Beyond Victims: Afghan Women's Resilience and Resistance

Photo Credit: Reuters

By Dr. Hosai Qasmi

As we approach commemorating International Women’s Day, it's a sobering reality that Afghan women and girls continue to endure the misogyny perpetuated by the brutally oppressive regime of the Taliban, coupled with a sense of abandonment by the global community. For over three years now, Afghan women have been stripped of their fundamental rights to education, work, and free movement. Their plight is not confined to the borders of Afghanistan; they face annihilation both within the country due to the draconian policies of the de facto authority and outside due to the lack of international support and attention.

In the wake of the Taliban's resurgence in Afghanistan, the international community's attention has predictably shifted towards condemning the regressive policies and actions of this oppressive regime. However, the glaring disparity in focus between the oppressive policies of the Taliban and the courageous movements and efforts of Afghan women is a troubling aspect of the current discourse.

The focus on the Taliban's regressive policies while overlooking the resilience and activism of Afghan women mirrors the Orientalist tendency to reduce complex societies and cultures to simplistic binaries. Edward Said's concept of Orientalism offers a powerful framework for analyzing the representation of Afghan women and Afghanistan's broader discourse. It elucidates how Western societies historically constructed the "Orient" as an inferior "other," perpetuating stereotypes and reinforcing power dynamics between the West and the East.

As conceptualized by Edward Said, Orientalism primarily focuses on how Western societies construct and represent the "Orient" as a homogeneous, exotic, and inferior "other." However, it's essential to acknowledge that Orientalist perspectives can also be perpetuated within the Orient itself, often as a result of internalized colonial attitudes or power dynamics. While Orientalism is often associated with Western representations of the Orient, it's important to recognize that it can also be perpetuated within the Orient itself, whether through internalized colonial attitudes, power dynamics within society, or the global dissemination of Orientalist narratives.

In societies with legacies of colonial rule or imperial domination, there can be a tendency to adopt and perpetuate the narratives and representations imposed by the colonizers. This can manifest in various forms, such as the valorization of Western ideals and norms over indigenous cultures or the internalization of notions of racial or cultural inferiority.

In the context of representation of Afghan women’s movement, the west and often Afghan inside and outside Afghanistan perpetuate the oriental perspective by dominantly focusing on the oppressive Taliban policies and ignoring the Afghan women resistance.

It is important to note that Afghan women's resistance is not recent but deeply rooted in their history. Throughout the decades of conflict and turmoil, Afghan women have demonstrated remarkable resilience and courage in the face of oppression.

Despite the Taliban's takeover in 2021, Afghan women have refused to be silenced or relegated to the shadows. They continue to raise their voices against the oppressive policies and norms imposed by the Taliban regime. Afghan women demonstrate unwavering resilience in the face of adversity, whether through underground schools for girls, covert activism, or defiant protests.

While there is some coverage and talks about the Taliban's regressive policies, the stories of Afghan women courageously resisting these policies often go untold. This lack of attention perpetuates a skewed narrative that paints Afghan women solely as victims rather than as active agents of change. By portraying Afghan women as passive victims in need of Western intervention, it further reinforces the dichotomy of the "civilized West" versus the "uncivilized Orient."

The focus of international community, particularly western powers on a generalized view of the Taliban's regressive policies and overlooking the immediate and long term impact of limits imposed on women in Afghanistan mirrors the Orientalist tendency to reduces complex societies and cultures to simplistic binaries. It also inadvertently reinforces the notion of the West as the saviour and the East as the perpetual victim needing rescue. All the while overlooking the resilience and activism of Afghan women.

Moreover, the representation of Afghan women as passive victims serves to justify Western interventionism under the guise of "saving" them from oppression. In the case of Afghanistan post-Taliban retake over, such representation promotes the discourse of Afghans' inability to maintain a ‘democratic’ status. It reinforces the notion that foreign forces and the international community upheld stability over the last two decades, attributing the progress in Afghan women's rights solely to external assistance. This narrative undermines the rich historical background of Afghan women's struggles and overlooks their active role in gaining visibility within their homeland.

While condemning the Taliban's regressive policies is necessary, it is equally imperative to center the narratives and experiences of Afghan women who continue to resist and fight for their rights against all odds.

Adopting a simplistic approach not only undermines the agency and resilience of Afghan women but also perpetuates harmful stereotypes that strip them of their autonomy and perpetuate a narrative of victimhood. Whereas, by amplifying the voices and efforts of Afghan women, we not only acknowledge their ongoing struggle for rights and equality but also resist the simplistic dichotomy of oppressor versus victim that often characterizes discussions on Afghanistan.

 Breaking out of internalized orientalism requires challenging external representations and interrogating and dismantling internalized forms of colonial thinking and power structures. On this International Women’s Day, it is important to remember that Afghan women are taking the fight for their fundamental rights forward, as they have done in the past decades. Despite the challenges and constraints, Afghan women continue to resist with strength. The Taliban and other groups with regressive ideologies may temporarily silence Afghan women, and the world may forget about them, but Afghan women will always rise strongly.


Dr. Hosai Qasmi, Co-Founder of HOSA Counselling and Research, is a committed advocate for women’s empowerment with expertise in postcolonial feminism, media studies, and gender representation. Notably, she has spearheaded impactful projects for Afghan Women’s Rights Defenders and remains actively involved in the Afghan diaspora communities across Canada, the United States, and Europe. Regular collaboration with academics and researchers underscores her significant contributions to the continuous advancement of gender equality and human rights.



Academicians and Officials interested to publish their academic pieces on this page, please approach us through:

The article does not reflect the official opinion of the AISS.