The "liberation" of women in Afghanistan

Interview with Victoria Scheyer

Victoria, the online panel discussion you organized on 11 November will focus on the rights of Afghan women. UNSCR 1325 on "Women, Peace and Security" not only regulates for the protection of women in conflict situations, but also for their active participation in security policy decision-­making processes. What perspectives will the panel discussion high­light and why it relevant right now?

Victoria Scheyer: Since the beginning of the Afghanistan missions, women's rights have played a special role in legitimizing Western military interventions. Formal co-­determination of women according to UN Resolution 1325 in the peace talks has been strongly neglected. In 23 rounds of peace negotiations between 2005 and 2014, women from Afghanistan were directly represented at the negotiating table only twice: 2010 in the Maldives and 2011/12 in France. Currently, after the withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan, strengthened women's rights in Afghanistan are once again being celebrated as a success. The event will focus on the perspectives of human rights defenders  and how they have experienced the struggle for women's rights over the last 20 years.

In the run-up to the event, we also talked about stereotypes - for example, in the language of images. At the moment, there is a lot of talk about the "liberation" and protection of Afghan women - sometimes as a goal, sometimes as a success of the Afghanistan mission. Where and why does this narrative fall short?

Victoria Scheyer: First of all, because this narrative is mostly a Western interpretation of the protection, rights or emancipation of women or of an entire society and does not offer any space for other under­standings and realizations. In Western countries, there are certain perceptions of the "culture" in Afghanistan or Muslim countries, which are mostly under­pinned with racist narratives. Thus, "liberation" of Afghan women is often spoken of in the context of clothing or the access to education and professions in a way that is solidifying this certain idea of "culture". The experiences, ideas and struggles of women and civil society in Afghanistan are dis­regarded, and existent women's rights before the Taliban rule are completely ignored. This event discusses how a different narrative of women's rights in Afghanistan needs to be shaped.

Some of the speakers have very different back­grounds. What connects them to the issue and what perspectives do they bring? And how can these civil society and journalistic perspectives advance the scientific debate on the topic?

Victoria Scheyer: All the speakers have different back­grounds. Fereschta Sahrai is a scientist who researches the peace process in Afghanistan and the participation of women. Samira Hamidi herself was engaged in the struggle for women's rights and peace in Afghanistan for many years and today continues her work for women's rights and peace at Amnesty International. Ronja von Wurmb-Seibel is a journalist and filmmaker whose projects tell the stories of people who have had to flee Afghanistan. Jeanette Böhme works for Medica Mondiale and campaigns for the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda and for the rights of women in conflicts, especially in Afghanistan. All speakers work directly with people in Afghanistan in different areas for peace. They know the realities of women's lives in Afghanistan, but also the political challenges internationally and in Germany, and above all the resistance they face every day.

Following on directly from this question and looking to the future, so to speak, what research questions and projects on the topic will be needed in the future?

Victoria Scheyer: We need much more research on how conflict trans­for­mation and peace negotiation can take place inclusively and with the participation of women and different groups. Of course, we also need to know how the Women, Peace and Security Agenda can be implemented context-­specific, without fostering these power imbalances and reproducing Western narratives that ignore women's struggles and civil society. Furthermore, we urgently need a self-­critical view in research on Western power structures and knowledge production, and how we can expose and counter racist narratives in knowledge production. A self-critical and power reflective perspective with the inclusion of actors from Afghanistan must be considered above all in the evaluation process of the German Bundeswehr mission in Afghanistan.

Thank you very much for the discussion!


More details about the event and all information on how to participate can be found on the event page.


Victoria Scheyer is a researcher at PRIF and is pursuing a PhD at the Gender, Peace and Security Institute at Monash University in Melbourne. Her research interests include feminist approaches to peace and conflict studies, with a particular focus on feminist foreign policy and the Women, Peace, Security agenda.

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