Geopolitics of Feminisms in Afghanistan

by Kelley Reardon

As part of the Wednesday at the Center series, the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies welcomed Jennifer Fluri, Ph.D. to give a lecture called “The Geopolitics of Feminisms in Afghanistan”.

The John Hope Franklin Center and the Duke University Middle East Studies Center co-hosted the packed event, which discussed the complexities of women’s rights in the Middle East. Fluri explored the differences and similarities between the three groups of government in Afghanistan- socialist/leftist, Islamic, and capitalist groups. 

Since the 1970’s, Afghanistan has gone through a tumultuous timeline of geopolitical events. Fluri explained that all of the groups that have come to power, from the Taliban to the U.S.-led invasion, have said that they want to “save Afghan women”. However, Fluri believes that the category called “Afghan women” is meaningless. Fluri believes it is meaningless due to the complexities and diversity of women in Afghanistan, from their religion, socioeconomic class, ethnicity, geographic location, and relationships with people in positions of power.

Fluri explained the cultural complexities of the burqa and that social pressures affect both men and women in Afghanistan. She said that there was an attempt to “re-train” Afghan women to think of beauty and lifestyle from a western perspective, led by Laura Bush.

Fluri also shed light on the Islamic groups of the Middle East, which take two approaches to women’s rights. First, they often focus on the teachings of the Quran, which says that men and women are equal in the eyes of God. Second, they focus the Prophet’s first wife, with whom the Prophet had a monogamous relationship with before he was widowed. 

Although the public discourse about Islam in the U.S. is often a negative dialogue, Fluri advocates for using local religious values as an approach to support women’s rights. In this way, less foreign intervention is necessary. Foreign organizations have a history of exploiting Afghanistan women, despite claims that they want to “save” them. Therefore, working with current religious values gives Afghan women the opportunity to cultivate power in their homes and communities. This power at a local level is foundational for further progress of women’s rights and feminism.