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Agency and oppression

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Title:
Agency and oppression the rhetoric of liberation and the war in Afghanistan
Creator:
Stearns, Keira
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English
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v, 92 leaves : ; 28 cm.

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Subjects / Keywords:
Agent (Philosophy) ( lcsh )
Women -- Social conditions -- Afghanistan ( lcsh )
Afghan War, 2001- -- Women ( lcsh )
Women -- Legal status, laws, etc -- Afghanistan ( lcsh )
Agent (Philosophy) ( fast )
Women ( fast )
Women -- Legal status, laws, etc ( fast )
Women -- Social conditions ( fast )
Afghanistan ( fast )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Thesis:
Thesis (M.S.S.)--University of Colorado Denver, 2011.
Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 87-92).
General Note:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Statement of Responsibility:
by Keira Stearns.

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University of Colorado Denver
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Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
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747426503 ( OCLC )
ocn747426503

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Full Text
AGENCY AND OPPRESSION: THE RHETORIC OF LIBERATION
AND THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN
by
Keira Steams
B.A., University of Colorado Boulder, 2007
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Social Science
2011


This thesis for the Master of Social Science
degree by
Keira Steams
has been approved by
-. Omar Swartz
yjzu h
Date
II


Steams, Keira (M.S.S.)
Agency and Oppression: The Rhetoric of Liberation
and the War in Afghanistan
Thesis directed by Professor Lucy McGuffey
ABSTRACT
This study aims to examine several discourses about women in Afghanistan. It
will first examine the discourse used by politicians in Congressional hearings in the
first year of the war to liberate Afghanistan and position it within a broader
framework of agency. The study will then move to an analysis of the Afghan
Womens Bill of Rights, created by Afghan women at a conference organized by
Women for Afghan Women in 2003 to give another example of the discourses
occurring around women in Afghanistan. This case study will use discourse analysis
to examine the themes found in such discourse and will position those themes within
a constellation of forms of agency, including a liberal humanistic model, a feminist
materialist model that focuses on freedom to action, a feminist reinterpretation of
Foucault and a model based on Muslim women in Egypt. The findings indicate that
the Congressional discourse drew heavily upon a liberal humanistic notion of agency,
yet such a conception of agency presented limitations, leading to tensions between
agentic models and assumed conditions of women in Afghanistan. The Afghan
Womens Bill of Rights presented a model that centered on the active subjectivity of
Afghan women that more easily grappled with multiple modalities of agency. I will
III


aim to demonstrate that a denial of agency is a form of epistemic violence that denies
the fundamental personhood of women and ultimately does not aid in their
reintegration into Afghan society.
This abstract accurately represents the contents of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication
Signed,
IV


TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER
I. INTRODUCTION AND STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM.......................1
II. DIFFERENTIAL CONCEPTIONS OF AGENCY............................13
Overlapping Narratives..........................................13
Constellations of Agency........................................23
Liberal Humanism..............................................25
Moving Beyond Liberal Humanistic Agency.......................30
Foucault, Butler and The Paradox of Subjectivation..........33
Agency and Women in Islam.....................................35
III. AN ANALYSIS OF U.S. POLITICAL DISCOURSE......................42
Afghan Women as the Victim Subject............................44
The Role of Afghan Women in Society.............................51
The U.S. as Savior..............................................59
Resistance and Challenges to the Taliban........................65
IV. AFGHAN WOMEN..................................................69
V. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION.....................................78
Conclusion.....................................................82
APPENDIX A........................................................85
BIBLIOGRAPHY......................................................87
V


CHAPTER I
INTRODUCTION AND STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
The world today is characterized by the constant threat of violence. The
driving forces behind this violence are the ever present sources of conflict that
escalated with the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on
September 11, 2001. In the name of keeping the world safe, the United States and
allied states have embarked up on a War on Terror, fighting largely Islamist
terrorist groups like al-Qaeda. While keeping the world safe from terrorism and
terrorists is undoubtedly a valid cause, the machinations and political
underpinnings of this War on Terror are far more complex than are immediately
apparent. A fight against terror and, by extension, the terrorist network of al-Qaeda,
contributed in part to the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. While both were
ostensibly a fight to protect the American way of life, it is the first invasion, that of
Afghanistan, that occupies a central location within this thesis.
On October 12, 2001, the United States declared war on Afghanistan. The
dominant discourse suggested that Afghanistan, ruled by the Taliban, harbored some
of the criminals responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11th in which over
2,000 individuals were killed. The United States demanded the perpetrators be
brought to justice. However, retribution for 9/11 was just one of the reasons used to
justify the invasion to the American public. Coupled with the desire to remove any
safe haven for al-Qaeda was a discussion about the horrific conditions under which
1


Afghans were living, suggesting a moral responsibility to liberate the people of
Afghanistan. Nowhere was the need for liberation illustrated more starkly than the
treatment of Afghan women. Women under the Taliban were prohibited from going
to school, could not receive health care treatment, were forced to wear the burqa and
faced significant levels of violence just for leaving the house. The Western world
watched in horror as images of mute, anonymous women were broadcast from
Afghanistan. Individuals who had never given gender equality a second thought
found themselves demanding justice for such women. In going to war in Afghanistan,
not only was the United States punishing those responsible for 9/11, it was rescuing
women from their oppressorsfighting against barbarism and religious fanaticism in
the name of freedom and democracy worldwide.
This meme of liberation, while arguably well intentioned, raises questions
about how the women of Afghanistan were portrayed to the American public. In
general, Afghan women were constructed as utterly helpless, in need of rescue rather
than capable of rescuing themselves (Ayotte and Hussain). While some would argue
that the magnitude of oppression faced by Afghan women necessitated intervention
on their behalf, such a claim is located in a particular understanding of who is capable
of resistance and action, suggesting a specific definition of agency. This
understanding of agency is also implicated in narratives that structure the United
States relationship to states in the Middle East, narratives that are profoundly
gendered and laced with the legacies of colonialism. This study aims to deconstruct
7


the particular notions of agency that underpinned the political discourse in this
context and informed how the women of Afghanistan were seen and understood by
the American public. This notion of agency will be analyzed alongside the Afghan
Womens Bill of Rights to gain a more complete picture of the role ideas of agency
play in framing arguments that have direct political implications.
Examining questions of agency requires a complex analytical framework. The
active participation of individuals in their own lives despite conditions of oppression,
terror, violence and seeming hopelessness is an important factor in acknowledging the
personhood of such individuals. While women around the world face tremendous
obstacles and live in immensely difficult conditions, it is vital to recognize the agency
that these individuals are still able to exercise in such circumstances. To fail to do so
is a form of double victimization, first in the actual circumstances they face and
second in the refusal to see the full humanity of the person who faces such
circumstances. Often, widely used models of agency are unable to address the
complexity of interactions between subordination and resistance, participation and
submission. By seeing agency in only one way, we as analysts and scholars ignore the
active shifting and reconfiguration of agency that takes place as individuals interact
with the facets of their life. This failure often is explicitly illustrated when discussing
3


individuals living in the two-thirds world1 * 4 as will be discussed below. Such situations
require a fundamental restructuring of the concept of agency.
Widely used models of agency are rooted in the liberal humanistic idea of a
transcendent, rational, free-thinking individual. This conception of agency sees the
capacity for action rooted solely in the individual, giving rise to the oft-debated idea
of either negative or positive freedom, one being a freedom from interference and
oppression and the other being a freedom of action in ones life. Feminist scholarship
in the last three decades has rightly problematized such a conception of agency, yet
often fails to decouple agency from a progressive political stance that only recognizes
agentive action in those actions that subvert dominant nonns. In this paper, I will
move beyond the widely accepted accounts of agency and pose several new models
of agency that include the way that agentival capacity is entailed not only in those
acts that resist nonns but also in the multiple ways in which one inhabits norms
(Mahmood 15). In other words, agentival capacity can be exercised through the
performance of norms in a manner that reinforces such norms, rather than resignifies
them. Past scholarship has often identified the manner in which women contribute to
their own oppression through inhabiting nonns as a form of false consciousness. A
conception of agency that is broadened to include the performance of norms provides
the space to dismiss paternalistic claims of false consciousness and allows for a
1 The term two-thirds world is interchangeable with the term Global South and is used in this paper to
describe those parts of the world that are in the process of industrializing. Historically, these parts of
the world have been referred to as the third world.
4


recognition of agency that would otherwise be ignored. A reconception of agency in
this way allows for an understanding that the self is constituted in interaction with the
world, including instances of oppression, rather than prior to entry into an oppressive
system. It is my aim to situate agency through a feminist analysis of Foucaults idea
of subjectivation, where the self is constituted as an agent through the very processes
of subordination. Such an understanding of agency recognizes the ways that women,
even in the most oppressive situations, still exercise agency in their lives. An
identification of this agency is important to break the narrative of victimization that
reduces women to mere objects at the mercy of more powerful external forces.
Furthermore, increasingly relevant to identifying memes concerning agency for
women not situated within a liberal intellectual tradition is the decoupling of agency
from a progressive political stance. As Saba Mahmood notes, moving beyond the
binary of subordination and resistance allows for a broader recognition of forms of
agency that do not map onto this framework.
The denial of agency to women and many individuals from the two-thirds
world does not emerge in a vacuum. There are many overlapping narratives that
structure power relations between the United States and Afghanistan that rest on
particular notions of agency. The War on Terror in the Middle East invoked a
tension between the Orient and the Occident that Samuel Huntington has called
the clash of civilizations, a battle between the forces of democracy and freedom and
fundamentalism and violence. Edward Said has named this dichotomy and the
5


attendant power implications Orientalism. The Middle East is seen as a place lacking
civilization, a place of warlords ruling with violence and brutality and fanatics willing
to die for Islam. It is seen as a place bounded by tradition, removed from time and
modem progress. By invoking such a construction, the West is defined in opposition.
The West, by inference, is a place of freedom, of modernity, of rationality; it is a
place where the fruits of technological progress can be enjoyed and life can be lived
unfettered from backward and outmoded ideas. The West always enjoys flexible
positional superiority (Said 7). Such a clash often reduces the complexity of
geopolitical conflict to black and white, creating dichotomies of the good versus the
bad, heroes versus terrorists, victims versus saviors.
Coupled with the idea of the clash of civilizations are narratives about
women from the Global South and Muslim women in particular. Many scholars have
argued that women from the Global South are regularly portrayed as a static,
oppressed category of creatures in need of saving by the West (Mohanty, Abu-
Lughod). This mantra has been repeated by those on both the Left and Right,
feminists and conservatives alike (A1 Muslima). Such an argument draws upon a
complex set of ubiquitous memes not only about gender but also about race, national
origin and religion and is used as a powerful tool to justify imperialism.
Factoring into these memes is the historical tendency of Western scholarship
to create a monolithic, homogenized view of two-thirds world women. This process
colonizes and appropriates the pluralities of the simultaneous location of different
6


groups of women... and ultimately robs them of their historical and social agency
(Mohanty 39). Two-thirds world women become a static category, oppressed by the
third world difference, the oppressive and paternalistic attitude that characterizes
two-thirds world cultures (41). Two-thirds world women are assumed to be dependent
victims, oppressed by the patriarchal structures of a backwards culture. As a result,
women are homogenized in a manner that ignores the nuances of racial, ethnic and
cultural identities. Women from the Global South become mere objects upon which
events of the world act on, rather than active agents in creating their own experiences.
The overlapping narratives concerning Muslims in general and Muslim
women in particular all rest on specific ideas about agency and form the context of
the discourse surrounding the need to liberate the women of Afghanistan. Each frame
further complicates views of agency, requiring not only a complex understanding of
accepted models of agency but also the ability to recognize the interplay of agency
within the historical context that structures discursive relations.
Such narratives and understandings of agency enable the appropriation of the
voices of Afghan women to save them, inflicting what some scholars identify as an
additional form of violence caused by neocolonialism (Ayotte and Husain). This takes
the form of ventriloquism, in which images of Afghan women were voiced over by
scholars, politicians and media figures in the United States, speaking on behalf of and
in place of actual indigenous voices. Reducing the women of Afghanistan to mute
dolls through which the voices of those in the West speak is a form of epistemic
7


violence in which language is used to further marginalize and oppress a category of
people. More specifically, such ventriloquism fails to call into question the
relationship between the instrumental violence women continue to face in attempts to
rebuild Afghanistan and the continued portrayal of women as abject, helpless
victims. The marginalization of the voices of women in Afghanistan sets the stage for
a continued dismissal of women as they seek to participate in rebuilding their nation.
Seeing Afghan women through a victim framework homogenizes them in existing
narratives concerning oppressed Muslim women, which partakes in exactly the
paternalistic logic that underlies the neocolonial politics of U.S. efforts to liberate
Afghan women according to an explicitly Western model of liberal feminism
(Ayotte and Husain 117). In short, a discourse that relies on narratives that deny
agency draws on pervasive paternalistic assumptions about the necessity of saving
women while still inflicting physical harm and fostering structural violence. The
irony of inflicting violence through invasion in the name of saving women from the
violence of their oppressors is rarely discussed.
To map the particular conceptions of agency that inform discourses on women
in Afghanistan, I will analyze the definitions of agency used in two different
locations: that of the politicians in the United States and that used in the Afghan
Womens Bill of Rights. This study will employ a feminist reconfiguration of the
Foucauldian notion of discourse analysis. Discourse analysis moves beyond
traditional content analysis by analyzing the power relations that underpin the words


being spoken. It is a study not only of what is heard and said, but a study of what is
not heard and what is not said. Discursive frames are not merely groups of signs
(signifying elements referring to contents or representations) but [are] practices that
systematically form the objects of which they speak (Naples 28). A discourse
analysis involves a recognition of power, allowing for the location of such discourses
in a historical constellation of narratives and frames that impact how we see and
understand the world. Specifically, drawing on recognizable discursive frames allows
policy makers an entry point into a discussion so they are seen and heard. By drawing
on familiar narratives, policy makers are able to contextualize their opinions,
conveying information that fits with their listeners worldview and increasing the
likelihood that they will be understood (Naples 27). Finally, discourse analysis is
particularly relevant because discourse analysis has a double aim: a systematic
theoretical and descriptive account of (a) the structures and strategies, at various
levels, of written and spoken discourse, seen both as a textual object and as a form
of sociocultural practice and interaction, and (b) the relationships of these properties
of text and talk with the relevant structures of their cognitive, social, cultural and
historical contexts (Van Dijk 96).
To apply this methodology to U.S. political discourse, I will examine
Congressional records between September 12, 2001 and the end of 2002. I chose to
examine Congressional records for a number of reasons. First and foremost,
analyzing Congressional records allows for an examination of frames drawn upon by
9


a wide spectrum of individuals that include Democrats, Republicans, members of the
Bush Administration and experts in the field. An analysis of Congressional records
serves to highlight not only the pervasiveness of racialized and gendered narratives
but also their importance in providing a comprehensible entry point into the
discussion for all participants. The discursive frames that structure the relationship
between the U.S and Afghan women run deeper than political affiliation.
Furthermore, looking at Congressional records provides insight into discourse that
has tangible political implications. The understandings that participants in the
hearings brought concerning Afghan women became policies implemented and
positions held. To conduct this research, I focused largely on committee hearings in
which women in Afghanistan are discussed, whether in the context of the war itself,
rebuilding the nation, or providing direct assistance to the women. In the time frame
given, hearings that touched on Afghan women ranged from specific discussions
about the humanitarian crisis facing women in Afghanistan, to conversations about
ending terrorism, to reports on the status of the war itself.
In addition, I will analyze the ideas of agency used in the Afghan Womens
Bill of Rights, created by Afghan women at a conference in 2003 organized by
Women for Afghan Women. The Afghan Womens Bill of Rights, while not
representative of the voices of all women in Afghanistan, presents the voices of
women who are agitating for their own rights. All of the demands outlined in the
document were agreed upon unanimously prior to their inclusion and represent an
10


alternative way of conceptualizing the situation of Afghan women. I chose to analyze
this document alongside Congressional records specifically because of the manner in
which the Bill was created and also because of the accessibility of the text. The
Afghan Womens Bill of Rights was created as a document to be publicized to the
world. As such, it is meant to be read by as broad a population as possible and
represents an alternative to the discourse found in the Congressional records. To
examine this discourse I will deconstruct not only the Bill of Rights itself but also the
notes from the conference published by Women for Afghan Women on their website
to analyze the model of agency they are using.
This research will demonstrate that the U.S. government used discursive
frames that drew upon Orientalized and gendered memes about Muslim women,
positioning them largely as the victim subject within the discussion. However, the
positioning of Afghan women demonstrates a tension between notions of agency and
personhood that politicians must negotiate through their discourse. This tension is
underpinned by the difficulty of utilizing a liberal humanistic notion of agency that
encompasses a victim framework, limiting agency and personhood, while still holding
space for the role of women as active participants in Afghanistans future. Through
this process, politicians struggle to map Afghan women onto their affirmations of a
liberal notion of agency. I will demonstrate that the notions of agency used in the
Afghan Womens Bill of Rights are different than that used by the United States,
11


allowing agentic capacity to the women of Afghanistan and acknowledging their role
in society.
12


CHAPTER II
DIFFERENTIAL CONCEPTIONS OF AGENCY
Overlapping Narratives
Many overlapping narratives structure the relationship between the U.S. and
women in Afghanistan. These narratives, stemming from histories of colonialism and
imperialism, frame analyses of gender, cultural identity and religion. Such memes
range from the concept of Orientalism, which creates normative status between the
Orient and the Occident, to rescue narratives that create a moral imperative for
more advanced societies to save the oppressed of other societies. Each of these
frameworks relies on a particular notion of agency, making an analysis of different
ideas of agency central to understanding such narratives and their implications. Each
of these narratives has tangible implications in the policy arena, and understanding
the forms of agency assumed within such narratives further contextualizes the role
narratives play in structuring relationships of states and societies. To situate
discourses on women in Afghanistan, I will first outline the concept of Orientalism
and how it relates to the white mans burden to save the backwards societies of the
world. Next the discussion will shift into critiques of knowledge produced about
Muslim women in particular. Finally, the literature will move to the contemporary
iteration of the white mans burden, namely rescue narratives about the need to
save the oppressed women of the world before underlying structures of agency are
discussed. Following the discussion of the narratives that are at play within the
13


discourses on women in Afghanistan, I will explicate the forms of agency implicated
by such narratives.
The concept of Orientalism, as coined by Edward Said, provides important
background for historically contextualizing knowledge production about the Middle
East. Discourses on the Middle East reside in the historical context of colonialism and
European imperialism and the centuries of interaction between the Orient and the
Occident. Orientalism is first a style of thought based upon an ontological and
epistemological distinction made between the Orient and (most of the time) the
Occident; Second, Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate
institution for dealing with the Orient... in short as a Western style for dominating,
restructuring, and having authority over the Orient (Said 2). Or, in other words,
Orientalism refers to the historical context of relations between the Orient and the
Occident, themselves discursive constructs, highlighting the interplay of power and
the role Orientalism plays in the formulation of an Occidental self. Such a
theoretical framework also raises the concept of the other and demonstrates how the
creation of the Orient automatically suggests its opposite, the Occident.
An oppositional positioning of the Orient and the Occident appears in the
image of the backwards, uncivilized Afghan other, which infers the opposite
construction of the modem, civilized American self. The American self is an active
agent with the moral responsibility to save the world, while the Afghan other is either
a passive victim or a barbaric oppressor. Muslim women are positioned as the
14


oppressed foil to the violent and barbaric Muslim man and both categorizations serve
to define the American self in opposition. This othering increases the imagined space
between us and them through the homogenization of the enemy other in a way
that ignores historical and contextual specificity and constitutes them as a static
subject. Furthermore, such a binary of rescuer and victim draws upon another
historical cultural meme, that of the white mans burden. This was a phrase used
by Rudyard Kipling when he, perhaps slightly ironically, declaimed the necessity of
the white man going forth and saving his brown brothers of the world. This
paternalistic ideology has wound itself into popular understandings of the self, and as
Edward Said says, what dignifies [the white mans] mission is some sense of
intellectual dedication; he is a White Man, but not for mere profit, since his chosen
star presumably sits far above earthly gain (226). Particular to the white mans
burden is a paternalistic concern for women. As Dana Cloud notes, among the
features of gendered nationalism is the idea of saving the brown women from the
brown men (289). Such concern for the welfare of women around the world enables
an imperialist intervention on behalf of women, employing moralistic terms to justify
foreign intervention.
Orientalism also has specifically gendered implications. Muslim women are
constructed as the other, portrayed as passive and oppressed in opposition to her
liberated American sisters. American women have the responsibility to save the
oppressed Muslim women of the world (A1 Muslima). Many scholars have pointed to
15


the obsession with the Muslim woman in the West, as if understanding her as a
victimized object will help to illuminate the events of 9/11. Rather than examine her
socio-historical location, individuals in the West focus on veiling as the
quintessential sign of womens unfreedom and have taken this as a sign that she
needs to be saved (Abu-Lughod, 786). Many academics have argued that the western
media and western organizations take a culturally imperialistic view of the Muslim
world, ignoring cultural norms and differences in a way that allows them to paint the
people of Afghanistan as backwards and uncivilized and the West as the paragon of
modernity (Ayotte and Husain). Much of this disdain comes from cultural differences
and the Wests emphasis on individual freedoms over Islams emphasis on the
common good. Specifically, what Westerners view as a restriction on personal
freedom, Muslims view as the assurance that the society as a whole, as well as the
individuals themselves, are benefiting from restrictions on behavior and dress (A1
Muslima). In Saraji A1 Muslimas view, cultural imperialism has replaced
colonialism:
They want Muslim women, or more specifically in this case, Afghani
women, to have choices, as long as Afghani women make the choices
that they have deemed as appropriate, modem, and civilized... in this
way, they have oppressed her as surely as anyone else ever has, by
removing from her the idea that she has intelligence, free will, and
rational thought. (A1 Muslima)
Such a conception reduces women to their subjection, ignoring historical specificity
and the complexities of experience and oppression. As Dana Cloud states, racialized
16


images of the savage Other and gendered images of women as victims lurk in
Western cultures symbolic repertoire... in perennial justifications for war (Cloud
289).
The research of Dana Cloud demonstrates the oppositional positioning of
Afghan women and American women. She examines images from Time magazine
from September 11, 2001 through September 11, 2002, and finds that images of
Afghans and Americans are positioned in binary opposition to one another: The
United States and its people face an incontrovertible conflict with Others, particularly
Islamic Others, whose civilizations are inferior and hostile to Western Capitalism
(286). In particular, imagery of the women in Afghanistan is used to invoke the idea
of the clash of civilizations. America is the definition of modernity, while images
of Afghans encourage a sort of paternalism towards their barbaric and backwards
civilization (Cloud 291). This opposes an American female self to the Afghan
female other, providing the space for an American self to be defined and
understood. Images of women in Afghanistan are juxtaposed against images of
liberated unveiled women, which as Cloud states encourage[s] viewers to lament
the status of Afghan women and support U.S. intervention (294).
Another important facet to frame the discourse around women in Afghanistan
is scholarship on the so-called rescue narratives that exist concerning non-Westem
women. In large part, the literature on this subject has been framed around sex
trafficking, but the lessons outlined are particularly salient in this discussion as well.
17


