de secours aux refugiees afghanes, au Pakistan. Il rappelle les reponses individuelles et collectives des Afghanes defiant la guerre et la violation des droits des femmes. Ces reactions constituent la base de l'avenir du mouvement des femmes en Afghanistan. De plus, l'article explore le role de la communaute internationale et fournit des suggestions concretes pour les politiques du mouvement des Afghanes et de leurs allie.e.s en Afghanistan et ailleurs.


Women's status in Afghanistan and the violation of their rights has been one of the major issues in the protest against the ruling Taliban over the years and became even more pressing an issue after September 11, 2001. With the fall of the Taliban towards the end of 2001, there were great expectations for all Afghans, but especially for Afghan girls and women (Benjamin, 2002). Over a million Afghan refugees returned to Afghanistan within a matter of months from neighbouring countries, as did some of the Western-based intelligentsia. Indeed, many Afghan women have gone back to work and numerous Afghan girls' have returned to schools and universities. There area growing number of women's organizations and publications, and also gender programs and officers in the international community. A Women's Ministry has been established and a number of women have and are participating in the political process.

However, unlike the expectation of many foreigners, most Afghan women, even in Kabul, continue to wear the burqa for a variety of reasons, including personal security and long-held traditional views. The sense of continued insecurity is in part due to the power exerted by a number of former Mujahidin commanders who have a very poor track record where women are concerned. There have been concerns regarding the outspokenness of the first Minister for Women's Affairs, Dr. Sima Simar, about the continued restrictions on women and about the use of Islamic dogma in interpretation and implementation of the law and other policies. Dr. Simar has since been replaced and is now Head of the Afghan Human Rights Commission.

It is important to realize that Afghan women were never ONLY victims of war and Islamic fundamentalism as depicted in much of the mainstream Western media. Even during the worst days, many Afghan women were involved in efforts to challenge the root causes of war, patriarchy and Islamic dogma. One manifestation of this struggle--Afghan refugee women's efforts and organizations in Pakistan--is one of the indicators of gains made by at least some Afghan women over the many years of conflict, though as a result of a collective tragedy and at great personal cost.

The Jehad Era: 1980-1990

The jehad, or holy war, era coincides with the main period of the Mujahidin struggle against the Soviet supported regime and Soviet presence in Afghanistan. (2) It also coincides with the heyday of the presence and activity of the primarily Sunni (3) Afghan Islamic parties based in Peshawar, Pakistan with Western, Pakistani and other support. In addition, this phase coincides with General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq's period of military rule in Pakistan and his Islamization programs which greatly restricted progressive forces and women in Pakistan.

When Afghan women became first refugees in 1979, it was a wave of largely rural women with little or no formal education and experience of public life. …

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