A tapestry of resistance : Afghan educated refugee women in Pakistan : 'agency', identity and education in war and displacement
This study addresses how educated Afghan refugee women in Pakistan have experienced,contributed to and challenged the gendered constructions of national, ethnic and religious identities in war and displacement. In addition, this study addresses the lived experiences of educated Afghan refugee women of formal education in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, and their `agency' in utilizing education to further the cause of equity in their families and communities. This is a qualitative study using twenty in-depth and semi-structured interviews, as well as extensive participatory observation in Afghanistan and Pakistan and library-research over the period of 1996 to 2003. It is the result of immersion, as an `in-between' feminist researcher, in Afghanistan and Afghan refugee life in Pakistan since 1996, and an effort to link academic endeavor with activism and life as a development/humanitarian practitioner. This study shows the symbolic and actual role of women in the gendered constructions of dynamic and shifting identities, and their mobilization by patriarchal, political and military processes in war and displacement. It highlights the specificity of Afghanistan, as well as Pakistan, as the `near abroad'. This includes national `modernization', Sovietization and Islamization efforts and the influence of regional and global politics on Afghanistan and Afghans. The study also shows that many Afghan women, in all their diversity, have challenged not only patriarchy but also other dogmatic and undemocratic process of exclusionary politics. Their lives and efforts challenge Westocentric/orientalized stereotypes of Afghan women (and men), as well as generally those of Moslem women, women of the South and refugee women, and their constructions purely as victims. Formal education, as one of the first and most important public spaces available to girls and women, with its contradictory yet critical potential in enhancing the awareness, skills and resistance of girls and women, is further reviewed and analyzed. While addressing the above issues, this study also highlights the need to undertake further in-depth research on Afghanistan, Afghan women, Afghan refugee women and female education in Afghanistan. Such research can be used to support Afghan women and Afghan refugee women with due consideration to their heterogeneity, `agency' and struggles for wellbeing, choice and respect.