Many of the narratives concerning human trafficking utilize a particular sort of victim
framework in which those who are trafficked are reduced to mute, silent, oppressed
objects. While the literature in no way discounts the horrors of being trafficked, many
scholars problematize the dichotomy between passive two-thirds world women and
their active, Western rescuers. Such a victim framework enables imperialistic
interventions not only by governments but also by feminist organizations who turn to
a masculinist state model to protect such vulnerable two-thirds world women, often
infantilizing and marginalizing them in the process (Soderlund 72). Furthermore, such
a victim narrative denies the agency of women in sex work. Often, this victim
framework is challenged directly by organizations of sex workers and their supporters
who actively fight against such protectionist impulses that render their lives more
difficult and more dangerous.
The rescue narrative becomes more complicated when one identifies the
Orientalist memes often employed within such victim frameworks. Jo Doezema
suggests there is a fascination with the injured body of the third world trafficking
victim. She draws this term from Wendy Brown, and uses the idea of the injured
body as a site of political identity. The injured body paradoxically provides an
identity that is both based in pain and seeks to end such pain, giving rise to a politics
of ressentiment. A politics of ressentiment critiques power and subordination from the
location of the injured, fixing the identity of the injured in static, unmovable terms.
In particular, many feminists have used the injured body of the two-thirds world
18


prostitute in an effort to gain recognition and legitimacy for their quest for womens
human rights, consequently essentializing the female experience and reducing it to
sexualized oppression (Doezema 20). While gaining recognition for womens human
rights is a worthy goal, many scholars point out that the strategic utilization of a
victim framework often plays into state structures that contribute to the oppression of
women in the name of saving them (Kapur, Soderlund, Doezema). Ratna Kapur also
identifies the centrality of the victim subject in contemporary trafficking discourse.
This victim subject does in many ways allow for solidarity across varying cultural
and social contexts, enabling the formation of a movement base. Furthermore, it
provides women with a subject that repudiates the atomized, decontextualized, and
ahistorical subject of liberal rights discourse, while at the same time furnishing a
unitary subject that enables women to continue to make claims based on a
commonality of experience (Kapur 5). However, not only does this victim subject
essentialize the category of women, but in so doing it suggests that there is a category
of woman that exists prior to entry into any sort of cultural process. Such an
assumption also engages in cultural essentialism by suggesting that women from the
two-thirds world are victims of their particular culture in a way women in the West
are not. Cultural essentialism in this manner takes an example of violence against
women, the process of sati in India for example, and suggests it is a result of
inherently problematic cultural beliefs. By defining sati as a cultural product, an
entire culture is reduced to its endorsement of violence against women. Not only is
19


this a simplistic and inaccurate understanding of the structures of oppression, it also
invokes a teleology of modernity, with the West as the most developed, leading the
way for their less civilized followers.
This particular framing of women from the two-thirds world creates a
victimized woman who is entirely helpless and disempowered. In many ways she is
likened to a child, portrayed as infantile, civilizationally backward, and incapable of
self-determination or autonomy rather than a whole person. (Kapur 19). As such, it
also enables interventions on their behalf, allowing organizations to pursue aims that
are reminiscent of imperial interventions in the lives of the native subject and which
represent the Eastern woman as a victim of a backward and uncivilized culture
(Kapur 6). Liddle and Rai are explicitly critical of such knowledge production about
victimized women in the two-thirds world. They label this discursive process as an
example of contemporary Orientalist exercises in power. Orientalist power can be
recognized in two locations: first, it is exercised when the author of such knowledge
denies the subject the possibility of self-representation, as is often the case with
women who are engaged in sex work. Their voice is only heard when it fits into the
victim framework. Any self-representation that challenges the dominant discourse of
sex workers as victimized, formerly pure and good women seeking escape from the
forces that placed them in their horrible situation is denied and ignored. The second
facet of Orientalist power is seen when oppression and resistance are placed in a
hierarchy, with Western societies positioned as less oppressive and thus morally
20


superior to their two-thirds world counterparts. In the West, oppression is suggested
to be less severe and resistance more common. Not only can this be seen in the way
that oppression is ranked, but also resistance. The resistance of western feminists is
seen as more active and legitimate than the resistance of women from the two-thirds
world (Liddle and Rai 512).
This victim framework also is problematic for the remedies it seeks for
womens oppression. Not only does it deny that women have the right to outline their
own responses to oppression, it also often appeals to a protectionist framework. The
centrality of the victim subject produces a paradox when formulating strategies to end
such oppression: identity based on injury cannot let go of that injury without ceasing
to exist. This paradox results in a politics that seeks protection from the state rather
than power and freedom for itself (Doezema 20). The appeal to the state guised in
masculinist protector rhetoric can be seen most clearly in anti-trafficking legislation
that criminalizes sex workers, makes it more difficult for them to access the support
and resources they need and more broadly reinforces the claim that women need to be
protected. For example, pressure from international anti-trafficking organizations
resulted in a law in Nepal that prohibits women under 30 from traveling outside of the
country without a male relative (Kapur 100). In the U.S., it is illegal to provide
interstate transportation for a sex worker. Both cases limit the mobility of the women
in question through invoking a need for protection. In the guise of eliminating
trafficking and enforcing the human rights of women, the self-same women are
21


reduced to their need for protection. In other words, the state must restrict womens
rights for their own good. As Wendy Brown states about protection codes:
Protection codes are thus key technologies in regulating privileged women as
well as intensifying the vulnerability and degradation of those on the
unprotected side of the constructed divide between light and dark, wives and
prostitutes, good girls and bad ones. (Doezema 21)
Again, the importance of such rhetoric in imperialistic interventions cannot be
understated. Drawing not only on Orientalism but also on the colonial mythology of
the white mans burden, the rescue narratives concerning trafficked women locate
the capacity for action only in those in the West. Women from the two-thirds world
are excluded from any agentic capabilities and as such, those possessing agency must
intervene on their behalf. Such intervention often masks an imperialistic agenda that
is aimed at reproducing global hegemonic power. For example, in 2004 when Flugo
Chavez, populist leader of Venezuela, survived a referendum that the U.S. had hoped
would install a more U.S. friendly leader, the U.S. responded by retracting support for
$250 million in loans that Venezuela had requested from international finance
institutions. Venezuelas record on trafficking of women and children, as cited in the
annual Trafficking in Persons Report, was given as the reason why support was
pulled (Soderlund 76). Such imperialism is not limited to governments. Organizations
such as the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) have been cited as
utilizing the victim framework to gain legitimacy and funding from donors, and
feminist organizations such as the Feminist Majority Foundation and the National
22


Organization for Women have been pointed at as well (Soderlund). Women in
Afghanistan, while not victims of sex trafficking, clearly fall into the category of
oppressed, brutalized women in need of saving. The rhetoric suggesting women in
Afghanistan need to be saved fits into the framework of the rescuer versus the
rescued.
All of these narratives rest on particular assumptions about what constitutes
agency. Particularly in the Orientalist narratives that structure conceptions of Muslim
women and in sex trafficking rescue narratives, we can see a reliance on definitions
of agency that serve to deny women the ability to make choices in their lives.
Whether it is by categorizing women solely by their oppression or by defining
trafficking in a manner that does not distinguish between unforced prostitution and
forced sex work, the consequences are the same: the reproduction racialized and
gendered memes that fit into a broader framework of imperialism. It is vital to situate
the role that definitions of agency play in the construction and usage of these
narratives. A further look at definitions of agency elucidates the problematic aspects
of these narratives and contextualizes the discourses on women in Afghanistan. Such
narratives and definitions of agency are woven together to form the framework of
power within which discourses on women in Afghanistan take place.
Constellations of Agency
Central to the analysis of the discourse surrounding women in Afghanistan is
an understanding of the existing debates surrounding agency. Many feminists have
23




taken up the philosophical question of agency, problematizing often held assumptions
by seeking to reorient agency within a gendered framework that acknowledges the
subordination of women yet identifies sites of resistance. Questions of agency are
often rooted in particular understandings of the self and the formation of subjectivity.
Reformulations of the constitution of the self necessarily shift the context of agency
and its identification. Furthermore, the relationship between the self and the corporal
body take center stage within this debate, as many theorists point to the ways the
actions of the body enact or subvert norms and thus exercise agency.
The identification of forms of agency ascribed to women in Afghanistan takes
on particular import when historically contextualized within the frameworks outlined.
But what are the most common models of agency used? To better contextualize the
U.S. discourse on women in Afghanistan and the Afghan Womens Bill of Rights,
this study will posit four models of agency. I will begin by analyzing the tradition of
liberal humanism, which provides the foundation for common understandings of
modes of agency. Following a discussion of liberal humanism, I will move into
feminist critiques of liberal humanistic agency, focusing on Elizabeth Groszs
conception of agency within a materialist feminist framework. Next, the debate shifts
into a Foucauldian analysis of the realm of subject formation within matrices of
power, using the specifically feminist analysis of Judith Butler. Finally, the debate on
models of agency closes with Saba Mahmood problematizing an explicitly political
understanding of agency. Instead, she calls for an understanding of agency that does
24


not remain with the subordination/subversion dichotomy, but rather identifies the role
that the body plays in enacting agentival capacity in a way that one cannot understood
within the simple context of resignification and subversion of norms.
Liberal Humanism
A liberal humanistic understanding of agency pervades much of the historical
literature on the self s relation to the world. This model identifies agency as free
action, or the capacity for individuals to make choices in their lives unfettered by
outside influences. Such a definition of agency rests on the ideological tradition of the
Enlightenment, presupposing a rational, self-sufficient, free standing individual who
has, in their very existence, the capacity for free action. This model of the subject
produces a very particular understanding of the seifs relationship to the outside world
and rests on a dichotomy between the self and the other. The self is constituted
through the capacity for control of bodily actions, a control that reproduces a central
tenet of Enlightenment thought: the separation and subsequent dominance of the mind
over the actions of the body. The self relates to the world autonomously, yet in many
ways relies on the other to understand itself. In this view, ethical and moral action
only come into the world through the dominance of the mind over the body. Most
importantly, liberal humanism rests on the concept of the transcendent subject, one
that exists prior to entry into relationship with the world. This suggests that such a
transcendent subject has a fixed identity that is not shaped in interaction with the
forces of the world. The subject becomes a static object.
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Such a conception of agency only ascribes agency to those individuals who
are enacting this capacity for free action in the absence of external impediments.
Those who are constrained in some way are not active agents and thus lack the ability
to realize agency until they are freed of constraints. Furthermore, active agents also
must be materially free. Those who are socially dependent upon others cannot exert
active agency. Paul Benson identifies three problematic assumptions with this
conception of agency. First, such a conception of agency assumed that the subject
exists alone, without embeddedness in existing social networks or relationships. Free
action places the agentic individual in a vacuum. However, humans exist within a
web of relationships that shape and impact choices. In this sense, one can begin to
wonder if free action is even possible. Second, such definitions of agency lack any
sort of normative content. Freedom is simply freedom. There is no suggestion that
some actions may be more free than others, it is simply the ability to freely act that
makes them free. Or, in other words, a liberal humanistic form of agency does not tie
agency explicitly to a form of subversion or resistance that many feminist scholars
use to frame their understanding of agency. Third, this form of agency assumes that
the substance of free agency is the individual having the ability to control his or her
conduct. In other words, the free agents control standardly is described as an
executive power, the power decisively to initiate courses of action in the face of
available alternatives, the ability to do or not do (Benson 49). Such a view of agency
ignores the way that action is constrained by structural factors. It also ignores the
26


interplay of power and agency, downplaying the constraints on agency that result
from the subjects shifting relationship with power. Agency is simply seen as the
ability for free action and self domination.
This conception of agency suggests that the exertion of agency falls within an
individualistic framework. One has agency if one has the ability to act freely in a
given situation to actualize internal desires and preferences. However, more recent
theorists have problematized the blindness of this definition to the role that power
plays in the creation of the subject. By failing to recognize how structures that
oppress and privilege affect the subjects capacity for action, theorists are also failing
to recognize the role that power plays in the constitution of the subject. Furthermore,
if agency is seen as the capacity for free action, how do individuals that face
oppressive structural constraints exert agency? Is the capacity for free action forever
closed to them, denying them any agentic ability whatsoever?
More recent theoretical discourse around agency has often replicated these
assumptions. If the capacity for free action is a foundation of agency, then those
structures that inhibit free action must be dismantled for subordinated subjects to
realize agency. This, then, becomes the goal for academics rooted in the tradition of
liberal humanistic agency. The key to restoring agency to those to whom it has been
denied lies externally. Structures that subordinate must be dismantled. Elizabeth
Grosz calls this form of agency a freedom from. This freedom from stance aims
to restore to the subject certain rights that minimize negative interference rather than
27


affirm positive action (Grosz 141). While the concept of a freedom from has
political relevance and is one important component in discourses around agency, it
falls short in visioning the future. Such a freedom from... is not sufficient for at best
it addresses and attempts to redress wrongs of the past without providing any positive
direction for action in the future (Grosz 141). She asks whether feminist theory [is]
best served through its traditional focus on womens attainment of a freedom from
patriarchal, racist, colonialist, and heteronormative constraint? Or by exploring what
the femaleor feministsubject is and is capable of making and doing? (Grosz
141). In other words, rather than focus externally on eliminating forms of oppression,
Grosz emphasizes a shift to understanding what possibilities reside within the female
subject herself.
Feminist scholarship has sought to modify this mode of agency, rendering it
more relevant to the lives of women. They point explicitly to the connection of
agency and power and highlight the tension between structure and agency. In their
view, agency is exerted in the ways in which women work to subvert their oppression
despite existing in conditions of subordination. In many ways this model of agency
contextualizes the subject into a web of social and power relations that shift to
constrain agency in different ways. Agentival capacity is seen as attempting to
eliminate external forms of oppression, still operating within the freedom from
model pointed at by Grosz. Furthermore, a feminist reconfiguration of the liberal
humanist model of agency has aimed to identify the ways in which women were able
28


to negotiate their lives despite conditions of oppression. Scholars have focused on the
ways in which women have actively subverted their own oppression using their
agentic capacities. This idea of agency often aims to give voice to the voiceless, using
womens words and experiences to demonstrate the basic humanity of women as a
category. Often, autobiographies or narrative stories written by women have been
pointed at to demonstrate the shared oppression of women. This stance of
victimization allowed for a political cohesion that enabled advocacy to end the
oppression of women. However, a feminist interpretation of a liberal humanistic
model of agency still relies on some of the problematic assumptions of liberal
humanism. For one, it has assumed a category of women existed prior to entry into
the structure of the world. In this way, it was still relying on the concept of a
transcendent subject as suggested in liberal humanism. An example of this can be
seen in Susan Wendells work concerning her conceptualization of responsibility and
choice under conditions of oppression. She posits four universal perspectives in
regards to individual moral choice, including the perspective of the oppressor, the
perspective of the victim, the perspective of the responsible actor and the perspective
of the observer/philosopher (Wendell 23-35). While her perspectives offer valuable
insight into the relationship between agency and oppression, her reliance on the
individual moral actor essentializes the category of woman, failing to take into
account the role that power plays among and between women to work to constrain the
exercise of agency. In many ways, some feminist reconfigurations of agency build
29


upon the foundation laid by liberal humanism, failing to dismantle both the idea of
the transcendent subject as well as the core notion of agency as a freedom from.
While this model of agency certainly has political salience and value, as we will see
with the next models outlined, it constructed agency within a specific framework,
drawing on a particular understanding of what the category of women meant and
what their liberation consisted of.
Moving Beyond Liberal Humanistic Agency
Elizabeth Grosz moves beyond the liberal humanistic and feminist tradition of
a freedom from to instead suggests a conception of agency that is not only a
freedom from, but also a freedom to. This idea of freedom to focuses on the
capacity for action in life. Her suggestion of a capacity of action is not to be confused
with the liberal humanist tradition of free action, but rather redefines the concept of
freedom. Debates about freedom often become dichotomized between determininsts
on the one hand and libertarians on the other. Determinists suggest that if one knows
the steps leading to a particular action, one can predict with certainty which choice
will be made, thus downplaying the role of free action in any situation. Libertarians,
on the other hand, believe in the primacy of free will. This dichotomy is unhelpful in
understanding the concept of freedom because it limits analysis to whether or not
freedom is possible rather than identifying differential modes of freedom. Grosz
advocates a shift in focus from the actor to the act itself to understand freedom.
Rather than ask whether or not the subject is free and capable of action, we would
30


instead ask whether or not specific acts are free. Grosz uses the work of Henri
Bergson to define a free act as one in which the self alone will have been the author
of it, and... it will express the whole of the self (Grosz 146). Thus, the capacity to
action is rooted not in the subject but in the expressive act. A free act is one that is
integral to who or what the subject is (Grosz 144). It will express the self and in
that expressing, will change the self. Freedom of action requires not simply removing
oppression and expanding the range of choices available, but rather requires
transforming the quality and activity of the subjects who choose and who make
themselves through how and what they do (Grosz 151). This shifts the meaning of
freedom. Freedom is not something that is externally determined, it is not something
that can be given or taken away but rather is a quality found in the act itself. This also
shifts the goal from simply removing external obstacles to freedom to supporting the
personhood of individuals to actively engage with the world around them. Enacting
particular choices does not only change the world, but reflexively changes the subject
who chooses such action. The subject, constantly recreated, is different after the
choice has been made than she was before she chose to act. It is when she chooses to
act in ways that transform her that she is asserting agency and it is in this sense that
autonomy is possible. While these choices are constrained by interaction with
material forces and structural oppression, freedom is not a transcendent quality
inherent in subjects but is immanent in the relations that the living has with the
material world, including other forms of life (Grosz 148). Thus, the potential for
31


freedom exists in every interaction between the self and the world, sometimes
realized and sometimes not, and is not a property or right bestowed on, or removed
from, individuals by others but a capacity or a potentiality to act both in accordance
with ones past as well as out of character in a manner that surprises (152).
Furthermore, such a redefinition of freedom, autonomy and agency represents
a departure from a liberal humanistic way of conceiving of the material body in
relation to the world. Freedom is not a function of the mind but rather of the body: it
is linked to the bodys capacity for movement, and thus its multiple possibilities of
action (Grosz 152). Whereas liberal humanism conceives of freedom as a condition
of the mind dominating the body and manifesting in the actions that the body takes,
Grosz materialist view of autonomy locates freedom in the ability of the body to
interact with the world in a way that shapes the mind. In other words, autonomy is
rooted in the bodys struggle to improve itself, in its ability to engage in acts that
shape the very subjectivity of the self in their performance.
A reorientation around a freedom to opens up new possibilities for a feminist
conception of agency. The potentiality of freedom in actions that create and recreate
the self makes the capacity for agency available to everyone and moves beyond the
idea of free action as an individually exercised choice among options. It is at this
point that freedom is linked to performativity; freedom is not a transcendent
possession of the self but rather is realized through action. Agency is something
available to everyone, to be enacted or not enacted at a particular moment. An
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assertion of agency in one moment does not guarantee the assertion in the next
moment, but the potential is there and as such every subject is an active agent in their
lives. The performativity of freedom is a potential that lies in any interaction or self-
creating act regardless of oppression or conditions of subordination.
Foucault, Butler and The Paradox of Subjectivation
The formation of the self takes on more importance to understanding agency
in Judith Butlers conception. Butler uses a Foucauldian analysis of power to
demonstrate that the self becomes constituted through interaction and subordination
to power. The self comes to understand itself as a subject through subordination.
Butler calls this process subjection, which signifies the process of becoming
subordinated by power as well as the process of becoming a subject (Butler 2). The
structures of power and dependency within which the subject becomes signified
simultaneously subordinate the subject and provide the very means for the creation of
the subject in the first place. It is through the processes of subordination that the
subject itself becomes created and articulated as a separate entity. In Butlers words:
... the subject is produced by a condition from which it is, by definition,
separated and differentiated. Desire will aim at unraveling the subject, but be
thwarted by precisely the subject in whose name it operates... A subject
turned against itself (its desire) appears, on this model, to be a condition of the
persistence of the subject. (9)
In other words, we come to understand ourselves as subjects through being
subordinated. This subordination provides the genesis for the subject itself. Without
the process of subordination to power, or dependency on another, the formation of a
33


