Academic journal article Adult Learning

Engendering Hope: Women's (Dis)engagement in Change in Afghanistan

Academic journal article Adult Learning

Engendering Hope: Women's (Dis)engagement in Change in Afghanistan

Article excerpt

Abstract: Afghan women's human rights are a crucial concern for the international community and the government in Afghanistan. Framed by hope theory, this study captured Afghan women's understandings of recent realities, particularly those focused on expanding women's roles in Afghan life and community. Based on focus groups with 107 women conducted in 10 different locations, findings reveal that many Afghan females are conditioned into self-perceptions that may undermine their capacity to believe they are worthy of human rights, education, and freedom from oppression. A discussion on agency, pathways, socio-cultural influences, and education for hope in Afghan women's future is presented.

Keywords: Afghanistan, gender, hope, women, equality, focus group research

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For decades, Afghans have suffered the effects of war, resulting in extreme poverty, and violations of international human rights. In addition, there are significant inequalities between men and women. Afghanistan represents one of the most extreme cases of gender inequality in the world (Lough et al., 2012). We know that nearly 90% of rural Afghan women are illiterate (U.S. Agency for International Development [USAID], 2010), and violence is prevalent against females in the form of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse (Razia's Ray of Hope, 2013). As well, approximately 57% of females are married before the age of 16 years (Ministry of Women's Affairs [MoWA], 2008), with a majority being forced marriages.

Although the Afghanistan population is roughly 99% Muslim, the hand of Muslim fundamentalists undoubtedly has lent a quick and decidedly oppressive force on gendered behaviors and spaces. The antimodern Taliban has maintained purdah, or sharia law, over Afghans since the early 1990s; indeed, Afghan women "have been historically marginalized since the Taliban secured power and this marginalization has evolved into a social norm" (Adkins, 2016, p. 108). Although violations against Afghan women's human rights have been of concern to the current government in Afghanistan, research suggests that Afghan women might see signs of hope for change through an increase in health and family services, business and government services, and increased representation and networking in community development projects (Adkins, 2016; Povey, 2003).

Ambassador for Global Women's Issues, Melanne Verveer (2013), adds that Afghan women are agents of change and their contributions are indispensable if Afghanistan succeeds in providing stability and economic opportunity for them. As such, our research aimed to answer, "In what ways do Afghan women view their positions and engagement within society and family, with specific attention to evidence of hope for their lives in modern-day Afghanistan?" To do so, we wanted to capture the voices of women living in key districts with high Taliban threat levels about their positions within their families and society and their sense of hope about change, particularly in regard to women's roles and rights.

Theoretical Framework and Review of Related Literature

Hope Theory

Snyder (2002) described hope as a bidimensional thinking process that includes agency (goal-directed resolve) and pathways (goal-directed planning). Hope is a perception of self and world that can be held apart from a current reality or condition that moves in a pathway toward the anticipated and desired. Research evidences the positive impact of hopeful thinking on mental health, physical health, and overall well-being of individuals (Cheavens, Michael, & Snyder, 2005). In this process, a person uses cause-and-effect thinking to conceptualize one's goals and achieve them. Developing hope can be hindered, however, through negative events, neglect, and abuse. As well, hope can be actively destroyed through physical and serial mistreatment, at which point goal-directed thinking shuts clown (Snyder, 2002). …

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