Afghanistan: Leaping to conclusions

Well-meaning observers are making dangerous assumptions about Afghan women and their goals for the future. By Tamim Ansary (
Some of the language I hear in conversations about women's roles in post-Taliban Afghanistan makes me nervous. It seems that certain misconceptions may have crept into public perception of the issue. Virtually all the talk about empowering women in Afghanistan focuses on the agenda of the urban elite -- getting women into the national government, liberating women from a dress code, ensuring their access to all professions, and affording them a university education. Excellent goals. I hope they're met.

But what about the rest of Afghanistan? Is access to professional jobs and freedom from a dress code next on the agendas of rural women? Perhaps their most immediate hopes are for a cow to milk, shelter from strangers and a functional extended family that includes men. Maybe not, I haven't asked them; but to my knowledge, neither has anyone else.
Wherever Afghans choose their traditional way of life, I think the international community should work with rather than against the grain of the culture. Empowering women through their traditional roles may lead to the deepest changes. To me, right now, a historic opportunity exists to support the real empowerment of Afghan women without engaging in a cultural tug of war with traditional Afghanistan. This country's most critical needs coincide with the roles traditionally assigned to women, and shouldering these tasks will put women center stage, authentically shaping the future of Afghanistan.