subject would not be possible. Contrary to the idea of a transcendent subject, in
Butlers conception the subject becomes through this process. There is no subject for
power to act upon until power creates the subject through its interaction. This analysis
rebuts the central tenet of liberal humanism which assumes the presence of a
transcendent subject. Butler states that there is no such thing as a transcendent subject
which enters into the process of subordination. Rather, the subject itself is unformed
until it becomes through interaction with power. Furthermore, the process of
subjection opens the space for agency. The structures that subordinate women are not
static. As Butler states: they are subject to renewal, and I perform that renewal in the
repeated acts of my person. Even though my agency is conditioned by those
limitations, my agency can also thematize and alter those limitations to some degree
(Butler 334). This is the paradox of subjectivation. Subjectivation is both a condition
of subordination and the site for a genesis of agency: as the willed effect of the
subject, subjection is a subordination that the subject brings on itself; yet if subjection
produces a subject and a subject is a precondition for agency, then subjection is the
account by which a subject becomes a guarantor of its resistance and opposition
(Butler 14). Is it then paradoxical to challenge the power that is a precondition for
agency using that self-same agency? Butler says no. She suggests that power cannot
be taken from one place and moved to another, that in its movement it necessarily
shifts and changes. As Butler states: as a subject of power... the subject eclipses the
conditions of its own emergence; it eclipses power with power. The conditions not
34


only make possible the subject but enter into the subjects formation (14). At its
core, Butlers analysis of agency is useful because it provides a framework to
understand the interactions of power with selfhood and agency. Power not only
oppresses but also provides the preconditions for agency, an agency that not only
opposes power but also recognizes that power as its genesis. In this way Butler
dismantles the resistance/subordination dichotomy; subjects cannot use agency to
dismantle norms without inhabiting those self-same norms. If subordination is a
condition for the constitution of an agentic self, then the self cannot subvert those
structures which subordinate without drawing upon those same structures to
understand itself and its agentic capacity. Through simultaneously challenging and
reinforcing oppressive norms the self reflexively changes the norms, resignifying
them in a way that renders them unstable. Although inhabiting a norm while
challenging it may seem to preclude the dismissal of such an oppressive norm, it is
this resignification that opens the possibility of change. It is important to note the way
that Butlers analysis privileges subversion and resignification, defining active agency
as such resignification. Agency exists in an agonistic framework with norms, as
agency seeks to subvert and resignify the very norms which enabled its creation.
Agency and Women in Islam
Saba Mahmood, while drawing on many of the concepts outlined by Butler,
presents an even more nuanced view of agency, with implications for analysis
involving women in Islam. She problematizes the politicization of agency in most
35


feminist work. Most feminist work identifies agency as being in pursuit of a universal
goal: that of casting off the bonds of oppression. The identification of agency by
feminist scholars thus focuses on the ways that women are subverting their own
domination. Mahmood argues that in the context of women in Islam, who inhabit
cultures that are profoundly non-liberal and do not have the same philosophical roots
as does Western culture, such a political proscription of what agency looks like
precludes the identification of alternate forms of agency. In her own words: does the
category of resistance impose a teleology of progressive politics on the analytics of
powera teleology that makes it hard for us to see and understand forms of being
and action that are not necessarily encapsulated by the narrative of subversion and
reinscription of norms? (Mahmood 9). Butlers focus on the manner of subversion
and resignification draws the most criticism from Mahmood. The agonistic
framework within which agency operates is in many ways, Mahmood claims,
dismissive of alternative modes of agency in which women inhabit norms rather than
resignifying them. While Butler states that any subversion of power is a product of
the violence it seeks to oppose, she nonetheless privileges those moments that allow
for the resignification of norms through the performance of those very same norms.
Mahmoods research focuses on the womens mosque movement in Egypt.
She seeks to understand agency in the context of women who seem, on the face, to be
participating in their own oppression by supporting Islamic religious structures that
inhibit the assertion of womens agency. What she finds is a structure of agency that
36


is fundamentally different from a tradition rooted in Western ideological history. The
morals and ethics that underpin the decisions of women studied by Mahmood are
better understood using an Aristotelian tradition rather than the Kantian tradition that
undergirds liberal humanistic thought. The Kantian tradition often fails to give
importance to the precise manner in which moral actions are formed and enacted.
Rather, in Mahmoods words, this tradition suggests a moral action can only be moral
in so much as it is not a result of habituated virtue but a product of the critical
faculty of reason (Mahmood 25). In other words, the Kantian tradition identifies the
importance of reason and duty in moral action but does not focus on the structure of
the action itself. The action stands as a particular manifestation of deeper social
ideologies coupled with duty, and it is these ideologies that bear analysis rather than
the particularities of the action and what they say about the subjects relation to the
body. Placing emphasis on the specifics of the action, however, allows for a new
understanding of that action: the specificity of a bodily practice is also interesting for
the kind of relationship it presupposes to the act it constitutes wherein an analysis of
the particular form that the body takes might transform our conceptual understanding
of the act itself (Mahmood 27). Mahmood uses a Foucauldian positive conception of
ethics to better understand agency as not solely formed in resistant acts but also
located in the capacity to enact certain moral actions in culturally specific contexts.
This positive conception of ethics draws on an Aristotelian emphasis on the specific
form ethical actions take while examining the location of those actions within their
37


particular context. Foucaults positive ethics and his paradox of subjectivation
previously discussed in the context of Butler are particularly useful when examining
agency within the mosque movement, due to the emphasis placed on the role external
structures take in the formation of ethics and agency. This helps us to understand a
central question posed by Mahmood: How do we conceive of individual freedom in
a context where the distinction between the subjects own desires and socially
prescribed performances cannot be easily presumed, and where submission to certain
forms of (external) authority is a condition for achieving the subjects potentiality?
(Mahmood 31). Or, in other words, how do we identify forms of individual agency
when ethics and morals are shaped by culturally specific norms that seem to dictate
submission to such norms to achieve an ethical life?
What is at stake in such an explosion of regnant agency is a fundamental
redefinition of the role that bodily practices play in subject formation and agency. In
keeping with the Aristotelian tradition, the shape bodily practices take is important to
analyze because of the impact the performative has on the self. According to
Mahmood, within a liberal humanistic model of agency, enacting a virtue that one did
not feel within oneself would be hypocritical and be an example of the internalization
of oppressive norms. Performing a virtue that one did not internally feel would lack
moral weight and would not be a site of agency (Mahmood 157). To perform a
virtuous act only because one should, despite internal feelings, would remove the
agency from the act, denying the agentic capacity of the actor. However, Mahmood
38


found that the subjects of her study used the actions of the body to reformulate the
internal self. Rather than seeing internal resistance to a particular act as problematic,
her research demonstrated that bodily action could be used to teach the mind. This
relocates the agency back into the act and shows that such a bodily performance,
enacted in the face of internal dissonance, is a powerful site for women to exercise
agency. For example, the virtue of modesty was one that the mind was taught through
bodily practices such as veiling, rather than veiling being a representation of an
internal feeling of modesty (Mahmood 156). The women made the choice to teach
their mind the value of modesty by actively donning the veil despite internal
resistance.
While Mahmoods analysis may seem to parallel Butlers notion of
performativity, that is the body enacting and resignifying norms, she rejects the
weight given to the destabilization caused by performativity. The duality of
subordination and resignification does not map onto Mahmoods subjects; the women
that she studied were engaged in a performativity that existed within accepted norms.
A broadening of the notion of agency in this fashion allows for a recognition of
agency in many places in which a liberal humanistic form of agency would not be
identified, highlighting the historically and culturally specific manner in which these
women were enacting agency.
This reformulation of agency, while rooted in a specific historical and cultural
context, has untold implications for studies of agency in locations when commonly
39


accepted models of agency do not map. The shift beyond a politically progressive
agenda and the subordination/subversion duality allows for an analysis of agency that
highlights the manner in which inhabiting norms, not necessarily subverting or
resignifying norms, can be an exercise in agentival capacity. Futhermore, Mahmoods
analysis takes discussions of agency to a location beyond that of Butler and allows for
an identification of the lived realities of women in Egypt. Mahmood demonstrates
that as a feminist scholar committed to her work, it is imperative to live within the
contradiction of producing research with the aim of reducing the oppression of
women while still identifying the ways in which women exert agency in a manner
that is foreign to many Western feminists. Tier reconception of agency demonstrates
the need for multiple knowledge frames that often do not fit within the hegemonic
knowledge frame within which many scholars are operating.
Furthermore, a coupling of Grosz conceptions of agency with that of
Mahmood has the potential to provide unique starting point for an understanding of
agency that can be applied to women in the two-thirds world who are discursively
constructed as oppressed victims. If agency is present at any moment in the action,
whether inhabiting or subverting norms, then agency becomes available to everyone.
Structural constraints or seemingly oppressive norms become transformed into sites
for the exercise of agency rather than barriers to agency.
The overlapping narratives that structure our understanding of women in
Afghanistan have direct implications for the way agency is conceptualized. Narratives
40


about women from the two-thirds world and Muslim women in particular explicitly
deny the capacity for agency. They centralize Muslim women as victims due to the
oppressive structural constraints they are seen to face. Similarly, rescue narratives
concerning sex workers also centralize the victim subject, failing to see agency in the
midst of overwhelming structural oppression. The victim is the foil for the rational,
autonomous subject presented by liberal humanistic thought and helps the rational
subject to know itself by identifying what it is not. The rational actor exerts force on
the external world, shaping and changing it in ways that the victim subject must then
negotiate. Reformulations of agency in ways that locate agency in the act, identify
subordination as a site for the genesis of agency or recognize agency exerted through
enacting apparently oppressive norms challenge such narratives. Ascribing agency to
the central subject removes the abject victim and instead replaces it with an agentic
human being actively in relationship with the world.
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CHAPTER III
AN ANALYSIS OF U.S. POLITICAL DISCOURSE
Less than a month after the attacks of 9/11, on October 7, 2001, the United
States declared war on Afghanistan. The Taliban were harboring many members of
al-Qaeda as well as Osama bin Laden, the architect of 9/11, and refused to cooperate
with the demands of the United States to expel those responsible for the attacks and
end its support of terrorism. To contextualize the current situation in Afghanistan, it is
helpful to have an understanding of the history of Afghanistan, particularly with
regard to the situation of women.2
The Taliban, adhering to a particularly fundamentalist version of Islam bom in
the refugee camps on the borders of Pakistan, destroyed historical landmarks
throughout their reign and their record on human rights was atrocious (Gul Khattak
19). Central to their fundamentalism was their treatment of women. Women were not
2 Afghanistan won its independence from Britain in 1919. In 1923, Afghan women received equal
rights in the constitution. After gaining independence, the King implemented reforms to modernize
Afghanistan, including abolishing the veil and establishing co-ed schools. Because of widespread
dissatisfaction, he was forced to abdicate in 1929 and was replaced by his cousin Prince Nadir Khan,
who was assassinated four years later. Khans son, King Zahir Shah, reigned from 1933 to 1973 and in
1964 introduced a liberal constitution that outlined a two chamber legislature and provided equal rights
for women. However, in 1973, Shah was deposed in a coup staged by his prime minister, Sardar
Mohammad Daoud, who abrogated the constitution and declared Afghanistan a republic. Daoud
reigned until a coup in 1978 staged by the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). The
PDPA faced challenges almost immediately and was increasingly unstable in the face of a growing
insurgency. Despite signing a treaty of friendship, relations between Afghanistan and the USSR
became increasingly tense until the USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979. While their troops occupied
Afghanistan until 1989, the USSR was largely unable to control areas of Afghanistan outside of Kabul
and faced a strong insurgency from various factions of mujahedeen supported by the United States. In
1989, the mujahedeen took power but Afghanistan remained unstable in the face of warring factions
(U.S. Department of State: Afghanistan). The mujahedeen struggled against the largely Pashtun
Taliban for a number of years, until the mid 1990s when the Taliban triumphed and rose to power.
42


allowed to attend school and were excluded from public life in many ways. Women
were also forced to wear the burqa, a head to toe covering through which only the
eyes could be seen.
To more fully understand how women in Afghanistan were positioned within
the U.S., Congressional records were examined between September 12, 2001 and
December 31, 20023. Congressional records were chosen because they enable an
examination of the attitudes of a variety of individuals, demonstrating the depth and
breadth of the conversations concerning women in Afghanistan. These conversations
were engaged in by Republicans, Democrats, members of the Bush Administration,
individuals from the State Department, regional experts, feminist organizations and
women and men from Afghanistan. Analyzing the Congressional record allows for an
examination of the discourse from a number of angles and perspectives, given the
wide range of active participants. It helps to paint a more comprehensive picture of
the discourse occurring at this time. Furthermore, this discourse had direct political
implications, as those engaging in discussion were responsible in part for creating
U.S. policy toward Afghanistan.
During this time period, there were numerous committee hearings held that
touched on women in Afghanistan. Many of these hearings focused explicitly on the
3 To obtain relevant Congressional records, I used Lexis Nexis Congressional Search to pull any
hearings that mentioned Afghan women in the context of oppression, liberation or the Taliban. I then
read through all findings, keeping for analysis any document that discussed women in Afghanistan in
more than a singular mention.
43


humanitarian crisis faced in Afghanistan, whether due to famine or due to the
violence inflicted by the Taliban. These hearings focused on the human rights
violations that had occurred and would occur without external aid, particularly in the
case of the looming famine. Within these hearings, the status of women was raised
repeatedly. Afghan women were also mentioned in hearings that were focused on
other issues concerning Afghanistan, such as ending terrorism. Afghan women were
mentioned in one hearing that focused on the military aspects of the ongoing war and
were also mentioned in periodic regional geographic updates to Congressional
committees. In all, Afghan women were mentioned in fifteen hearings in this time
period.
In analyzing the discourse, several major themes emerged, which will be
discussed below. These include the positioning of women in Afghanistan as the
victim subject, the role of the burqa in the oppression of women, womens position
in the past and the future of Afghanistan, and the gratitude and joy present upon
liberation. The discourse also mentioned some of the ways in which the women of
Afghanistan have resisted their oppression, which are important to note.
Afghan Women as the Victim Subject
Of all of the discursive frames used to position the discourse surrounding
women in Afghanistan, none was more pervasive than the idea of women in
Afghanistan as the victim subject. Similar to the discussion above concerning women
who have been trafficked, the victim subject is a useful political tool to mobilize
44


public opinion and support. In the hearings, Afghan women were described as the
weakest and most vulnerable members of Afghan society, living lives that were
desperate and hopeless. They were described as having no choice and no alternatives
to life under the Taliban, no ability to exert their rights, condemned to suffer
extraordinary atrocities at the hands of brutal men. The humanitarian crisis in
Afghanistan, including the drought and subsequent famine as well as the treatment of
women was constructed in a way that did not just evoke sympathy... but enormous
anguish (H. Com. International Relations, Americas Assistance to the Afghan
People 19).
To understand this narrative it is helpful to break it down into several discrete
parts. First and foremost, much of the discourse focuses on the burqa as the
overarching symbol of oppression. The veil comes to stand in for all of the oppression
faced by women in Afghanistan, even being used metaphorically:
Bearing the scars of the Talibans crimes against its own people,
Afghanistans women have been buried beneath a veil. The burqa, the forcible
cover of women is an attempt by the Taliban to hide from the world the
violence and pain that that regime has imposed on Afghanistan under the
pretext of religion. (H. Com. International Relations, Afghan People us. The
Taliban 2)
Senator Barbara Boxer refers to the burqa in her introductory words in a hearing on
the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, stating in my office, I have a burqa that
was given to me by my friends in California. I have it hanging there as a reminder of
what women go through.... That burqa says it all. If you put that on, you can barely
45


breathe (S. Subcom. Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, Afghanistan's
Humanitarian Crisis 4). Furthermore, liberation is associated with womens removal
of the burqa. As Senator Biden observed:
But what I observed on the international broadcasts where when the Taliban
was driven out of Kabul men flocking to the barber shops in resistance to
shave off their beards, but none of that happening in rural areas; women still
wearing burqas in rural areas, whereas in Kabul women defiantly
demonstrating thatit is like there is a mantra in a childs fable, Ding-dong
the witch is dead. Everybody can come out now. Well, ding-dong, the
Taliban has gone, I can take off my burqa. (S. Com. Foreign Relations, The
Political Future of Afghanistan 55)
Often, historical instances in which women did not wear the veil were pointed to by
legislators and panelists as signs of modernity. It seems difficult for many individuals
to understand why, upon liberation, women did not immediately forgo the burqa, the
symbol of their oppression under the Taliban. There are various explanations for this
phenomena; one, offered by Representative Frank Wolf, suggested that the burqa
remained because the threat of the Taliban still lurked:
All the women that we saw in Afghanistan are still wearing the burqa. Theyre
not wearing the burqa because they like the burqa, theyre wearing the burqa
because theyre afraid the Taliban is coming, coming back... And we would
say, Why dont you take the burqa off? And theyd say, Well, dont you
understand? Here and over here. (H. SubCom. Commerce, Justice, State and
Judiciary, Fiscal Year 2003 1)
In this example, the failure of women to remove the burqa is a result of fear. If they
were truly liberated and free of fear, they would remove the burqa; as he states, there
is no way they wear the burqa because they like the burqa. Lome Craner, Assistant
Secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the Department of
46


State, points out that while many Afghan women wore the burqa before the Taliban
took control, it is now part of a legally enforced dress code by the Taliban (H. Com.
International Relations, Afghan People vs. The Taliban 24).
Another discursive theme that posits Afghan women as victims is language
that suggests under the rule of the Taliban, women were dehumanized. As Senator
Boxer stated as part of her comments on the burqa quoted above: They are made
invisible. They are not human, and in many ways really dont exist. (S. Subcom.
Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, Afghanistans Humanitarian Crisis 4). Eleanor
Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority compared the situation of women in
Afghanistan to that of canaries in a mine. Their oppression, their deaths, were the first
sign that something was wrong in Afghanistan (S. Subcom. Near Eastern and South
Asian Affairs, Afghanistan's Humanitarian Crisis 48). Fatima Gailani, advisor for the
National Islamic Front of Afghanistan, states: They became corpses all of a sudden,
slowly but all of a sudden during the Taliban. (S. Com. Foreign Relations, The
Political Future of Afghanistan 49). Lome Craner decried the non-existence of
women in Afghan society (H. Subcom. International Operations and Human Rights, A
Review of the State Department 17). In all of these examples, we can see that Afghan
women under the Taliban were discursively stripped of their humanity. While it is
indisputable that women were dehumanized under the Taliban, such framing of
women as sub-human or as non-existent serves to further bolster the victim
47


framework within which many legislators operated when discussing the situation of
women in Afghanistan.
Perhaps the clearest example of the pervasive victim framework of women in
Afghanistan can be seen in a statement by Senator Joe Biden, chairing the Senate
Committee on Foreign Relations. He stated:
People here have one vision of Afghanistan. The idea that women held office,
that women had responsible positions, that women were totally integrated, that
women were educated and went to the university is something that is sort of
counterintuitive to Americans now because of all that they have been exposed
to. So when we say we want to reconstruct and we want women in society, I
have Delawareans say to me: Well, wait a minute; let us not go overboard
here. They should be, but look, I am not sending my son over there for you to
reconstruct and modernize a country. (S. Com. Foreign Relations, The
Political Future of Afghanistan 47)
This statement provides an example of how women in Afghanistan are portrayed to
the American public, implicitly acknowledging that the images and discussion of
women in Afghanistan have largely been conducted through this victim framework.
This statement also provides an example of just how widespread and accepted such a
victim framework is, owing to its reliance on other memes about Muslim women that
remain pervasive in Western culture.
The Afghan victim subject is easily recognizable because of the narratives
mentioned above. Afghan women are exoticized and Orientalized, seen as victims to
an incomprehensible religious and cultural force. This Orientalism takes the form of
an oppositional positioning between us and them. While the American self is
never explicitly mentioned in the discourse about the victim subject, the victim
48


subject is clearly positioned in an oppositional relationship. Americans know they are
free because Afghan women are not. Afghan women are not free because they are
unlike Americans. This victim subject also falls into a recognizable pattern
concerning Muslim women as a whole. Veiling is focused on as a marker for all
oppression. Afghan women are positioned as the foil for the violent and cruel Taliban
male. Afghan women as the victim subject are portrayed as passive to the situations
around them.
Notions of agency emerge in peculiar ways within the victim subject
discourse. Clearly, the speakers across the board are reaffirming a liberal notion of
agency that suggests structural oppression inhibits the expression of agency. Focusing
on the burqa as a marker of dress that precludes women from being active participants
in their lives reinforces the idea that agency is only possible in an autonomous
individual subject. Women whose autonomy is removed from them by cultural or
religious dictates like the burqa have thus also lost their capability for agency whether
they wear the burqa by choice or by necessity. Women in Afghanistan can only
exercise agency after they are liberated by the U.S and are able to remove the burqa;
the act of removing the burqa is one of few recognized expressions of agency.
Womens choice to remain covered, whether because of fear as suggested by Rep.
Wolf or because of religious or cultural reasons is not seen as a legitimate
manifestation of agency. To recognize this as a form of agency, Mahmoods analysis
about the inhabiting of cultural norms rather than challenging them is helpful,
49


broadening agency beyond an oppressive/subversive dichotomy. However, Sen.
Bidens quote discussing the ways in which Americans see the women of Afghanistan
solely as oppressed victims demonstrates a tension in applying the liberal model of
agency to the women of Afghanistan. On one hand, he ascribes agency to the women
in the past. He posits women in the past as autonomous individuals capable of
pursuing an education or holding a professional career. This agentic capacity is at
direct odds with the overlapping narratives referenced by Biden. When Afghan
women are constructed as victims, the external constraints they face excludes them
from agentic status within a liberal humanistic model of agency.
Furthermore, the dehumanization of women in Afghanistan within the
discourse indirectly demonstrates the importance of agency. Politicians and panelists
decry the dehumanization of women under the Taliban, yet utilize language that
further dehumanizes women. Such discursive dehumanization stems from the victim
status of the women that in many ways draws upon a liberal humanistic model and is
linked with an inability to exert agency in life. Or, in other words, the dehumanization
of women in Afghanistan within the discourse demonstrates that without a certain
form of agency, women are not seen as human. The words of Sen. Boxer stating that
.. .women are not human and in many ways dont exist demonstrates that without
agency one is seen as solely a victim (S. Subcom. Near Eastern and South Asian
Affairs, Afghanistans Humanitarian Crisis).Without agency one is not seen as
human.
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The Role of Afghan Women in Society
Another pervasive frame that was drawn upon in Congressional records can
be broken into two parts: the historical role of women in Afghan society and the role
they must play in a post-Taliban society. The past was pointed at quite often in
discussion, either referencing the modem manner in which women behaved in the
1960s and 70s or the supposedly primitive history of Afghanistan without the barest
history of human rights, two framings that seem to be at odds with one another.
Many of the Congressional legislators and witnesses before their committees
discussed the participation of women in society prior to the invasion of the Soviet
Union in 1979. Eleanor Smeal, the president of the Feminist Majority, while
testifying in support of the women in Afghanistan pointed to the fact that the
constitution contained an equal rights amendment. She referenced the way in which
women were judges, lawyers and doctors (H, Subcom. International Operations and
Human Rights, Afghan People vs. The Taliban 13). Others, such as Assistant
Secretary for South Asian Affairs Christina Rocca were slightly more reserved, but
nonetheless pointed to the way in which prior to the Taliban, women in limited
numbers were involved in public life. In the words of Representative Grace
Napolitano: they had universities with women in them who would wear high heels
and dresses... women wereand I dont want to use the word liberated to describe
somethingbut it is a much more moderate and modem view of womens role in
society in that context (H. Com. International Relations, Americas Assistance to the
51


