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An identity of strength Personal thoughts on women in Afghanistan

30-09-2002 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 847, by Taiba Rahim


Taiba Rahim,
has a degree in pedagogical studies from the University of Kabul. She worked as a teacher in Kabul in the early 1990s until the conflict led to the closure of the University. Between 1993 and 1995, she worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Kabul in the field of dissemination of international humanitarian law. From mid-1995 to early 1997, she worked for the ICRC in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the fields of protection and dissemination. The author is currently involved in a variety of initiatives related to Afghanistan. 
The fate of Afghan women during the Taliban regime and following the 11 September 2001 attacks has been the focus of considerable attention in both Western media and academia. There was a significant amount of debate in human rights and governmental circles about their suffering. Documentaries, at times produced at great personal risk to their authors, and even cinema productions such as Kandahar, the film by the Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, have dealt with their plight.
After more than two decades of conflict, hardship and pain, man y of us felt both moved by and grateful for such attention. There was a sense of emerging from a period of oblivion and looking ahead to dedicated support for change. At the same time, one was led to reflect about the nature of the coverage that took place and the types of perceptions that were communicated. Which were the issues that made the headlines with particular intensity? The role of women in Islam, the “dictatorship” of the burka, a systematic image of women as victims, among others. Yet the more one read and the more one watched, the more difficult it became to escape the feeling that, while a great deal had been heard about Afghan women, little had actually been heard from them. This was disturbing, since true understanding can result only from dialogue and thus from a readiness, not first of all to judge and to project one’s certainty on to others, but to listen to and learn fromothers.
It is important in analysing the identity and situation of women in Afghanistan to accept that nothing is simply black and white but necessarily complex. In the following pages, I shall make a modest attempt to address some of the issues at hand  
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