Exploited by whom? An alternative perspective on humanitarian assistance to Afghan women

S Barakat, G Wardell

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Over the past six years, Afghan women have been the subject of unprecedented levels of interest and international attention; most of it well intentioned, much of it ill-informed. This paper considers the recent debate surrounding their plight and asks whether Western-originated approaches that seek to target or 'single-out' women, in isolation from their wider social, cultural and family context, have more to do with international politics and the agendas of external agencies than they do with meeting the felt and expressed needs of the majority of Afghan women. It identifies five important points to emerge from research conducted into the ways in which Afghan women describe themselves. Following a brief historical overview tracing the impact on women of tensions between traditionalists and modernisers within Afghan society, it considers each of these points in turn, including: distinctions between urban/rural and educated/uneducated women; the different spheres of influence inhabited by women and men within Afghan culture; the impact on women of war, displacement, and refugee life; vulnerability and coping strategies; and the divergent perspectives of 'insiders' and 'outsiders' on Afghan life and culture. Finally, it offers a number of suggestions for ways in which agency interventions may work with Afghan women, by harnessing their capacities in ways that are consonant with their social, cultural and family context.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)909-930
Number of pages22
JournalThird World Quarterly
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2002

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