Afghan People 40). Thomas Gouttierre, the Dean of International Studies and
Director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska reiterates
these sentiments: It was still a poor country, but women were essentially not wearing
veils, girls were going to school like boys, there were women who were ministers of
cabinet and members of parliament, and Afghanistan essentially was trying to move
itself from being an absolute monarchy to a constitutional parliamentary monarchy
(S. Com. Foreign Relations, The Political Future of Afghanistan 38). These
individuals were drawing on the idea that in the past women were a part of a more
modem society, pointing to their ability to go to school and work. Also, the idea that
women were liberated is supported by the repeated references to women not wearing
the veil or wearing Western style dress. These individuals, when discussing women in
a post-Taliban society, suggested a need to revert back to the way things were to
reintegrate women in to the fabric of Afghan society.
On the other hand, some individuals refer to the history of Afghanistan in the
opposite manner, particularly when it comes to the rights of women. For example,
Senator George Allen, when discussing attempts to foster democracy in Afghanistan
said, but lets recognize the history of the instability and violence and lack of
democracy in this country just in the last 100 years of the so-called country of
Afghanistan... This is what you are all facing as were trying to bring some stability
and concepts of universal freedoms and human rights to this country, which has a
historyno history really much of it (S. Com. Foreign Relations, Afghanistan:
52


Building Stability 23). Senator Allen in this statement suggests that Afghanistan has
no history of freedom and human rights. If Afghanistan has no history of these ideals,
then creating a system that supports freedom and human rights would be an
imposition of American ideals into foreign soil. Lome Craner, the Assistant Secretary
for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of
State, also suggests something along the same lines when he states that women in
Afghanistan have traditionally suffered disadvantages... prior to the civil war (S.
Subcom. International Operations and Human Rights, Afghan People vs. The Taliban
26). While he does not go as far as to state that Afghanistan has no history of human
rights, he does suggest that women in Afghanistan have never had an equal footing,
regardless of constitutional provisions and integration into the work force. And, as
Tahmeena Faryal, member of the Revolutionary Afghan Womens Association
(RAWA) cautions, Just by saying that women werethey are in some positions in
Afghanistan, they weremost of the university students were women or 60 percent
of the teachers were women, or there were female doctors does not mean that there
were not human rights or womens rights violations (H. Subcom. International
Operations and Human Rights, Afghan People vs. The Taliban 66). Although women
in Afghanistan may have been more involved in public life, it does not necessarily
mean they had equal footing.
The next component of this discursive frame concerning the role of women in
Afghanistans future is closely related to both of these views of Afghanistans past.
53


This frame deals with the absolute importance of including women in the
reconstruction of the nation. Multiple legislators and panel participants refer to the
women of Afghanistan as the key to a successful future. Christina Rocca, in the
same testimony cited above, made the connection between the past and the success of
the future explicit: In the past, women were a vital part of Afghan society. Having
them back playing important roles in Afghanistans public life, in government,
schools and hospitals will help to rebuild Afghan society (S. Com. Foreign
Relations, The Political Future of Afghanistan 9). Even Paul Wolfowitz
acknowledged the importance of women in Afghanistan (S. Com. Foreign Relations,
Afghanistan: Building Stability 18). In testimony concerning terrorism and how to
stop it, Senator Pat Roberts identifies women as the secret key (S. Subcom. Emerging
Threats and Capabilities, Terrorist Organizations 37). Over and over again,
legislators and panelists identify women as a central component to the future of
Afghanistan, due to not only the percentage they make up of the population but also
to their history as substantial contributors to society.
However, while many individuals believe in the importance of women in the
future of Afghanistan, many others doubt the ability of women to step into leadership
roles. Often, these individuals suggest that Afghanistans historical, cultural or
religious past will inhibit the participation of women. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson
expresses these doubts: .. .1 mean, we talk about the power of women, but we are
talking about religious devotion and religious ideology, and it seems to me that even a
54


repressive religion, if they are taught from childhood, that they have accepted the
submissive, repressed role, and that may inhibit some of the potential for them to
liberate themselves (S. Subcom. Emerging Threats and Capabilities, Terrorist
Organizations 39). Senator Henry Hyde echoes these sentiments by suggesting that
the Afghan people cannot be called upon to liberate themselves due to how destitute
and divided they have become after decades of war and deprivation (H. Com.
International Relations, The Future of Afghanistan 3). In another hearing, Dick
Armitage suggests that empowering women in Afghanistan is not so simple because
many women lack even rudimentary education, suggesting that women are not
prepared to be empowered and full participants in society (S. Com. Foreign Relations,
Afghanistan: Building Stability 18). While many of the same individuals
acknowledged the importance of women in rebuilding a successful Afghanistan, they
also draw upon a discursive frame that positions women in Afghanistan as victims.
As such, many of them doubt the ability of Afghan women to step up to the challenge
of participating in political and social life. An exchange between Senator Joe Biden,
acting as Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations and Fatima Gailani, an
Advisor to the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan is particularly telling:
Biden: In a democratic Afghanistan do you believe women will be
represented? ... Do you think that the participation of women, who I would
think after 20-something years might be understandably less courageous than
you and understandably more reluctant to engage in what we saw on the
television [the conference in Bonn],.. So I guess what I am asking you is...
how long do you think it will take and what circumstances have to exist to
55


provide an environment, even if there is a democracy, where women will feel
the confidence to come forward?
Gailani: Now, Senator, I challenge you that in a democratic Afghanistan, you
choose the area, I will go and compete in an election with any man, against
any man you choose.. .In the past in Afghanistan we had four women in the
first parliament. Only one was from Kabul. The three others, they were
nominated from their own villages, from provinces, and they won.
Biden: I do not doubt that. All I am saying is that you have had more than two
decades of misery and subjugation and brutality that women have been the
victims of.
Gailani: We had brutality not only upon women. We had brutality, period. (S.
Com. Foreign Relations, The Political Future of Afghanistan 54-55,)
While Biden keeps returning to the question of how to involve women, particularly
from outside of Kabul, Gailani continually reasserts that a geographically diverse set
of women have historically been involved in politics. When Biden attempts to clarify
his position about the oppression that he sees as an obstacle to womens participation,
Gailani removes the gendered component, making it clear that Afghans as a whole
were repressed, not only women. By removing the focus from women, she is
suggesting it is absurd to assume such repression would affect women and not men in
political participation, directly pointing to the victim narrative that underpins the
discussions of Afghan women. Biden continuously returns to the difficulty of
engaging Afghan women in politics due to their subjugation, and Gailani rebuts his
assumptions about the women of Afghanistan and their ability to reintegrate into
Afghan society.
Within this discursive frame, women in Afghanistan are again caught in the
narratives that pervade the relationship between the U.S. and the Middle East. The
56


legacy of Orientalism plays a significant role in the conceptions of Afghanistans past
and the implications for its future. The idea that Afghanistans past lacked the concept
of universal freedom or democracy paints Afghanistan as a static, backwards state,
removed from time and the march of progress and modernity of the states in the West.
This not only positions Afghanistan and the U.S. in opposition to one another but
places the U.S. in a far superior position. The difficulty of shaping Afghanistan to
look like the U.S. demonstrates that Afghanistan is seen as a place mired in tradition,
a place in which many have difficulty locating the rational autonomy of the U.S. and
a commitment to Western values of freedom and democracy. Conversely, some
legislators and panelists pointed to the modem past of Afghanistan, in which women
were able to participate in all facets of life. Modernity is linked with wearing high
heels and dresses, as suggested by Rep. Napolitano, or by simply not wearing the veil.
Not only is this a suspect criteria for modernity, such a criteria explicitly positions
Afghan women in opposition to American women, who are free to wear high heels
and dresses every day should they so wish. Pointing to these as markers of modernity
affirms the position of the U.S. as superior. Such an Orientalist narrative positions the
U.S. as the normative center. Afghanistan, in its modem past, was becoming more
like the U.S., and must again seek to be like the U.S. in the future to achieve
modernity.
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The questions of agency concerning womens role in Afghanistans past and
future demonstrate the tensions created by utilizing only a liberal humanistic model of
agency. Such a model locates agentic capacity in the ability to freely choose what to
wear, or freely participate in public life with no structural obstacles. In the situation of
Afghanistan as the legislators and panelists are describing it, women lack such choice
and as such, lack agency. But there is a tension in utilizing this model that becomes
particularly clear when discussing womens role in the future. In these hearings, many
articulate their vision that women will become an integral part of society in the future.
But conceptualizing this within a liberal model proves to be difficult. When
possession of agency is tied to ones position and relationship to external structures, it
is something that you either have the capacity for or do not. The transition from not
having the capacity for agency to exercising agency proves to be difficult to
conceptualize for legislators, which can be seen clearly in Sen. Hutchinsons quote
previously cited: .. .1 mean, we talk about the power of women, but we are talking
about religious devotion and religious ideology, and it seems to me that even a
repressive religion, if they are taught from childhood, that they have accepted the
submissive, repressed role, and that may inhibit some of the potential for them to
liberate themselves (S. Subcom. Emerging Threats and Capabilities, Terrorist
Organizations 39). In this quote, Sen. Hutchinson doubts whether the transition can
be made at all. Furthermore, this quote directly repudiates the conception of agency
set forward by Mahmood in which she identifies the ways agency is exerted through
58


actively enacting norms. While many legislators and panelists identify these norms as
repressive, they can be locations to exert agency. In the idea that women in
Afghanistan can claim (or reclaim) their agency through their actions, the legislators
and panelists seem to be reaching for a conception of agency that is more closely
related to Grosz conception of a freedom to, in which agency is located in the action
and not a static attribute of the actor. If this notion of agency were to be understood,
then the tension of moving from a victim to an active agent would be less salient.
Furthermore, the exchange between Sen. Biden and Fatima Gailani demonstrates
Biden actively grappling with the tensions inherent in utilizing a liberal humanistic
model of agency. On one hand, he recognizes the role that women need to play in the
reconstruction of Afghanistan. On the other, he does not see how women in
Afghanistan fit into the liberal model of agency that underpins the victim narrative
that has been set forward. Afghan women are not seen as the rational actor central to
a liberal humanistic understanding of agency. Although Biden implies they may have
had autonomy and rationality in the past, the present situation is different.
The U.S. as Savior
Another discursive theme can be seen in the idea of the U.S. as the savior. Not
only is the U.S. the savior, but the American people had a moral obligation to save
the people of Afghanistan, who were extraordinarily grateful to be liberated. This
theme was repeated by many different legislators in conjunction with the victim
framework mentioned above.
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The first component of this frame lies in the moral obligation that many
legislators and panelists referred to in the context of liberating Afghanistan. As
Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority states: we as Americans do feel a
moral obligation to Afghanistan because it was the last stop in the Cold War (H.
Subcom. International Operations and Human Rights, Afghan People vs. the Taliban
14). Representative Dana Rohrbacher also refers to this moral obligation: Our policy
is the rebuilding of Afghanistan and the paying of a moral debt to the people of
Afghanistan that is long overdue (H. Com. International Relations Afghan Freedom
and Support Act of2002 46). This moral debt stems from the history of the Cold War
and the perceived abandonment of Afghanistan after it had served its purpose against
the USSR. Furthermore, the U.S. did not only have a moral obligation to Afghanistan
based on the Cold War, but also because the United States is a world leader. In the
words of Representative William Delahunt, the U.S. is a superpower not just
militarily, but morally, spiritually, and in terms of a voice for democratic values and
ideals and respect for different cultures, and respect for the dignity of sovereign
nations elsewhere (H. Subcom. International Operations and Human Rights, Afghan
People vs. The Taliban 21). In this framework, the United States is the leader of the
free world, serving as a beacon for hope, democracy and human rights. As such, not
only does the U.S have a moral obligation but also the right to save people.
Representative Doug Bereuter frames his argument about intervention in Afghanistan
in terms of the right to save, referencing how the American public in particular has
60


not seemed to understand the degree of assistance we have been providing to
Afghanistan for some period of time, does not understand that we have intervened to
save and assist Muslim populations against aggression in various parts of the world
(H. Com. International Relations, Americas Assistance to the Afghan People 54).
Senator Richard Lugar echoes this suggestion of right and responsibility when he
suggests that only then can we replace Afghanistans despair with a genuine future
of hope (S. Com. Foreign Relations, Afghanistan: Building Stability 3). The moral
obligation frame is also explicitly gendered, combining a sense of moral obligation
with a female victim subject. Senator Barbara Boxer spells this out when she appeals
for help for the women of Afghanistan. She asks: So whatever happened to the
gallant side of our spirits? Women and children, help them (S. Com. International
Relations, Afghanistans Humanitarian Crisis 57). She is deliberately invoking the
idea of a female victim subject to suggest a sense of masculine chivalry is related to
the responsibility to help the people of Afghanistan.
Tying into the idea of the United States as savior, many legislators and
panelists referred to instances in which the people of Afghanistan responded with
gratitude to their liberation. Representative Edward Royce, having just returned from
a trip to Afghanistan, describes one such instance: Our delegation visited a hospital,
a hospital where the Taliban had taken the incubators and had forbid the treatment of
women and outside the hospital little children would put their hands over their
heartskids on the street, and say thank you (H. Com. International Relations
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Afghanistan Freedom and Support Act of2002 5). Paul Wolfowitz describes a similar
scene after U.S. invasion, when he describes a scene of much waving, cheering and
clapping, including from the women (S. Com. Foreign Relations, Afghanistan:
Building Stability 6). This meme suggests that all Afghans greeted the Americans as
liberators, a notion that was challenged by an exchange between Representative
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Tahmeena Faryal, a representative of the Revolutionary
Afghan Womens Association (RAWA):
Ros-Lehtinen: Ms. Faryal, if I could ask you this. Representatives of RAWA
have classified U.S. military strikes on Afghanistan as unbearable for any
Afghan, and perceived by many Afghans as U.S. aggression against your
country. Yet in an article.. .the headline read Afghans cheer as U.S. jets hit
Taliban. And it goes on to quote, Afghans yelling it hit, it hit. Thank you
America. And if you could explain this contradiction... Are you suggesting
that the Afghan people would prefer a continuation of the suffering under the
Taliban over U.S. military strikes to precipitate the fall of the Taliban?
Farayal: Well, we believe that the bombing in Afghanistan would really not
do the job to eradicate terrorism and fundamentalism in our country or
elsewhere in the world. (H. Subcom. International Operations and Human
Rights, Afghan People vs. The Taliban 10)
Farayal challenges the notion that bombing Afghanistan is good for the Afghan
people, regardless of the intentions of that bombing. She also challenges the theme of
gratitude at liberation. While many Afghans were undoubtedly grateful, it is
important to note that U.S. invasion did bring a continuation of the warfare under
which the people of Afghanistan have been living for decades.
This framework demonstrates the interplay of Orientalism and power within
rescue narratives. The power relationship in the rescue narratives is one that is
62


skewed towards the U.S. The moral obligation that is invoked by legislators is laced
with power and an assumption of the inability of some to save themselves. In many
ways, power is tacitly assumed to be the reason for this moral obligation. For
example, Eleanor Smeal ties the moral debt to the Cold War. The U.S. wielded power
during the Cold War through geopolitical machinations in a way that shaped the
future of many states. This power to shape states implicates a moral obligation when
the decisions of the U.S. are indicated to be the reason why a particular state
experienced the conditions it did. Furthermore, by suggesting there is a moral
obligation to save the people of Afghanistan, particularly the women, a dichotomy is
created between the rescuer and the saved. The saved become entirely
dependent upon the good will of the rescuer. By gendering the saved as female,
as is done by Sen. Boxer, the rescuer is implicitly gendered as male, invoking the
need for a masculinist state protection model in a way that mimics rescue narratives
within anti sex trafficking work. Suggesting a moral debt based on an assumption of
moral superiority, a debt incurred by the exercise of power and a chivalrous duty
erases the myriad reasons why the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, suggesting the war was
necessary to reassert the humanity of Afghans, particularly women. Furthermore,
deconstructing the statement by Sen. Lugar stating that only then can we replace
Afghanistans despair with a genuine future of hope demonstrates that we, the
U.S., are the active agents within this scenario (S. Com. Foreign Relations,
Afghanistan: Building Stability 3). We have the right and the responsibility because
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we are the only ones who can replace despair with hope. If not for our intervention,
Afghanistan would remain in despair forever.
As can be seen from Sen. Lugars quote, only we are ascribed agency in this
scenario. Again utilizing a liberal humanistic model, this framework assumes that
structural constraints inhibit the agency of the actor. The idea that the U.S. is the
savior of the people of Afghanistan places the American subject at the center of
action, with the people of Afghanistan nothing more than peripheral pieces to be
moved around by the decisions of the American self. By suggesting that the U.S. had
a moral debt and was received by the Afghans as the savior reduces the complexity of
feeling the Afghans undoubtedly felt upon U.S. invasion. This is indicated by the
exchange between Rep. Ros-Lehtinen and Tahmeena Faryal. Ros-Lehtinen asks of
Faryal: Are you suggesting that the Afghan people would prefer a continuation of
the suffering under the Taliban over U.S. military strikes to precipitate the fall of the
Taliban? (H. Subcom. International Operations and Human Rights, Afghan People
vs. The Taliban 70j. Faryal responds that she believes that bombing will not eradicate
terrorism or fundamentalism. In this exchange, Ros-Lehtinen affirms that the ends
justify the means when she blankets all U.S. military strikes under the goal of ending
the suffering of the Afghan people under the Taliban. Utilizing the U.S. as savior
framework allows for the dismissal of any collateral damage or suffering inflicted by
the U.S. in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. Faryal rebuts this point when
she states that bombing itself cannot solely be termed as liberation, particularly if,
64


