Stories and Statecraft: Afghan Women’s Narratives and the Construction of Western Freedoms

  • Citation: Fernandes, Sujatha. “Stories and Statecraft: Afghan Women’s Narratives and the Construction of Western Freedoms.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 42, no. 3 (2017).
    • Topics:
    • Human Rights
    • Keywords:
    • Central Asia
    • Afghanistan
    • Afghan Women's Writing Project (AWWP)
    • colonial feminism
    • women's narratives

This article examines the new forms of colonial feminism that are being deployed in a contemporary geopolitical context of war and military intervention. I look at the Afghan Women’s Writing Project (AWWP), which seeks to give voice to Afghan women to tell their own stories directly to Western audiences through the project website. I suggest that the AWWP is a mirror held to the anxieties and desires of its Western women readers, at a moment when the gains of the Western feminist movement are being rolled back. By constructing Afghan society as primitive and patriarchal, and Western freedoms as something for Afghan women to aspire to, Western women who participate as mentors and readers create their own notion of themselves as living in a postfeminist society. The presentation of the Afghan women’s narratives, with their horrific and painful recounting of abuse upon abuse, with little context to understand why this might be happening, encourages responses of rescue by outsiders rather than a critical engagement with US military and imperialist power. Solutions are presented as possible only through individual empowerment, self-esteem, and uplift through education. Rather than seeing the narratives that circulate within humanitarian and digital media circuits as telling the truth about subaltern lives, I instead explore how they help to construct modes of Western liberal subjectivity, feed into Orientalist myths about Western freedom, and, conversely, may contain strategically placed critiques of imperialist projects.