Resisting Erasure: A Feminist History of Politics, Gender, and Empire in Afghanistan
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Resisting Erasure: A Feminist History of Politics, Gender, and Empire in Afghanistan

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This dissertation is a political history of Afghan elite women within ruling families and educated upper or middle class urban families. This is about their indirect access to power and how they shaped the politics of the time and interacted with Afghan regimes and foreign empires. The British, Soviet, and American empires defined themselves in Afghanistan through the rhetoric of liberation and modernization. Each imperial formation enacted its own gendered projects, which created the conditions in which Afghanistan’s leaders and women operated.

I locate and read women in the margins of Afghan history and trace how stories/ histories of their lives were told and imagined long after their deaths. I also show how feminist movements emerged and went underground during different periods. This research identifies eight distinct women’s emancipation periods or feminist movements in Afghanistan spanning 102 years from 1919-2021 and engaging the three large empires of the 20th and 21st centuries. This is a history that reveals that many of these negotiations and strategies were played out on gendered ground and that elite women within the monarchy intentionally attempted to maneuver power and position for themselves. These include conceptions of appropriate, modern, nationalistic femininity. In doing so, this research pieces together a narrative about elite gendered agency that negotiated with patriarchal, monarchical and colonial forms of power. The narrative reveals the ways in which elite and colonial interests intersected around questions of modernity and the woman question.

I used archival texts, newspapers, myths, and poetry in Farsi, Pashto, and English to draw out details of these women’s lives and stitch them together. I conducted interviews and oral histories to create unique accounts of these women’s lives. This kind of stitching of Afghan and western sources in multiple languages tell the stories of a range of Afghan women who were political players and significant in Afghan history. This research makes critical connections between the women and the maleleaders they were related to. This shows a more comprehensive view of the leader and of Afghan historical periods.

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This item is under embargo until February 1, 2025.