as she sees it, the bombing will not accomplish the stated goal of eradicating
terrorism and fundamentalism. The U.S. as savior framework can thus prove to be
dangerous on many fronts, as it utilizes a model of agency that affirms the American
actor while denying the agency of the structurally constrained Afghans as well as
allows for a dismissal of the suffering inflicted by U.S. invasion by simply stating it
was in the aim of liberation.
Resistance and Challenges to the Taliban
While most of the discursive frames drawn upon point to the subjection of
women in Afghanistan, there are instances in which the resistance and perseverance
of women is referenced. Representative Joseph Pitts discusses his visit to Afghanistan
and the overwhelming desire of the girls he met to resume their education:
We visited a girls high school that had just reopened one week earlier after
being shut down for five years... The girls sat on blankets on the concrete or
dirt floor because there were no desks, no chairs, and no text books. Yet the
students were so motivated to learn that they had raised money from their
meager earnings to buy plastic to cover the window holes, to pay daily for the
kerosene to keepto have some heat to keep out the biting cold. (H. Com.
International Relations, Afghanistan Freedom Support Act of2002 8)
Furthermore, the work of organizations such as RAWA as they fought to provide
health care and education to women during the Taliban was often referenced. Eleanor
Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority points to the work that RAWA engaged in,
pointing to the ways in which Afghan women even in these most difficult times
have been running clandestine schools, health clinics in both Afghanistan and refugee
areas (S. Com. Foreign Relations, Afghanistans Humanitarian Crisis 51). In other
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instances, the resistance of the people of Afghanistan is pointed to, and Afghans are
referred to as tough, able to recover from the experiences they have faced.
Furthermore, women in Afghanistan are fully capable of speaking for
themselves, as can be seen in the testimony of the two Afghan women, Tahmeena
Farayal with RAWA and Fatima Gailani with the Islamic Front of Afghanistan.
Fatima Gailani specifically addresses some of the concerns that she has with Western
feminists concern with the situation of women in Afghanistan:
Now, what provisions should we have for women in the future? As much as I
am grateful for lots of women activists in the West to support us, they were
the only ones who raised their voices when the governments had forgotten us
or they did not have time for us, but I am also cautious that the Western
feminism cannot work in Afghanistan... But during the democracy of
Afghanistan from 1963-1973 we proved that an Islamic constitution can give
these opportunities for women... I believe we have enough evidence in Islam
that we could support all these rights for women from the Islamic way. (S.
Com. Foreign Relations, The Political Future of Afghanistan 51)
Gailani makes it clear that the women of Afghanistan are able to exercise their rights,
but that a Western model of feminism will not work. Instead, she calls for an Islamic
way address the rights of women, suggesting to the legislators present that she and
other Afghan men and women are able to create democracy and human rights in their
own fashion, not in the manner of the United States. She reclaims the right to
determine what the future of Afghanistan will look like, challenging the superiority
asserted in the Orientalist narratives that underpin much of the frames previously
outlined.
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The resistance of women in Afghanistan demonstrates the assertion of agency
on behalf of and by women in Afghanistan. The utilization of this frame highlights
the dissonance found within a liberal humanistic model of agency when
conceptualizing Afghan women. Liberal agency rests on the assumption of a rational,
autonomous agent, a conception legislators struggle to reconcile with their view of
Afghan women and the material, physical, cultural and religious structural constraints
they face. However, despite the victim positioning of Afghan women, legislators and
panelists still point to locations of action. A liberal model of agency is hard pressed to
entertain both views of women in Afghanistan simultaneously. Either they are
rational actors or they are not. Either they are oppressed victims or they are not. A
liberal model would see the resistance of women in Afghanistan as an anomaly at best
and not as the norm. To better reconcile these opposite conceptions, legislators and
panelists seem to be reaching for a freedom to model of agency in which agency is
located in the act. This allows for an identification of the resistance of women in
Afghanistan while recognizing their structural constraints. This also suggests that
womens agency is forged in their relationship with structural constraints, invoking
Butlers Foucauldian notion of subjectivation. Resistance is possible because of the
oppression rather than in spite of it. However, within this frame, the agency identified
is still tied to a subversive model. The only actions that are recognized as agentic are
those that subvert dominant norms. Agency is identified in covert operation of
schools or provision of health care. It is identified in the desire to learn, which is
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positioned as contrary to dominant norms. The agency found in inhabiting norms, as
identified by Mahmood, falls outside of this frame.
All of these discursive frames demonstrate the ways in which the overlapping
narratives and their conceptions of agency structure the discourse on women in
Afghanistan. The repeated return to a framework that posits Afghan women as
victims is undergirded by a liberal humanistic form of agency that fails to ascribe
agency to those who are structurally constrained. Furthermore, the active grappling of
the legislators and the panelists with the difficulty of mapping a liberal humanistic
form of agency onto the entirety of the discourse demonstrates the limitations of
utilizing such a model alone. The discourse analyzed exhibits reliance on rescue
narratives, Orientalist memes about the superiority of U.S. motives and gendered and
racialized assumptions about womens capacity for action coupled with an
understanding of the importance of not only ending the oppression of women but also
supporting their participation in the future of Afghanistan. A reliance on a liberal
humanistic model of agency alone struggles to conceptualize the entirety of these
discourses, failing to provide an adequate path forward.
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CHAPTER IV
AFGHAN WOMEN
Women for Afghan Women (WAW) is an organization that is based in
Queens, NY and Kabul, Afghanistan. Originally founded in 2001, the organization
advocates for the human rights of Afghan women, including Afghan women living in
the U.S. The first programs of WAW revolved around community outreach in Queens
and a conference on Afghan Womens Rights. In 2007, WAW opened its first center
in Afghanistan, aimed at providing a location for men and women to go when their
human rights have been violated. WAW provides counseling and also runs a shelter
for women who need a safe haven. Currently, WAW operates Family Guidance
Centers in Kabul, Mazar-E-Sharif, Kapsia, Kunduz and Jalalabad (Women for Afghan
Women).
In the fall of 2003, WAW, in collaboration with Afghans for Civil Society and
the Afghan Womens Network, held their third annual conference, entitled Women
and the Constitution: Kandahar 2003. At this conference, 45 women from
Afghanistan created the Afghan Womens Bill of Rights, in which they outlined their
demands for the rights of women and then presented them to the Constitutional
Commission, a body of 35 individuals responsible for drafting the new constitution of
Afghanistan. This conference brought together a group of women diverse across ages,
education levels, class backgrounds, geographic locations and ethnic identities. To
demonstrate their commitment to representing the voices of all Afghan women,
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WAW deliberately chose to hold the conference in Kandahar, once a stronghold of
the Taliban and still a bastion of conservative war lords, rather than Kabul. This
conference brought together elites as well as less privileged women from Afghanistan
who were known to various activist and advocacy organizations to debate what
exactly the demands of the women of Afghanistan were with regards to their own
human rights. The conference itself consisted of education as to how the
constitutional process worked as well as many open debates and discussions among
the participants concerning what they wanted to see the new constitution look like. At
the end of the conference, the women had drafted the Afghan Womens Bill of
Rights, a document that they disseminated to a broad base of womens and advocacy
groups to use in organizing. The Afghan Womens Bill of Rights was presented to the
Constitutional Commission as well as to President Hamid Karzai, both of whom
assured the women that their voices would be heard. The Afghan Womens Bill of
Rights outlines sixteen primary demands and five additional demands for the
constitution of Afghanistan, ranging from the provision of mandatory education for
women to freedom of speech to equal pay for equal work to the guarantee of all
constitutional rights to widows, disabled women and orphans. The additional
demands cover areas that are not specific to women but are nonetheless vital to
ensuring the success of women in Afghanistan. These include concerns about
disarmament and national security, the need for a strong central government and a
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protection of the sovereignty of Afghanistan. To read the entire Afghan Womens Bill
of Rights, refer to Appendix A.
The Afghan Womens Bill of Rights provides an opportunity to look at
another discourse surrounding women in Afghanistan and their needs. While the
demands made in the Bill of Rights may not represent the wishes and desires of all of
the women in Afghanistan, they represent a section of the society active in agitating
for change. As such, while the demands cannot be claimed to be all encompassing of
a monolithic Afghan woman, they still hold weight and present an example of the
voices of women in Afghanistan. While the conference was organized by Women for
Afghan Women, WAW members did not participate in any of the sessions, with the
exception of serving as the occasional interpreter for journalists. The conference
participants, as mentioned above, came from a wide spectrum of backgrounds. While
WAW attempted to recruit women from all walks of life, it can be assumed that many
of the women who participated were relatively elite. The conference workshops were
conducted in both Dari and Pashto. All demands and the exact wording found in the
Bill of Rights were agreed upon unanimously by all of the participants before being
made public. The paper will now move into an analysis of the conceptions of agency
that underpin the demands made by the Bill of Rights by looking at the specific
language of the Bill as well as by examining the conference notes that Women for
Afghan Women made available on its website.
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At the very outset, the Afghan Womens Bill of Rights uses strong language
to identify womens active stake in ensuring their rights are protected by the new
constitution. Not only do they identify themselves as Afghan Muslims, they continue
on to say that the constitution being created affect[s] the futures of ourselves, our
children and our society (Afghan Womens Bill of Rights). In this way, they are
setting up an active interest in the future of society and positioning themselves as
having a role in the creation of the future, rather than simply being affected by what
the future holds. The opening statement continues: As representatives of all of
Afghan Women, we demand that these rights are not only secured in the constitution
but implemented (Afghan Womens Bill of Rights). Again, the use of the active,
authoritative voices serves to function as an introduction to the tone of the rest of the
Bill of Rights and clearly shows that not all Afghan women are mute, voiceless
victims. The conference notes state It seems impossible to read it [the Bill of Rights]
without realizing that it is a cry for liberation on the part of women who have endured
brutal suppression but whose collective will remains unbroken (Women and the
Constitution: Kandahar 2003).
In some ways, many of the demands operate within the freedom from
framework outlined above, demonstrating the real salience of the need to be free from
external constraints. For example, the third demand outlines:
Protection and security for women: the prevention and criminalization of
sexual harassment against women publicly and in the home, of sexual abuse
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of women and children, of domestic violence, and of bad blood price (the
use of women as compensation for crimes by one family against another).
This demand addresses the very tangible threats that women face to their bodily
security. It also indicates that violence against women is a phenomena that prevents
women from expressing their full humanity and as such represents an external
constraint that must be minimized. In many ways, a good number of the demands
made could be analyzed from the freedom from model, including the fourth
demand, reduction of time before women can remarry after their husbands have
disappeared and the fourteenth demand: minimum marriageable age set at 18
years. These demands outline a desire to be free from practices or laws that they feel
prevent the success of women.
However, if we shift the framework to the one used by Grosz to conceptualize
freedom as manifest in specific actions rather than a free actor, we can see that many
of the demands also fit into this framework. For example, the demand that women
receive the right to participate fully and to the highest levels in the economic and
commercial life of the country can be seen as an articulation of the desire for women
to manifest their subjectivity in the economic sphere. Further, the demand that women
have the freedom to vote and run for election to office demonstrates the value placed
in political acts when expressing the self. Furthermore, in the conference notes, the
participants were asked: What do we expect from the world, from Afghan
government, from law? One woman responded the right to learn and grow
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intellectually, while another responded the right of relaxation and enjoyment
(Women in the Constitution: Kandahar 2003).
While most, if not all, of the demands made by the Afghan Womens Bill of
Rights seem to be politically progressive, Saba Mahmoods analysis of agency is also
helpful to understand some of the demands. Specifically, the seventh demand outlines
the right to marry and divorce according to Islam. While it may seem to be politically
progressive to demand the right to divorce, the inclusion of Islam demonstrates that
this is an exercise in agency that inhabits norms just as much as it challenges norms.
This demand demonstrates that were Islam to be looked at as simply an oppressive
force, as many view it in the West, one would be missing the importance that Islam
plays in providing a location to express agency. In addition, the Bill of Rights
specifically mentions that the women creating it are Afghan Muslim women. This
speaks to the importance of religious identity in informing the way they approach
these demands. Furthermore, the notes from the conference demonstrate how many of
the women see an incorrect interpretation of Islam as the root of their oppression
rather than Islam itself. When brainstorming the question What are the factors which
prevent womens rights? one response referred to peoples ignorance of Islamic
law, while another discussed the discrepancies between traditional customs and
actual Islamic values (Women and the Constitution: Kandahar 2003).
Furthermore, in response to the question: Why did we come here? one respondent
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answered to realize our legal rights which Islam has given to us (Women and the
Constitution: Kandahar 2003).
The Afghan Womens Bill of Rights is an interesting articulation when
considered alongside the Congressional records already analyzed. It represents an
active agentic voice demanding what is best for themselves and their country. For
example, the Bill of Rights speaks to the importance of Afghan women in society
very similarly to the discussions in the committee hearings. While those in the
committee hearings often doubt the ability of Afghan women to participate in society
due to oppressive religious or cultural conditioning, the Bill of Rights identifies
barriers to participation in society in external structures that have shaped the lives of
women but have not cowed their resolve. They point to Islamic religious practices
that are in their words, a willful misreading of sacred Islamic texts, but do not
conflate those oppressive religious structures with their ability to move forward and
create a better society (Women and the Constitution: Kandahar 2003). Their ability
to participate in the reconstruction of Afghanistan is not changed by oppressive
structures, merely impeded. They can still actively create the future of Afghanistan
even though they have faced and continue to face structural constraints. In this sense,
a freedom from model works as a valuable tool to identify the need for a removal or a
reconfiguration of oppressive external structures. This narrative challenges the
centrality of the static victim subject that was often seen in the committee hearings. In
the Afghan Womens Bill of Rights, there is no sense of the passive victim. There is
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an articulation of the hardships suffered, but the subject remains active throughout.
Furthermore, the subject that is centered is one that is religiously and culturally
specific. By rooting the demands in a specific identity, the Bill rebuts the
transcendent subject of liberal humanism that exists prior to entry into cultural and
historical systems. In doing so, the framers of the Bill are demonstrating the
importance of their identity. They are demonstrating, similarly to Fatima Gailani in
the Congressional hearing mentioned above, that they wish to reconstruct their
society in their own way, rather than in an externally determined fashion.
The implications of the demands articulated in the Afghan Womens Bill of
Rights are manifold. By positioning an active Afghan woman subject, the centrality
of the victim subject becomes destabilized. The Afghan Womens Bill of Rights
presents a road map for legislators unsure of how to reintegrate women back into the
fabric of Afghan society. The demands outlined are not an example of external forces
determining the fate of women, but rather an example of Afghan women reclaiming
their own fate. While their demands cannot be claimed to represent the entirety of
Afghan women, merely by organizing on their own behalf Afghan women
demonstrate to the world that they are ready and able to take control of their lives.
The Afghan Womens Bill of Rights demonstrates that Afghan women, rooted in
their specific historical, cultural and religious traditions, are still able to exert agency
despite overwhelming oppressive conditions. However, it is important to recognize
that the Bill of Rights is not the only example of agency exerted by Afghan women,
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simply one in which agency is easily recognized. Utilizing the model posited by
Butler allows us to recognize that the selfhood and potential for agency are formed in
interaction with oppressive forces and tying in Mahmood we can understand that such
agency can be exerted in many different locations that do not necessarily destabilize
norms.
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CHAPTER V
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
The discursive frames identified within the U.S. political discourse, that of
women as the victim subject, the role of women in Afghan society, the U.S. as a
savior and the possible sites of resistance paint an interesting picture of conceptions
of women in Afghanistan within the context of agency.
The victim subject discursive frame is the most pervasive and overarching
narrative concerning the women in Afghanistan. The victim subject frame most often
draws on an Orientalized liberal humanistic model of agency, which assumes that
subordination inhibits the exercise of agency. As such, if the women of Afghanistan
are victims of intense subordination due to religious or cultural structures, they lack
the capacity to exercise agency. One of the few actions explicitly recognized as
agentic is that of removing the burqa. By reducing the potentiality of agency to one
action, the women are reduced to objects, stripped of their personhood unless they act
in a manner that makes sense to foreign observers operating under the assumption
that veiling represents all oppression. The women lack the ability to leave the house.
They lack the ability to speak for themselves, as evidenced in the myriad ways that
legislators and panelists speak on their behalf. Even the ability of women to decide
whether or not to wear the burqa is denied to them. One legislator suggested that
women did not remove the burqa because they were afraid, rather than as a personal
or social choice they were making. This can also be seen in the failure to
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acknowledge that prior to the Taliban, many women in Afghanistan wore the burqa
while many did not. By drawing on the victim subject framework, legislators and
panelists deny agentic capacity to Afghan women unless they act in accordance with
existent notions of what modernity looks like, creating a teleology of progress and a
hierarchy of superiority. In many ways this epistemically denies the personhood of
such women while decrying a regime that physically attempted to deny their
personhood. In addition, the victim subject framework operated from the concept of a
freedom from as outlined by Elizabeth Grosz. The concept of liberating the women
of Afghanistan fundamentally rests on the idea that there is something to be gotten rid
of, namely the Taliban. Or, taken one step further, the women of Afghanistan must be
liberated from a cultural and religious tradition that is oppressive. Only then can they
exercise any agentival capacity.
The framing of the role of women in Afghanistans past and future shows a
similar reliance on a liberal humanistic model of agency. However this frame reveals
some tensions created by assuming a liberal humanistic model of agency. Women in
the past were rational actors and had agency, as evidenced by their ability to go to
school, hold professional positions and dress in modem ways. This modernity
reflected the capacity for choice in the professional sphere as well as choice in dress.
Again, actions reflecting individual agency are limited to conceptions that support a
Western notion of what constitutes modernity, dichotomizing an American self to
an Afghan other. Women in the future hypothetically have agency, as their role is
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vital in the reconstruction of Afghanistan according to the testimony analyzed. By
identifying agency as something that was present in the past and in the future, the
location of agency in the present is denied. This denial of agency has tangible
implications for the future of Afghanistan. While there is an acknowledgement of the
role that women must play in the future of Afghanistan, there is also a pervasive sense
of doubt that women would be able to step into such a role. Such doubt, underpinned
by a liberal humanistic idea of agency, makes it unclear as to how to move from the
present condition to the future condition of full participation in society. Womens
participation in the future is a hypothetical goal, but an inability to recognize agency
in the present enables a continuation of memes about women in Afghanistan that
ensures their voices will not be heard. Not only is their participation in the present
denied, the capacity for action in the future is doubted, further ensuring that the
framework that sees women as incapable of full participation continues.
Unfortunately, this has proven to be true. While politicians declaimed the importance
of women participating in Afghan society, in large part this did not translate into
tangible commitment. None of the demands outlined in the Afghan Womens Bill of
Rights were included in the constitution, for various reasons. While there was an
equal rights amendment, it was framed in a way that leaves it open to interpretation in
enforcement by the government.
The positioning of the United States as the savior enables imperialistic
interventions on behalf of women. If women cannot exert agency in the present, the
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United States must act in their interests. This proves to be a cyclical argument,
however, as those in the U.S. speak for women in Afghanistan on the grounds that
they cannot speak for themselves, while denying them the opportunity to speak for
themselves. It is all too easy for the U.S., when placed in the role of deciding what is
best for women in Afghanistan, to make broad assumptions that ignore the lived
realities of women. For example, while security was emphasized in the testimony
before numerous Congressional committees and in the Afghan Womens Bill of
Rights, the U.S. engaged in bombings that decidedly affected the security of women
in Afghanistan. Another example can be seen in the way the U.S. actively engaged
with the mujahedeen when seeking military victories, ignoring the ways in which the
mujahedeen violated the human rights of women regularly in manners similar to the
Taliban. The denial of agency of the women of Afghanistan allows for an extension
of U.S. hegemonic power that results in the victimization of men and women in
Afghanistan.
While there was numerous instances where resistance to oppression was
identified, in large part they were posited as anomalies rather than the norm. These
sites of resistance drew on a notion of agency that still tied agentic capacity to
subversive action. Tying agency explicitly to what were undoubtedly courageous
activities such as educating girls in secret or running clandestine health care centers,
still falls short of ascribing agency to women who were not engaged in subversive
activities but were nonetheless living their lives under the Taliban, asserting their
81


humanity in day-to-day survival. If we shift the model to Grosz conception of a
freedom to, where agency is located in actions rather than in singular actors, we can
begin to understand that agency is not only rooted in a freedom from external
oppression but is a potentiality in any interaction. A decoupling of notions of agency
from a subversive/oppressive dichotomy further broadens the discussion to include
many of the ways women in Afghanistan were asserting agency in ways that did not
challenge norms yet were still locations of agency.
Bringing the model used in the U.S. political discourse together with the
model used in the Afghan Womens Bill of Rights demonstrates the problems in
relying solely on a victim framework to understand the situation of women in
Afghanistan. By relying on a liberal humanistic model of agency that fails to
recognize Afghan womens capacity for action, the U.S. reifies a framework in which
women do not have any voice or active participation in society. If the model one
works from fails to see womens potential for action, then no space is given for
women to participate in actively rebuilding the nation and reintegrating into society.
The importance of women will be paid lip service but women will continue to be
locked out of discussions that have direct relevance to their lives.
Conclusion
The women of Afghanistan have experienced untold hardship. Their
experiences not only under the Taliban but also in the years of civil war leading up to
the current situation have been tremendously difficult. They are undoubtedly victims
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of their circumstances. There are many narratives that structure the relationship
between the U.S. and Afghanistan. Women from the Global South as a whole are
essentialized into a monolithic oppressed woman, ignoring historical and cultural
specificity. Furthermore, perceptions of Muslim women fall prey to Orientalism, a
way of structuring knowledge that positions the Orient and the Occident in
opposition to one another, with the Occident occupying the normative position,
morally and culturally superior.
Flowever, to see women in Afghanistan through a liberal humanistic model
that positions them only as victims denies them the possibility of agency. It negates
the action, subversive or otherwise, that they have been engaging in that demonstrates
their active humanity and personhood. And perhaps most dangerously, it provides a
framework that is self-propelling, effectively providing more barriers to womens
participation in society than already exist. Such a victim narrative fits in with existing
memes about Muslim women and women from the two-thirds world in particular,
memes that reduce such women to mute victims of their culture or of broader
geopolitical machinations. Campaigns to save such women, while well intentioned,
often replicate such memes without calling into question the models of agency that
underpin the assumption that such women need to be saved. The U.S. political
discourse replicated many of these memes, drawing on discursive frames that
positioned Afghan women as victim subjects who played a role in the past and who
will play a role in the future through the beneficence of the United States as the
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savior. This frame of the victim subject was replicated to some degree in the Afghan
Womens Bill of Rights, but was complicated and contextualized by an assertion of
the agency and power on behalf of all women in Afghanistan by those who came
together to create the Bill itself.
By broadening the definitions of agency, we can recognize that all humans,
regardless of structural constraints or oppressive conditions, possess the capacity for
action. If people are capable of acting on their own behalf, then any attempt to rebuild
Afghanistan without centering the voices of the women as equal partners in their own
salvation will simply reify the imperialistic tendencies that characterize the U.S.
existence as a global hegemonic power.
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APPENDIX A
Afghan Womens Bill of Rights
Kandahar, 2003
The Afghan Women's Bill of Rights was drafted, signed, and presented to President
Hamid Karzai by women leaders from every region of Afghanistan, who participated
in the third annual conference of Women for Afghan Women (WAW). This
conference, entitled "Women and the Constitution: Kandahar 2003", was held on
Sept. 2-5 in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in partnership with Afghans for Civil Society and
the Afghan Womens Network. The conference was pioneering for two reasons. First,
it was held outside Kabul, in fact in the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.
Second, it brought together 45 ethnically diverse women, community leaders in the
movement for women's and human rights in Afghanistan, many of whom were
grassroots women's rights activists, both educated and under-educated, from rural
provinces all around the country. This document was created entirely by the
participants, with each right debated and its wording unanimously agreed upon before
inclusion into the document. This document was presented to Minister of Women's
Affairs, Habiba Sarabi, the Constitutional Commission of the Transitional Islamic
State of Afghanistan, and President Karzai. In addition, the conference participants
are distributing the Bill of Rights throughout the country to educate communities
about women's and human rights. WAW is proud to have supported the dynamic
voices represented in this document. We continue to stand with our sisters
Afghanistan in the struggle for their rights, especially in this critical moment in
history.
Afghan Womens Bill of Rights
On September 5, 2003, in the historic city of Kandahar, we, the Afghan Muslim
participants in the conference, "Women and the Constitution: Kandahar 2003", from
Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif, Kandahar, Herat, Wardak, Jousjan, Badakhshan, Samangan,
Farah, Logar, Gardez, Kapisa, Uruzgan, Paktia, Helmand, Baghlan, Sar-e-Pul, having
considered the issues of the constitution that affect the futures of ourselves, our
children, and our society, make the following demands on behalf of the women of
Afghanistan. Moreover, as representatives of all of Afghan women, we demand that
these rights are not only secured in the constitution but implemented.
1. Mandatory education for women through secondary school and opportunities
for all women for higher education.
2. Provision of up-to-date health services for women with special attention to
reproductive rights.
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3. Protection and security for women: the prevention and criminalization of
sexual harassment against women publicly and in the home, of sexual abuse
of women and children, of domestic violence, and of "bad blood-price" (the
use of women as compensation for crimes by one family against another).
4. Reduction of the time before women can remarry after their husbands have
disappeared, and mandatory government support of women during that time.
5. Freedom of speech.
6. Freedom to vote and run for election to office.
7. Rights to marry and divorce according to Islam.
8. Equal pay for equal work.
9. Right to financial independence and ownership of property.
10. Right to participate fully and to the highest levels in the economic and
commercial life of the country.
11. Mandatory provision of economic opportunities for women.
12. Equal representation of women in the Loya Jirga and Parliament.
13. Full inclusion of women in the judiciary system.
14. Minimum marriageable age set at 18 years.
15. Guarantee of all constitutional rights to widows, disabled women, and
orphans.
16. Full rights of inheritance.
Additional demands affecting the lives of women:
1. Disarmament and national security.
2. Trials of war criminals in international criminal courts and the
disempowerment of warlords.
3. A strong central government.
4. A commitment to end government corruption.
5. Decisive action against foreign invasion and protection of the sovereignty of
Afghanistan
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AGENCY AND OPPRESSION: THE RHETORIC OF LIBERATION AND THEW AR IN AFGHANISTAN by Keira Steams B.A., University of Colorado Boulder, 2007 A thesis submitted to the University of Colorado Denver in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Social Science 2011

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This thesis for the Master of Social Science degree by Keira Steams has been approved by I Date II

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Steams, Keira (M.S S.) Agency and Oppression: The Rhetoric of Liberation and the War in Afghanistan Thesis directed by Professor Lucy McGuffey ABSTRACT This study aims to examine several discourses about women in Afghanistan. It will first examine the discourse used by politicians in Congressional hearings in the first year of the war to liberate Afghanistan and position it within a broader framework of agency. The study will then move to an analysis of the Afghan Women's Bill of Rights, created by Afghan women at a conference organized by Women for Afghan Women in 2003 to give another example of the discourses occurring around women in Afghanistan. This case study will use discourse analysis to examine the themes found in such discourse and will position those themes within a constellation of fom1s of agency, including a liberal humanistic model, a feminist materialist model that focuses on "freedom to" action, a feminist reinterpretation of Foucault and a model based on Muslim women in Egypt. The findings indicate that the Congressional discourse drew heavily upon a liberal humanistic notion of agency, yet such a conception of agency presented limitations, leading to tensions between agentic models and assumed conditions of women in Afghanistan. The Afghan Women's Bill of Rights presented a model that centered on the active subjectivity of Afghan women that more easily grappled with multiple modalities of agency. I will III

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aim to demonstrate that a denial of agency is a form of epistemic violence that denies the fundamental personhood of women and ultimately does not aid in their reintegration into Afghan society This abstract accurately represents the contents of the candidate's thesis I recommend its publication Signed IV

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TABLE OF CONTENTS CHAPTER I. lNTRODUCTION AND STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM ... .......... . ....... . .... .... I II. DIFFERENTIAL CONCEPTIONS OF AGENCY . .................... . ... ..................... 13 Overlapping Narratives ....................................... ..................... ............... .............. 13 Constellations of Agency ..................................... .... ............................ ................... 23 Liberal Humanism .... . ................................... ........................ . ...... ..... ..... ......... 25 Moving Beyond Liberal Humanistic Agency . ...... ..................... .... ... . ....... . .... . 30 Foucault, Butler and "The Paradox of Subjectivation" ................. ...................... 33 Agency and Women in Islam ........................... ........................... ..... ................. 35 III. AN ANALYSIS OF U.S. POLITICAL DISCOURS ...................... .................. .42 Afghan Women as the "Victim Subject" . . . ................ ............... .... . ..... ...... ........ .44 The Role of Afghan Women in Society ......... . .... .... ............... ..... . .... ... ....... ....... ... 51 The U S as Savior . ..... .... ..... . .......... ..... . ........ ............... . ...... ... .......... ...... .... . ....... 59 Resistance and Challenges to the Tali ban ........ . . ....... ................. .... ...................... 65 IV. AFGHAN WOMEN ........ .......................... ...... ........ ......................... .... ........... 69 V. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION ............... ...... . ...................... .......... .............. 78 Conclusion ..... ............... . .... ...... ......... ..... ...... ........................ . . ..... . ....... ......... . 82 APPENDIX A ...... .... ....... .... ....... ..... . . ... ............... .... ......... .... .... .... ... .. ........ . .......... 85 BIBLIOGRAPHY ..................... ...................... .... ................................... . . . .... ......... 87 v

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CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION AND STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM The world today is characterized by the constant threat of violence. The driving forces behind this violence are the ever present sources of conflict that escalated with the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. In the name of keeping the world safe, the United States and allied states have embarked up on a "War on Terror," fighting largely Islamist terrorist groups like al-Qaeda. While keeping the world safe from "terrorism" and "terrorists" is undoubtedly a valid cause, the machinations and political underpinnings of this "War on Terror" are far more complex than are immediately apparent. A fight against terror and, by extension, the terrorist network of al-Qaeda, contributed in part to the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. While both were ostensibly a fight to protect the American way of life, it is the first invasion, that of Afghanistan, that occupies a central location within this thesis. On October 12, 2001, the United States declared war on Afghanistan. The dominant discourse suggested that Afghanistan, ruled by the Taliban, harbored some of the criminals responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11th in which over 2,000 individuals were killed The United States demanded the perpetrators be brought to justice. However, retribution for 9/11 was just one of the reasons used to justify the invasion to the American public. Coupled with the desire to remove any safe haven for al-Qaeda was a discussion about the horrific conditions under which 1

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Afghans were living, suggesting a moral responsibility to "liberate" the people of Afghanistan. Nowhere was the need for liberation illustrated more starkly than the treatment of Afghan women. Women under the Taliban were prohibited from going to school, could not receive health care treatment, were forced to wear the burqa and faced significant levels of violence just for leaving the house. The Western world watched in horror as images of mute, anonymous women were broadcast from Afghanistan. Individuals who had never given gender equality a second thought found themselves demanding justice for such women In going to war in Afghanistan, not only was the United States punishing those responsible for 9 / 11, it was rescuing women from their oppressors-fighting against barbarism and religious fanaticism in the name of freedom and democracy worldwide. This meme of liberation, while arguably well intentioned, raises questions about how the women of Afghanistan were portrayed to the American public. In general, Afghan women were constructed as utterly helpless in need of rescue rather than capable of rescuing themselves (Ayotte and Hussain). While some would argue that the magnitude of oppression faced by Afghan women necessitated intervention on their behalf, such a claim is located in a particular understanding of who is capable of resistance and action suggesting a specific definition of agency. This understanding of agency is also implicated in narratives that structure the United States' relationship to states in the Middle East, narratives that are profoundly gendered and laced with the legacies of colonialism. This study aims to deconstruct 2

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the particular notions of agency that underpinned the political discourse in this context and infonned how the women of Afghanistan were seen and understood by the American public. This notion of agency will be analyzed alongside the Afghan Women's Bill of Rights to gain a more complete picture ofthe role ideas of agency play in framing arguments that have direct political implications Examining questions of agency requires a complex analytical framework The active participation of individuals in their own lives despite conditions of oppression, terror, violence and seeming hopelessness is an important factor in acknowledging the personhood of such individuals. While women around the world face tremendous obstacles and live in immensely difficult conditions, it is vital to recognize the agency that these individuals are still able to exercise in such circumstances. To fail to do so is a form of double victimization, first in the actual circumstances they face and second in the refusal to see the full humanity of the person who faces such circumstances. Often, widely used models of agency are unable to address the complexity of interactions between subordination and resistance, participation and submission. By seeing agency in only one way, we as analysts and scholars ignore the active shifting and reconfiguration of agency that takes place as individuals interact with the facets of their life. This failure often is explicitly illustrated when discussing 3

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individuals living in the two-thirds world1 as will b e discussed below. Such situations require a fundamental restructuring of the concept of agency. Widely used models of agency a re rooted in the liberal humanistic idea of a transcendent, rational, free-thinking individual. This conception of agency sees the capacity for action rooted solely in the indi v idual, giving rise to the oft-debated idea of either "negative" or "positive freedom, one being a freedom from interference and oppression and the other being a freedom of action in one's life Feminist scholarship in the last three decades has rightly problematized such a conception of agency yet often fails to decouple agency from a progressive political stance that only recognizes agentive action in those actions that subvert dominant nonns. In this paper, I will move beyond the widely accepted accounts of agency and pose several new models of agency th a t include the way that "agentival capacity is entailed not only in those acts tha t resist nonns but also in the multiple ways in which one inhabits nom1s" (Mahmood 15). In other words, agentival capacity can be exercised through the performance of norms in a manner that reinforces such norms, rather than resignifies them. Past scholarship has often identified the manner in which women contribute to their own oppression through inhabiting nonns as a fom1 of false consciousness. A conception of agency that is broadened to include the performance of norms provides the space to dismiss paternalistic claims of false consciousness and allows for a 1 The term two-thirds world is interchangeable with the t e rm Global South and i s used in this paper to describ e those parts of the world that are in the process of industrializing Historicall y these part s of the world hav e been refe rred to as the "third world." 4

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recognition of agency that would otherwise be ignored A reconception of agency in this way allows for an understanding that the self is constituted in interaction with the world including instances of oppression rather than prior to entry into an oppressive system. It is my aim to situate agency through a feminist analysis of Foucault's idea of subjectivation, where the self is constituted as an agent through the very processes of subordination Such an understanding of agency recognizes the ways that women, even in the most oppressive situations, still exercise agency in their lives. An identification of this agency is important to break the narrative of victimi z ation that reduces women to mere objects at the mercy of more powerful external forces. Furthermore, increasingly relevant to identifying memes concerning agency for women not situated within a liberal intellectual tradition is the decoupling of agency from a progressive political stance. As Saba Mahmood notes, moving beyond the binary of subordination and resistance allows for a broader recognition of forms of agency that do not map onto this framework. The denial of agency to women and many individuals from the two-thirds world does not emerge in a vacuum. There are many overlapping narratives that structure power relations between the United States and Afghanistan that rest on particular notions of agency The "War on Terror" in the Middle East invoked a tension between the "Orient" and the "Occident" that Samuel Huntington has called the "clash of civilizations a battle between the forces of democracy and freedom and fundamentalism and violence Edward Said has named this dichotomy and the 5

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attendant power implications Orientalism. The Middle East is seen as a place lacking civilization, a place of warlords ruling with violence and brutality and fanatics willing to die for Islam. It is seen as a place bounded by tradition, removed from time and modern progress. By invoking such a construction, the West is defined in opposition The West, by inference, is a place of freedom, of modernity, of rationality; it is a place where the fruits of technological progress can be enjoyed and life can be lived unfettered from backward and outmoded ideas The West always enjoys flexible positional superiority (Said 7). Such a "clash" often reduces the complexity of geopolitical conflict to black and white creating dichotomies of the good versus the bad, heroes versus terrorists, victims versus saviors. Coupled with the idea of the "clash of civilizations" are narratives about women from the Global South and Muslim women in particular. Many scholars have argued that women from the Global South are regularly portrayed as a static, oppressed category of creatures in need of"saving" by the West (Mohanty, AbuLughod). This mantra has been repeated by those on both the Left and Right, feminists and conservatives alike (AI Muslima). Such an argument draws upon a complex set of ubiquitous memes not only about gender but also about race, national origin and religion and is used as a powerful tool to justify imperialism. Factoring into these memes is the historical tendency of Western scholarship to create a monolithic, homogenized view of two-thirds world women. This process "colonizes and appropriates the pluralities of the simultaneous location of different 6

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groups of women ... and ultimately robs them of their historical and social agency" (Mohanty 39) Two-thirds world women become a static category, oppressed by the "third world difference," the oppressive and paternalistic attitude that characterizes two-thirds world cultures ( 41 ) Two-thirds world women are assumed to be dependent victims, oppressed by the patriarchal structures of a backwards culture. As a result, women are homogenized in a manner that ignores the nuances of racial, ethnic and cultural identities Women from the Global South become mere objects upon which events of the world act on, rather than active agents in creating their own experiences. The overlapping narratives concerning Muslims in general and Muslim women in particular all rest on specific ideas about agency and form the context of the discourse surrounding the need to liberate the women of Afghanistan. Each frame further complicates views of agency, requiring not only a complex understanding of accepted models of agency but also the ability to recognize the interplay of agency within the historical context that structures discursive relations. Such narratives and understandings of agency enable the appropriation of the voices of Afghan women to save them, inflicting what some scholars identify as an additional fom1 of violence caused by neocolonialism (Ayotte and Husain). This takes the form of ventriloquism, in which images of Afghan women were voiced over by scholars, politicians and media figures in the United States, speaking on behalf of and in place of actual indigenous voices. Reducing the women of Afghanistan to mute dolls through which the voices of those in the West speak is a form of epistemic 7

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violence in which language is used to further marginalize and oppress a category of people. More specifically, such ventriloquism fails to call into question the relationship between the instrumental violence women continue to face in attempts to rebuild Afghanistan and the continued portrayal of women as abject, helpless victims. The marginalization of the voices of women in Afghanistan sets the stage for a continued dismissal of women as they seek to participate in rebuilding their nation. Seeing Afghan women through a victim framework homogenizes them in existing narratives concerning oppressed Muslim women, which partakes in "exactly the paternalistic logic that underlies the neocolonial politics ofU.S. efforts to 'liberate' Afghan women according to an explicitly Western model of liberal feminism" (Ayotte and Husain 117). In short, a discourse that relies on narratives that deny agency draws on pervasive paternalistic assumptions about the necessity of"saving" women while still inflicting physical harm and fostering structural violence. The irony of inflicting violence through invasion in the name of saving women from the violence of their oppressors is rarely discussed To map the particular conceptions of agency that inform discourses on women in Afghanistan, I will analyze the definitions of agency used in two different locations: that of the politicians in the United States and that used in the Afghan Women's Bill of Rights. This study will employ a feminist reconfiguration of the Foucauldian notion of discourse analysis. Discourse analysis moves beyond traditional content analysis by analyzing the power relations that underpin the words 8

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being spoken. It is a study not only of what is heard and said, but a study of what is not heard and what is not said. Discursive frames are not merely groups of signs (signifying elements referring to contents or representations) but [are] practices that systematically fom1 the objects ofwhich they speak" (Naples 28). A discourse analysis involves a recognition of power, a llowing for the location of such discourses in a historical constellation of narratives and frames that impact how we see and understand the world. Specifically drawing on recognizable discursive frames allows policy makers an entry point into a discussion so they are seen and heard. By drawing on familiar narratives, policy makers are able to contextualize their opinions, conveying information that fits with their listeners' worldview and increasing the likelihood that they will be understood (Naples 27) Finally, discourse analysis is particularly relevant because "discourse analysis has a double aim : a systematic theoretical and descriptive account of (a) the structures and strategies, at various levels, ofwritten and spoken discourse, seen both as a textual "object" and as a form of sociocultural practice and interaction, and (b) the relationships of these properties of text and talk with the relevant structures of their cognitive social, cultural and historical "contexts" (Van Dijk 96) To apply this methodology to U.S. political discourse, I will examine Congressional records between September 12, 200 I and the end of 2002. I chose to examine Congressional records for a number of reasons First and foremost, analyzing Congressional records allows for an examination of frames drawn upon by 9

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a wide spectrum of individuals that include Democrats, Republicans, members of the Bush Administration and experts in the field. An analysis of Congressional records serves to highlight not only the pervasiveness of racialized and gendered narratives but also their importance in providing a comprehensible entry point into the discussion for all participants. The discursive frames that structure the relationship between the U.S and Afghan women run deeper than political affiliation. Furthermore, looking at Congressional records provides insight into discourse that has tangible political implications. The understandings that participants in the hearings brought concerning Afghan women became policies implemented and positions held. To conduct this research, I focused largely on committee hearings in which women in Afghanistan are discussed, whether in the context of the war itself, rebuilding the nation, or providing direct assistance to the women In the time frame given, hearings that touched on Afghan women ranged from specific discussions about the humanitarian crisis facing women in Afghanistan, to conversations about ending terrorism, to reports on the status of the war itself. In addition, I will analyze the ideas of agency used in the Afghan Women s Bill of Rights created by Afghan women at a conference in 2003 organi z ed by Women for Afghan Women The Afghan Women's Bill ofRights, while not representative of the voices of all women in Afghanistan, presents the voices of women who are agitating for their own rights. All of the demands outlined in the document were agreed upon unanimously prior to their inclusion and represent an 10

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alternative way of conceptualizing the situation of Afghan women. I chose to analyze this document alongside Congressional records specifically because of the manner in which the Bill was created and also because of the accessibility of the text. The Afghan Women's Bill ofRights was created as a document to be publicized to the world. As such, it is meant to be read by as broad a population as possible and represents an alternative to the discourse found in the Congressional records. To examine this discourse I will deconstmct not only the Bill of Rights itselfbut also the notes from the conference published by Women for Afghan Women on their website to analyze the model of agency they are using. This research will demonstrate that the U.S. government used discursive frames that drew upon Orientalized and gendered memes about Muslim women, positioning them largely as the victim subject within the discussion. However, the positioning of Afghan women demonstrates a tension between notions of agency and personhood that politicians must negotiate through their discourse. This tension is underpinned by the difficulty ofutilizing a liberal humanistic notion of agency that encompasses a victim framework, limiting agency and personhood, while still holding space for the role of women as active participants in Afghanistan's future. Through this process, politicians stmggle to map Afghan women onto their affinnations of a liberal notion of agency. I will demonstrate that the notions of agency used in the Afghan Women's Bill of Rights are different than that used by the United States, 11

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allowing agentic capacity to the women of Afghanistan and acknowledging their role in society. 12

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CHAPTER II DIFFERENTIAL CONCEPTIONS OF AGENCY Overlapping Narratives Many overlapping narratives structure the relationship between the U.S. and women in Afghanistan. These narratives, stemming from histories of colonialism and imperialism, frame analyses of gender, cultural identity and religion Such memes range from the concept of Orientalism, which creates nonnative status between the "Orient" and the "Occident," to rescue narratives that create a moral imperative for more advanced societies to save the oppressed of other societies. Each of these frameworks relies on a particular notion of agency, making an analysis of different ideas of agency central to understanding such narratives and their implications. Each of these narratives has tangible implications in the policy arena, and understanding the forms of agency assumed within such narratives further contextualizes the role narratives play in structuring relationships of states and societies. To situate discourses on women in Afghanistan, I will first outline the concept of Orientalism and how it relates to the "white man's burden" to save the backwards societies of the world. Next the discussion will shift into critiques of knowledge produced about Muslim women in particular. Finally, the literature will move to the contemporary iteration of the "white man's burden," namely rescue narratives about the need to save the oppressed women of the world before underlying structures of agency are discussed. Following the discussion of the narratives that are at play within the 13

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discourses on women in Afghanistan, I will explicate the forms of agency implicated by such narratives. The concept of Orientalism, as coined by Edward Said, provides important background for historically contextualizing knowledge production about the Middle East. Discourses on the Middle East reside in the historical context of colonialism and European imperialism and the centuries of interaction between the "Orient" and the "Occident." Orientalism is first "a style ofthought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between 'the Orient' and (most of the time) 'the Occident;'" Second "Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient. .. in short as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient" (Said 2). Or, in other words, Orientalism refers to the historical context of relations between the Orient and the Occident, themselves discursive constructs, highlighting the interplay of power and the role Orientalism plays in the formulation of an Occidental "self." Such a theoretical framework also raises the concept ofthe "other" and demonstrates how the creation of the Orient automatically suggests its opposite, the Occident. An oppositional positioning of the "Orient" and the "Occident" appears in the image of the backwards, uncivilized Afghan "other," which infers the opposite construction ofthe modem, civilized American "self." The American self is an active agent with the moral responsibility to save the world, while the Afghan other is either a passive victim or a barbaric oppressor. Muslim women are positioned as the 14

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oppressed foil to the violent and barbaric Muslim man and both categorizations serve to define the American self in opposition This othering increases the imagined space between "us" and "them" through the homogenization of the enemy "other" in a way that ignores historical and contextual specificity and constitutes them as a static subject. Furthermore, such a binary of"rescuer" and victim" draws upon another historical cultural meme, that of the "white man's burden This was a phrase used by Rudyard Kipling when he, perhaps slightly ironically, declaimed the necessity of the white man going forth and saving his brown brothers of the world. This patemalistic ideology has wound itself into popular understandings of the self, and as Edward Said says, "what dignifies [the white man 's] mission is some sense of intellectual dedication; he is a White Man, but not for mere profit, since his 'chosen star' presumably sits far above earthly gain" (226). Particular to the white man's burden is a patemalistic concem for women. As Dana Cloud notes, "among the features of gendered nationalism is the idea of 'saving the brown women from the brown men"' (289). Such concem for the welfare of women around the world enables an imperialist intervention on behalf of women, employing moralistic tem1s to justify foreign intervention Orientalism also has specifically gendered implications. Muslim women are constructed as the "other portrayed as passive and oppressed in opposition to her liberated American sisters. American women have the responsibility to "save" the oppressed Muslim women ofthe world (Al Muslima). Many scholars have pointed to 15

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the obsession with the Muslim woman in the West, as if understanding her as a victimized object will help to illuminate the events of 9111. Rather than examine her socio-historicallocation, individuals in the West focus on veiling as the "quintessential sign ofwomen's unfreedom" and have taken this as a sign that she needs to be saved (Abu-Lughod, 786). Many academics have argued that the western media and western organizations take a culturally imperialistic view of the Muslim world, ignoring cultural nom1s and differences in a way that allows them to paint the people of Afghanistan as backwards and uncivilized and the West as the paragon of modernity (Ayotte and Husain). Much of this disdain comes from cultural differences and the West's emphasis on individual freedoms over Islam's emphasis on the common good. Specifically," what Westerners view as a restriction on personal freedom, Muslims view as the assurance that the society as a whole, as well as the individuals themselves, are benefiting from restrictions on behavior and dress" (AI Muslima). In Saraji Al Muslima's view, cultural imperialism has replaced colonialism: They want Muslim women, or more specifically in this case, Afghani women, to have choices, as long as Afghani women make the choices that they have deemed as appropriate, modem, and civilized ... in this way, they have oppressed her as surely as anyone else ever has, by removing from her the idea that she has intelligence free will, and rational thought. (AI Muslima) Such a conception reduces women to their subjection, ignoring historical specificity and the complexities of experience and oppression As Dana Cloud states, "racialized 16

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images of the savage Other and gendered images of women as victims lurk in Western culture's symbolic repertoire ... in perennial justifications for war" (Cloud 289). The research of Dana Cloud demonstrates the oppositional positioning of Afghan women and American women. She examines images from Time magazine from September 11, 2001 through September 11, 2002, and finds that images of Afghans and Americans are positioned in binary opposition to one another: "The United States and its people face an incontrovertible conflict with Others, particularly Islamic Others whose civilizations are inferior and hostile to Western Capitalism" (286). In particular, imagery of the women in Afghanistan is used to invoke the idea of the "clash of civilizations." America is the definition of modernity, while images of Afghans encourage a sort of paternalism towards their barbaric and backwards civilization (Cloud 291 ). This opposes an American female "self' to the Afghan female "other," providing the space for an American "self' to be defined and understood. Images of women in Afghanistan are juxtaposed against images of "liberated" unveiled women, which as Cloud states "encourage[s] viewers to lament the status of Afghan women and support U.S. intervention" (294). Another important facet to frame the discourse around women in Afghanistan is scholarship on the so-called "rescue narratives" that exist concerning nonWestern women. In large part, the literature on this subject has been framed around sex trafficking, but the lessons outlined are particularly salient in this discussion as well. 17

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Many of the narratives concerning human trafficking utilize a particular sort of victim framework in which those who are trafficked are reduced to mute, silent, oppressed objects. While the literature in no way discounts the horrors of being trafficked, many scholars problematize the dichotomy between passive two-thirds world women and their active, Western rescuers. Such a victim framework enables imperialistic interventions not only by governments but also by feminist organizations who tum to a masculinist state model to "protect" such vulnerable two-thirds world women, often infantilizing and marginalizing them in the process (Soderlund 72). Furthermore, such a victim narrative denies the agency of women in sex work. Often, this victim framework is challenged directly by organizations of sex workers and their supporters who actively fight against such protectionist impulses that render their lives more difficult and more dangerous. The rescue narrative becomes more complicated when one identifies the Orientalist memes often employed within such victim frameworks. Jo Doezema suggests there is a fascination with the "injured body" of the "third world trafficking victim." She draws this term from Wendy Brown, and uses the idea of the injured body as a site of political identity The injured body paradoxically provides an identity that is both based in pain and seeks to end such pain, giving rise to a politics of ressentiment A politics of ressentiment critiques power and subordination from the location of the injured, fixing the identity of the injured in static, unmovable terms. In particular, many feminists have used the injured body of the two-thirds world 18

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prostitute in an effort to gain recognition and legitimacy for their quest for women's human rights, consequently essentializing the female experience and reducing it to sexuali z ed oppression (Doezema 20). While gaining recognition for women's human rights is a worthy goal, many scholars point out that the strategic utilization of a victim framework often plays into state stmctures that contribute to the oppression of women in the name of saving them (Kapur, Soderlund, Doezema) Ratna Kapur also identifies the centrality of the "victim subject" in contemporary trafficking discourse This victim subject does in many ways allow for solidarity across varying cultural and social contexts, enabling the formation of a movement base Furthem1ore, "it provides women with a subject that repudiates the atomized, decontextualized and ahistorical subject of liberal rights discourse, while at the same time furnishing a unitary subject that enables women to continue to make claims based on a commonality of experience (Kapur 5) However, not only does this victim subject essentialize the category of women, but in so doing it suggests that there is a category of "woman" that exists prior to entry into any sort of cultural process. Such an assumption also engages in cultural essentialism by suggesting that women from the two-thirds world are victims of their particular culture in a way women in the West are not. Cultural essentialism in this manner takes an example of violence against women, the process of sati in India for example, and suggests it is a result of inherently problematic cultural beliefs. By defining sati as a cultural product an entire culture is reduced to its endorsement of violence against women. Not only is 19

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this a simplistic and inaccurate understanding of the structures of oppression, it also invokes a teleology of modernity, with the West as the most developed, leading the way for their less civilized followers. This particular framing of women from the two-thirds world creates a victimized woman who is entirely helpless and disempowered In many ways she is likened to a child, portrayed as "infantile, civilizationally backward, and incapable of self-detern1ination or autonomy" rather than a whole person. (Kapur 19). As such, it also enables interventions on their behalf, allowing organizations to pursue aims that are "reminiscent of imperial interventions in the lives of the native subject and which represent the 'Eastern' woman as a victim of a 'backward' and 'uncivilized' culture" (Kapur 6). Liddle and Rai are explicitly critical of such knowledge production about victimized women in the two-thirds world. They label this discursive process as an example of contemporary Orientalist exercises in power. Orientalist power can be recognized in two locations: first, it is exercised when the author of such knowledge denies the subject the possibility of self-representation, as is often the case with women who are engaged in sex work. Their voice is only heard when it fits into the victim framework. Any self-representation that challenges the dominant discourse of sex workers as victimized, formerly pure and good women seeking escape from the forces that placed them in their horrible situation is denied and ignored. The second facet of Orientalist power is seen when oppression and resistance are placed in a hierarchy, with Western societies positioned as less oppressive and thus morally 20

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superior to their two-thirds world counterparts. In the West, oppression is suggested to be less severe and resistance more common. Not only can this be seen in the way that oppression is ranked, but also resistance. The resistance of western feminists is seen as more active and legitimate than the resistance ofwomen from the two-thirds world (Liddle and Rai 512) This victim framework also is problematic for the remedies it seeks for women's oppression. Not only does it deny that women have the right to outline their own responses to oppression, it also often appeals to a protectionist framework. The centrality of the victim subject produces a paradox when formulating strategies to end such oppression: "identity based on injury cannot let go of that injury without ceasing to exist. This paradox results in a politics that seeks protection from the state rather than power and freedom for itself' (Doezema 20). The appeal to the state guised in masculinist protector rhetoric can be seen most clearly in anti-trafficking legislation that criminalizes sex workers, makes it more difficult for them to access the support and resources they need and more broadly reinforces the claim that women need to be protected. For example, pressure from international anti-trafficking organizations resulted in a law in Nepal that prohibits women under 30 from traveling outside of the country without a male relative (Kapur 1 00). In the U.S., it is illegal to provide interstate transportation for a sex worker. Both cases limit the mobility of the women in question through invoking a need for "protection." In the guise of eliminating trafficking and enforcing the human rights of women, the self-same women are 21

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reduced to their need for protection. In other words, the state must r e strict women's rights for their own good. As Wendy Brown states about protection codes: Protection codes are thus key technologies in regulating privileged women as well as intensifying the vulnerability and degradation of those on the unprotected side ofthe constmcted divide between light and dark, wives and prostitutes, good girls and bad ones. (Doezema 21) Again, the importance of such rhetoric in imperialistic interventions cannot be understated Drawing not only on Orientalism but also on the colonial mythology of the "white man's burden the rescue narratives concerning trafficked women locate the capacity for action only in those in the West. Women from the two-thirds world are excluded from any agentic capabilities and as such, those possessing agency must intervene on their behalf. Such intervention often masks an imperialistic agenda that is aimed at reproducing global hegemonic power. For example, in 2004 when Hugo Chavez, populist leader ofVenezuela, survived a referendum that the U.S. had hoped would install a more U.S. friendly leader, the U.S. responded by retracting support for $250 million in loans that Venezuela had requested from international finance institutions Vene z uela's record on trafficking ofwomen and children, as cited in the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, was given as the reason why support was pulled (Soderlund 76). Such imperialism is not limited to governments. Organizations such as the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) have been cited as utilizing the victim framework to gain legitimacy and funding from donors, and feminist organi z ations such as the Feminist Majority Foundation and the N ational 22

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Organization for Women have been pointed at as well (Soderlund). Women in Afghanistan, while not victims of sex trafficking, clearly fall into the category of oppressed, brutalized women in need of saving The rhetoric suggesting women in Afghanistan need to be saved fits into the framework of the "rescuer" versus the "rescued." All of these narratives rest on particular assumptions about what constitutes agency. Particularly in the Orientalist narratives that structure conceptions ofMuslim women and in sex trafficking rescue narratives, we can see a reliance on definitions of agency that serve to deny women the ability to make choices in their lives. Whether it is by categorizing women solely by their oppression or by defining trafficking in a manner that does not distinguish between unforced prostitution and forced sex work, the consequences are the same: the reproduction racialized and gendered memes that fit into a broader framework of imperialism. It is vital to situate the role that definitions of agency play in the construction and usage of these narratives. A further look at definitions of agency elucidates the problematic aspects ofthese narratives and contextualizes the discourses on women in Afghanistan. Such narratives and definitions of agency are woven together to form the framework of power within which discourses on women in Afghanistan take place. Constellations of Agency Central to the analysis of the discourse surrounding women in Afghanistan is an understanding of the existing debates surrounding agency. Many feminists have 23

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taken up the philosophical question of agency, problematizing often held assumptions by seeking to reorient agency within a gendered framework that acknowledges the subordination of women yet identifies sites of resistance. Questions of agency are often rooted in particular understandings ofthe self and the formation of subjectivity. Reformulations of the constitution of the self necessarily shift the context of agency and its identification. Furthermore, the relationship between the self and the corporal body take center stage within this debate, as many theorists point to the ways the actions of the body enact or subvert norms and thus exercise agency. The identification of forms of agency ascribed to women in Afghanistan takes on particular import when historically contextualized within the frameworks outlined. But what are the most common models of agency used? To better contextualize the U.S. discourse on women in Afghanistan and the Afghan Women's Bill of Rights, this study will posit four models of agency. I will begin by analyzing the tradition of liberal humanism, which provides the foundation for common understandings of modes of agency. Following a discussion of liberal humanism, I will move into feminist critiques of liberal humanistic agency, focusing on Elizabeth Gros z's conception of agency within a materialist feminist framework. Next, the debate shifts into a Foucauldian analysis of the realm of subject formation within matrices of power, using the specifically feminist analysis of Judith Butler. Finally, the debate on models of agency closes with Saba Mahmood problematizing an explicitly political understanding of agency. Instead, she calls for an understanding of agency that does 24

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not remain with the subordination/subversion dichotomy, but rather identifies the role that the body plays in enacting agentival capacity in a way that one cannot understood within the simple context ofresignification and subversion of nom1s Liberal Humanism A liberal humanistic understanding of agency pervades much of the historical literature on the selfs relation to the world. This model identifies agency as free action or the capacity for individuals to make choices in their lives unfettered by outside influences. Such a definition of agency rests on the ideological tradition of the Enlightenment, presupposing a rational, self-sufficient, free standing individual who has, in their very existence, the capacity for free action. This model of the subject produces a very particular understanding of the selfs relationship to the outside world and rests on a dichotomy between the "self' and the "other." The "self' is constituted through the capacity for control of bodily actions, a control that reproduces a central tenet of Enlightenment thought: the separation and subsequent dominance ofthe mind over the actions of the body. The self relates to the world autonomously, yet in many ways relies on the "other" to understand itself. ln this view, ethical and moral action only come into the world through the dominance of the mind over the body. Most importantly, liberal humanism rests on the concept of the transcendent subject, one that exists prior to entry into relationship with the world. This suggests that such a transcendent subject has a fixed identity that is not shaped in interaction with the forces of the world. The subject becomes a static object. 25

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Such a conception of agency only ascribes agency to those individuals who are enacting this capacity for free action in the absence of external impediments. Those who are constrained in some way are not active agents and thus lack the ability to realize agency until they are freed of constraints. Furthermore, active agents also must be materially free. Those who are socially dependent upon others cannot exert active agency Paul Benson identifies three problematic assumptions with this conception of agency. First, such a conception of agency assumed that the subject exists alone, without embeddedness in existing social networks or relationships. Free action places the agentic individual in a vacuum. However, humans exist within a web of relationships that shape and impact choices. In this sense, one can begin to wonder if "free action" is even possible. Second, such definitions of agency lack any sort of normative content. Freedom is simply freedom. There is no suggestion that some actions may be more free than others, it is simply the ability to freely act that makes them free. Or, in other words, a liberal humanistic form of agency does not tie agency explicitly to a form of subversion or resistance that many feminist scholars use to frame their understanding of agency. Third, this form of agency assumes that the substance of free agency is the individual having the ability to control his or her conduct. In other words, the free agent's "control standardly is described as an executive power, the power decisively to initiate courses of action in the face of available alternatives the ability to do or not do" (Benson 49). Such a view of agency ignores the way that action is constrained by structural factors. lt also ignores the 26

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interplay of power and agency, downplaying the constraints on agency that result from the subject's shifting relationship with power. Agency is simply seen as the ability for free action and self domination. This conception of agency suggests that the exertion of agency falls within an individualistic framework One has agency if one has the ability to act freely in a given situation to actualize internal desires and preferences. However, more recent theorists have problematized the blindness of this definition to the role that power plays in the creation of the subject. By failing to recognize how structures that oppress and privilege affect the subject's capacity for action, theorists are also failing to recognize the role that power plays in the constitution of the subject Furthermore if agency is seen as the capacity for free action, how do individuals that face oppressive structural constraints exert agency? Is the capacity for free action forever closed to them, denying them any agentic ability whatsoever? More recent theoretical discourse around agency has often replicated these assumptions If the capacity for free action is a foundation of agency, then those structures that inhibit free action must be dismantled for subordinated subjects to realize agency. This, then, becomes the goal for academics rooted in th e tradition of liberal humanistic agency The key to restoring agency to those to whom it has been denied lies externally. Structures that subordinate must be dismantled. Elizabeth Gros z calls this form of agency a "freedom from." This "freedom from" stance aims to restore to the subject certain rights that "minimize negative interference rather than 27

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affim1 positive action" (Grosz 141 ). While the concept of a "freedom from" has political relevance and is one important component in discourses around agency, it falls short in visioning the future. Such a "freedom from ... is not sufficient for at best it addresses and attempts to redress wrongs of the past without providing any positive direction for action in the future" (Grosz 141). She asks whether "feminist theory [is] best served through its traditional focus on women's attainment of a freedom from patriarchal, racist, colonialist, and heteronormative constraint? Or by exploring what the female -or feminist-subject is and is capable of making and doing?" (Grosz 141 ). In other words, rather than focus externally on eliminating forms of oppression, Grosz emphasizes a shift to understanding what possibilities reside within the female subject herself. Feminist scholarship has sought to modify this mode of agency, rendering it more relevant to the lives of women. They point explicitly to the connection of agency and power and highlight the tension between structure and agency. In their view, agency is exerted in the ways in which women work to subvert their oppression despite existing in conditions of subordination In many ways this model of agency contextualizes the subject into a web of social and power relations that shift to constrain agency in different ways. Agentival capacity is seen as attempting to eliminate external forms of oppression still operating within the "freedom from" model pointed at by Grosz. Furthermore a feminist reconfiguration of the liberal humanist model of agency has aimed to identify the ways in which women were able 28

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to negotiate their lives despite conditions of oppression. Scholars have focused on the ways in which women have actively subverted their own oppression using their agentic capacities. This idea of agency often aims to give voice to the voiceless, using women's words and experiences to demonstrate the basic humanity of women as a category. Often, autobiographies or narrative stories written by women have been pointed at to demonstrate the shared oppression of women. This stance of victimization allowed for a political cohesion that enabled advocacy to end the oppression of women However, a feminist interpretation of a liberal humanistic model of agency still relies on some of the problematic assumptions of liberal humanism. For one, it has assumed a category of"women" existed prior to entry into the structure of the world. In this way, it was still relying on the concept of a transcendent subject as suggested in liberal humanism. An example of this can be seen in Susan Wendell's work concerning her conceptuali z ation of responsibility and choice under conditions of oppression. She posits four universal perspectives in regards to individual moral choice, including the perspective of the oppressor, the perspective of the victim, the perspective of the responsible actor and the perspective of the observer / philosopher (Wendell 23-35). While her perspectives offer valuable insight into the relationship between agency and oppression, her reliance on the individual moral actor essentializes the category of woman, failing to take into account the role that power plays among and between women to work to constrain the exercise of agency. In many ways, some feminist reconfigurations of agency build 29

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upon the foundation laid by liberal humanism, failing to dismantle both the idea of the transcendent subject as well as the core notion of agency as a "freedom from." While this model of agency certainly has political salience and value, as we will see with the next models outlined, it constructed agency within a specific framework, drawing on a particular understanding of what the category of"women" meant and what their liberation consisted of. Moving Beyond Liberal Humanistic Agency Elizabeth Gros z moves beyond the liberal humanistic and feminist tradition of a "freedom from to instead suggests a conception of agency that is not only a "freedom from," but also a "freedom to." This idea of"freedom to" focuses on the capacity for action in life Her suggestion of a capacity of action is not to be confused with the liberal humanist tradition of "free action but rather redefines the concept of freedom. Debates about freedom often become dichotomized between determininsts on the one hand and libertarians on the other. Determinists suggest that if one knows the steps leading to a particular action, one can predict with certainty which choice will be made, thus downplaying the role of free action in any situation Libertarians, on the other hand, believe in the primacy of free will. This dichotomy is unhelpful in understanding the concept of freedom because it limits analysis to whether or not freedom is possible rather than identifying differential modes of freedom. Grosz advocates a shift in focus from the actor to the act itself to understand freedom Rather than ask whether or not the subject is free and capable of action, we would 30

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instead ask whether or not specific acts are free. Grosz uses the work of Henri Bergson to define a free act as one in which "the self alone will have been the author of it, and ... it will express the whole of the self' (Grosz 146). Thus, the capacity to action is rooted not in the subject but in the expressive act. A free act is one that is "integral to who or what the subject is" (Grosz 144 ). It will express the self and in that expressing will change the self. Freedom of action requires not simply removing oppression and expanding the range of choices available, but rather requires "transforming the quality and activity of the subjects who choose and who make themselves through how and what they do" (Grosz 151 ) This shifts the meaning of freedom. Freedom is not something that is externally determined, it is not something that can be given or taken away but rather is a quality found in the act itself. This also shifts the goal from simply removing external obstacles to freedom to supporting the personhood of individuals to actively engage with the world around them. Enacting particular choices does not only change the world, but reflexively changes the subject who chooses such action. The subject, constantly recreated, is different after the choice has been made than she was before she chose to act. It is when she chooses to act in ways that transform her that she is asserting agency and it is in this sense that autonomy is possible. While these choices are constrained by interaction with material forces and structural oppression, "freedom is not a transcendent quality inherent in subjects but is immanent in the relations that the living has with the material world, including other forms of life" (Grosz 148). Thus, the potential for 31

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freedom exists in every interaction between the self and the world, sometimes realized and sometimes not, and "is not a property or right bestowed on, or removed from, individuals by others but a capacity or a potentiality to act both in accordance with one's past as well as 'out of character' in a manner that surprises" (152). Furthem1ore, such a redefinition of freedom, autonomy and agency represents a departure from a liberal humanistic way of conceiving of the material body in relation to the world. Freedom is not a function of the mind but rather of the body: "it is linked to the body's capacity for movement, and thus its multiple possibilities of action" (Grosz 152). Whereas liberal humanism conceives of freedom as a condition of the mind dominating the body and manifesting in the actions that the body takes, Grosz' materialist view of autonomy locates freedom in the ability of the body to interact with the world in a way that shapes the mind. In other words, autonomy is rooted in the body's struggle to improve itself, in its ability to engage in acts that shape the very subjectivity of the self in their performance. A reorientation around a "freedom to" opens up new possibilities for a feminist conception of agency. The potentiality of freedom in actions that create and recreate the self makes the capacity for agency available to everyone and moves beyond the idea of free action as an individually exercised choice among options. It is at this point that freedom is linked to performativity; freedom is not a transcendent possession of the selfbut rather is realized through action. Agency is something available to everyone to be enacted or not enacted at a particular moment. An 32

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assertion of agency in one moment does not guarantee the assertion in the next moment, but the potential is there and as such every subject is an active agent in their lives The performativity of freedom is a potential that lies in any interaction or selfcreating act regardless of oppression or conditions of subordination. Foucault, Butler and "The Paradox of Subjectivation The formation of the self takes on more importance to understanding agency in Judith Butler's conception. Butler uses a Foucauldian analysis of power to demonstrate that the self becomes constituted through interaction and subordination to power. The self comes to understand itself as a subject through subordination. Butler calls this process "subjection," which "signifies the process of becoming subordinated by power as well as the process of becoming a subject" (Butler 2). The structures of power and dependency within which the subject becomes signified simultaneously subordinate the subject and provide the very means for the creation of the subject in the first place. It is through the processes of subordination that the subject itselfbecomes created and articulated as a separate entity In Butler's words: ... the subject is produced by a condition from which it is, by definition, separated and differentiated Desire will aim at unraveling the subject, but be thwart e d by precisely the subject in whose name it operates .. A subject turned against itself(its desire) appears, on this model, to be a condition ofthe persist e nce ofthe subject. (9) In other words we come to understand ourselves as subjects through being subordinated. This subordination provides the genesis for the subject itself. Without the process of subordination to power or dependency on another, the formation of a 33

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subject would not be possible Contrary to the idea of a transcendent subject in Butler's conception the subject becomes through this process. There is no subject for power to act upon until power creates the subject through its interaction. This analysis rebuts the central tenet of liberal humanism which assumes the presence of a transcendent subject. Butler states that there is no such thing as a transcendent subject which enters into the process of subordination. Rather, the subject itself is unformed until it becomes through interaction with power. Furthennore, the process of subjection opens the space for agency. The structures that subordinate women are not static As Butler states: "they are subject to renewal, and I perform that renewal in the repeated acts of my person. Even though my agency is conditioned by those limitations, my agency can also thematize and alter those limitations to some degree" (Butler 334). This is the paradox of subjectivation. Subjectivation is both a condition of subordination and the site for a gen e sis of agency : "as the willed effect of the subject, subjection is a subordination that the subject brings on itself; yet if subjection produces a subject and a subject is a precondition for agency, then subjection is the account by which a subject becomes a guarantor of its resistance and opposition" (Butler 14) Is it then paradoxical to challenge the power that is a precondition for agency using that self-same agency? Butler says no. She suggests that power cannot be taken from one place and moved to another that in its movement it necessarily shifts and changes. As Butler states: "as a subject o f power. .. the subject eclipses the conditions of its own emergence; it eclipses power with power The conditions not 34

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only make possible the subject but enter into the subject's formation" (14). At its core, Butler's analysis of agency is useful because it provides a framework to understand the interactions of power with selfhood and agency. Power not only oppresses but also provides the preconditions for agency, an agency that not only opposes power but also recognizes that power as its genesis. In this way Butler dismantles the resistance / subordination dichotomy; subjects cannot use agency to dismantle norms without inhabiting those self-same norms. If subordination is a condition for the constitution of an agentic self, then the self cannot subvert those structures which subordinate without drawing upon those same structures to understand itself and its agentic capacity. Through simultaneously challenging and reinforcing oppressive norms the self reflexively changes the norms resignifying them in a way that renders them unstable. Although inhabiting a norm while challenging it may seem to preclude the dismissal of such an oppressive norm, it is this resignification that opens the possibility of change. It is important to note the way that Butler's analysis privileges subversion and resignification, defining active agency as such resignification. Agency exists in an agonistic framework with norms, as agency seeks to subvert and resignify the very norms which enabled its creation Age ncy and Women in Islam Saba Mahmood, while drawing on many of the concepts outlined by Butler, presents an even more nuanced view of agency, with implications for analysis involving women in Islam. She problemati z es the politicization of agency in most 35

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feminist work. Most feminist work identifies agency as being in pursuit of a universal goal: that of casting off the bonds of oppression. The identification of agency by feminist scholars thus focuses on the ways that women are subverting their own domination. Mahmood argues that in the context of women in Islam, who inhabit cultures that are profoundly non-liberal and do not have the same philosophical roots as does Western culture, such a political proscription of what agency looks like precludes the identification of alternate forms of agency. In her own words: "does the category of resistance impose a teleology of progressive politics on the analytics of power a teleology that makes it hard for us to see and understand forms of being and action that are not necessarily encapsulated by the narrative of subversion and reinscription of norms?" (Mahmood 9). Butler's focus on the manner of subversion and resignification draws the most criticism from Mahmood. The agonistic framework within which agency operates is in many ways, Mahmood claims, dismissive of alternative modes of agency in which women inhabit norms rather than resignifying them While Butler states that any subversion of power is a product of the violence it seeks to oppose, she nonetheless privileges those moments that allow for the resignification of norms through the performance of those very same norms. Mahmood's research focuses on the women's mosque movement in Egypt. She seeks to understand agency in the context of women who seem, on the face to be participating in their own oppression by supporting Islamic religious structures that inhibit the assertion ofwomen's agency. What she finds is a structure of agency that 36

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is fundamentally different from a tradition rooted in Western ideological history. The morals and ethics that underpin the decisions of women studied by Mahmood are better understood using an Aristotelian tradition rather than the Kantian tradition that undergirds liberal humanistic thought. The Kantian tradition often fails to give importance to the precise manner in which moral actions are formed and enacted. Rather, in Mahmood's words, this tradition suggests a moral action can only be moral in so much as it is not a "result of habituated virtue but a product of the critical faculty of reason" (Mahmood 25). In other words, the Kantian tradition identifies the importance of reason and duty in moral action but does not focus on the structure of the action itself. The action stands as a particular manifestation of deeper social ideologies coupled with duty, and it is these ideologies that bear analysis rather than the particularities of the action and what they say about the subject's relation to the body. Placing emphasis on the specifics of the action, however, allows for a new understanding of that action: "the specificity of a bodily practice is also interesting for the kind of relationship it presupposes to the act it constitutes wherein an analysis of the particular form that the body takes might transform our conceptual understanding of the act itself' (Mahmood 27). Mahmood uses a Foucauldian positive conception of ethics to better understand agency as not solely fonned in resistant acts but also located in the capacity to enact certain moral actions in culturally specific contexts. This positive conception of ethics draws on an Aristotelian emphasis on the specific form ethical actions take while examining the location of those actions within their 37

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particular context. Foucault's positive ethics and his paradox of subjectivation previously discussed in the context of Butler are particularly useful when examining ag e ncy within the mosque movement, due to the emphasis placed on the role external structures take in the formation of ethics and agency. This helps us to understand a central question posed by Mahmood: "How do we conceive of individual freedom in a context where the distinction between the subject's own desires and socially prescribed performances cannot be easily presumed, and where submission to certain forms of (external) authority is a condition for achieving the subject's potentiality?" (Mahmood 31 ). Or, in other words, how do we identify forms of individual agency when ethics and morals are shaped by culturally specific norms that seem to dictate submission to such norms to achieve an ethical life? What is at stake in such an explosion of regnant agency is a fundamental redefinition of the role that bodily practices play in subject formation and agency. In keeping with the Aristotelian tradition, the shape bodily practices take is important to analyze because of the impact the performative has on the self. According to Mahmood, within a liberal humanistic model of agency, enacting a virtue that one did not feel within oneself would be hypocritical and be an example of the internalization of oppressive norms. Performing a virtue that one did not internally feel would lack moral weight and would not be a site of agency (Mahmood 157). To perform a virtuous act only because one should, despite internal feelings, would remove the agency from the act denying the agentic capacity of the actor. However, Mahmood 38

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found that the subjects of her study used the actions of the body to reformulate the internal self. Rather than seeing internal resistance to a particular act as problematic her research demonstrated that bodily action could be used to teach the mind. This relocates the agency back into the act and shows that such a bodily performance, enacted in the face of internal dissonance, is a powerful site for women to exercise agency. For example, the virtue of modesty was one that the mind was taught through bodily practices such as veiling rather than veiling being a representation of an internal feeling of modesty (Mahmood 156). The women made the choice to teach their mind the value of modesty by actively donning the veil despite internal resistance. While Mahmood's analysis may seem to parallel Butler's notion of performativity, that is the body enacting and resignifying nmms, she rejects the weight given to the destabili z ation caused by performativity. The duality of subordination and resignification does not map onto Mahmood's subjects; the women that she studied were engaged in a performativity that existed within accepted norms A broadening of the notion of agency in this fashion allows for a recognition of agency in many places in which a liberal humanistic form of agency would not be identified, highlighting the historically and culturally specific manner in which these women were enacting agency This reformulation of agency, while rooted in a specific historical and cultural context, has untold implications for studies of agency in locations when commonly 39

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accepted models of agency do not map. The shift beyond a politically progressive agenda and the subordination / subversion duality allows for an analysis of agency that highlights the manner in which inhabiting norms, not necessarily subverting or resignifying nonns, can be an exercise in agentival capacity Futhermore, Mahmood's analysis takes discussions of agency to a location beyond that of Butler and allows for an identification of the lived realities of women in Egypt. Mahmood demonstrates that as a feminist scholar committed to her work, it is imperative to live within the contradiction of producing research with the aim of reducing the oppression of women while still identifying the ways in which women exert agency in a mann e r that is foreign to many Western feminists. Her reconception of agency demonstrates the need for multiple knowledge frames that often do not fit within the hegemonic knowledge frame within which many scholars are operating. Furthennore, a coupling of Grosz' conceptions of agency with that of Mahmood has the potential to provide unique starting point for an understanding of agency that can be applied to women in the two-thirds world who are discursively constructed as oppressed victims. If agency is present at any moment in the action, whether inhabiting or subverting norms then agency becomes av a ilable to everyone. Structural constraints or seemingly oppressive norms become transformed into sites for the exercise of agency rather than barriers to agency. The overlapping narratives that structure our understanding of women in Afghanistan have direct implications for the way agency is conceptualized Narratives 40

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about women from the two-thirds world and Muslim women in particular explicitly deny the capacity for agency. They centralize Muslim women as victims due to the oppressive structural constraints they are seen to face. Similarly, rescue narratives concerning sex workers also centralize the victim subject, failing to see agency in the midst of overwhelming structural oppression. The victim is the foil for the rational, autonomous subject presented by liberal humanistic thought and helps the rational subject to know itself by identifying what it is not. The rational actor exerts force on the external world, shaping and changing it in ways that the victim subject must then negotiate. Reformulations of agency in ways that locate agency in the act, identify subordination as a site for the genesis of agency or recognize agency exerted through enacting apparently oppressive norms challenge such narratives. Ascribing agency to the central subject removes the abject victim and instead replaces it with an agentic human being actively in relationship with the world. 41

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CHAPTER III AN ANALYSIS OF U.S. POLITICAL DISCOURSE Less than a month after the attacks of 9/11, on October 7, 2001, the United States declared war on Afghanistan. The Taliban were harboring many members of al-Qaeda as well as Osama bin Laden, the architect of 9/11, and refused to cooperate with the demands of the United States to expel those responsible for the attacks and end its support of terrorism. To contextualize the current situation in Afghanistan, it is helpful to have an understanding of the history of Afghanistan, particularly with regard to the situation of women. 2 The Tali ban, adhering to a particularly fundamentalist version of Islam born in the refugee camps on the borders of Pakistan, destroyed historical landmarks throughout their reign and their record on human rights was atrocious (Gul Khattak 19). Central to their fundamentalism was their treatment of women. Women were not 2 Afghanistan won its independence from Britain in 1919. In 1923 Afghan women received equal rights in the constitution. After gaining independence, the King implemented reforms to modernize Afghanistan, including abolishing the veil and establishing co-ed schools. Because of widespread dissatisfaction, he was forced to abdicate in 1929 and was replaced by his cousin Prince Nadir Khan, who was assassinated four years later. Khan's son, King Zahir Shah reigned from 1933 to 1973 and in 1964 introduced a liberal constitution that outlined a two chamber legislature and provided equal rights for women. However in 1973, Shah was deposed in a coup staged by his prime minister, Sardar Mohanm1ad Daoud, who abrogated the constitution and declared Afghanistan a republic Daoud reigned until a coup in 1978 staged by the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). The PDP A faced challenges almost immediately and was increasingly unstable in the face of a growing insurgency. Despite signing a treaty of friendship relations between Afghanistan and the USSR became increasingly tense until the USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979. While their troops occupied Afghanistan until 1989 the USSR was largely unable to control areas of Afghanistan outside of Kabul and faced a strong insurgency from various factions of mujahedeen supported by the United States. In 1989, the mujahedeen took power but Afghanistan remained unstable in the face of warring factions ("U.S. Department of State: Afghanistan") The mujahedeen struggled against the largely Pashtun Tali ban for a number of years, until the mid 1990s when the Tali ban triumphed and rose to power. 42

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allowed to attend school and were excluded from public life in many ways. Women were also forced to wear the burqa a head to toe covering through which only the eyes could be seen. To more fully understand how women in Afghanistan were positioned within the U.S Congression a l records were examined between September 12, 2001 and December 31, 20023 Congressional records were chosen because they enable an examination of the attitudes of a variety of individuals demonstrating the depth and breadth of the conversations concerning women in Afghanistan. These conversations were engaged in by Republicans, Democrats, members of the Bush Administration, individuals from the State Department, regional experts, feminist organi z ations and women a nd men from Afghanistan Analy z ing the Congressional record allows for an examination of the discourse from a number of angles and perspectives given the wide range of active participants. It helps to paint a more comprehensive picture of the discourse occurring at this time. Furthermore, this discourse had direct political implications, as those engaging in discussion were responsible in part for creating U.S policy toward Afghanistan During this time period, there were numerous committee hearings held that touched on women in Afghanistan. Many of these hearings focused e xplicitly on the 3 To obtain relevant Congr e ssional records, I use d Lexis Nexis Co ngressional Sear c h to pull any hearin gs that mentioned Afg han women in th e context of oppre ss ion liberation or the Tali ban. I th e n read through all findings keepin g for anal ys is an y document that discussed wom e n in Afghanistan in more than a s ingular mention 43

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humanitarian crisis faced in Afghanistan, whether due to famine or due to the violence inflicted by the Taliban. These hearings focused on the human rights violations that had occurred and would occur without external aid, particularly in the case of the looming famine. Within these hearings, the status of women was raised repeatedly. Afghan women were also mentioned in hearings that were focused on other issues concerning Afghanistan, such as ending terrorism. Afghan women were mentioned in one hearing that focused on the military aspects of the ongoing war and were also mentioned in periodic regional geographic updates to Congressional committees. In all Afghan women were mentioned in fifteen hearings in this time period. In analyzing the discourse, several major themes emerged, which will be discussed below These include the positioning of women in Afghanistan as the "victim subject," the role ofthe burqa in the oppression ofwomen, women's position in the past and the future of Afghanistan, and the gratitude and joy present upon liberation. The discourse also mentioned some of the ways in which the women of Afghanistan have resisted their oppression, which are important to note. Afghan Women as the "Victim Subject" Of all of the discursive frames used to position the discourse surrounding women in Afghanistan none was more pervasive than the idea of women in Afghanistan as the victim subject. Similar to the discussion above concerning women who have been trafficked, the victim subject is a useful political tool to mobilize 44

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public opinion and support In the hearings Afghan women were described as the weakest and most vulnerable members of Afghan society, living lives that were desperate and hopeless. They were described as having no choice and no alternatives to life under the Taliban, no ability to exert their rights, condemned to suffer extraordinary atrocities at the hands of brutal men. The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, including the drought and subsequent famine as well as the treatment of women was constructed in a way that "did not just evoke sympathy ... but enormous anguish" (H. Com. Intemational Relations, America's Assistance to the Afghan People 19). To understand this narrative it is helpful to break it down into several discrete parts. First and foremost, much of the discourse focuses on the burqa as the overarching symbol of oppression The veil comes to stand in for all of the oppression faced by women in Afghanistan, even being used metaphorically: Bearing the scars ofthe Taliban's crimes against its own people, Afghanistan's women have been buried beneath a veil. The burqa, the forcible cover of women is an attempt by the Taliban to hide from the world the violence and pain that that regime has imposed on Afghanistan under the pretext of religion." (H. Com. International Relations, Afghan People vs. The Taliban 2) Senator Barbara Boxer refers to the burqa in her introductory words in a hearing on the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, stating "in my office, I have a burqa that was given to me by my friends in California. I have it hanging there as a reminder of what women go through .... That burqa says it all. If you put that on you can barely 45

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breathe" (S. Subcom. Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, Afghanistan's Humanitarian Crisis 4). Furthermore, liberation is associated with women's removal of the burqa. As Senator Biden observed: But what I observed on the international broadcasts where when the Taliban was driven out of Kabul men flocking to the barber shops in resistance to shave off their beards, but none of that happening in mral areas; women still wearing burqas in rural areas, whereas in Kabul women defiantly demonstrating that it is like there is a mantra in a child's fable, Ding-dong the witch is dead.' Everybody can come out now. Well ding-dong, the Taliban has gone, I can take off my burqa. (S. Com. Foreign Relations, The Political Future of Afghanistan 55) Often, historical instances in which women did not wear the veil were pointed to by legislators and panelists as signs of modernity. It seems difficult for many individuals to understand why, upon liberation, women did not immediately forgo the burqa, the symbol of their oppression under the Taliban. There are various explanations for this phenomena; one, offered by Representative Frank Wolf, suggested that the burqa remained because the threat of the Taliban still lurked: All the women that we saw in Afghanistan are still wearing the burqa. They're not wearing the burqa because they like the burqa they're wearing the burqa because they're afraid the Taliban is coming, coming back ... And we would say, 'Why don't you take the burqa off?' And they'd say, 'Well, don't you understand? Here and over here.' (H. SubCom. Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary Fiscal Year 2003 1) In this example, the failure of women to remove the burqa is a result of fear. If they were truly liberated and free of fear, they would remove the burqa; as he states, there is no way they wear the burqa because they "like" the burqa. Lome Craner, Assistant Secretary in the Bureau ofDemocracy, Human Rights and Labor at the Department of 46

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State, points out that "while many Afghan women wore the burqa before the Taliban took control, it is now part of a legally enforced dress code by the Taliban" (H. Com. International Relations, Afghan People vs The Tali ban 24 ). Another discursive theme that posits Afghan women as victims is language that suggests under the rule of the Taliban, women were dehumanized. As Senator Boxer stated as part of her comments on the burqa quoted above: "They are made invisible. They are not human, and in many ways really don't exist." (S. Subcom. Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, Afghanistan's Humanitarian Crisis 4). Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority compared the situation ofwomen in Afghanistan to that of canaries in a mine. Their oppression, their deaths, were the first sign that something was wrong in Afghanistan (S. Subcom Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Afghanistan's Humanitarian Crisis 48). Fatima Gailani, advisor for the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan, states: "They became corpses all of a sudden, slowly but all of a sudden during the Taliban." (S. Com. Foreign Relations, The Political Future of Afghanistan 49). Lome Craner decried the non-existence of women in Afghan society (H. Subcom. International Operations and Human Rights, A R e view of the State Department 17). In all of these examples, we can see that Afghan women under the Taliban were discursively stripped of their humanity While it is indisputable that women were dehumanized under the Taliban, such framing of women as sub-human or as non-existent serves to further bolster the victim 47

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framework within which many legislators operated when discussing the situation of women in Afghanistan. Perhaps the clearest example of the pervasive victim framework of women in Afghanistan can be seen in a statement by Senator Joe Biden, chairing the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. He stated: People here have one vision of Afghanistan The idea that women held office, that women had responsible positions, that women were totally integrated, that women were educated and went to the university is something that is sort of counterintuitive to Americans now because of all that they have been exposed to. So when we say we want to reconstruct and we want women in society I have Delawareans say to me: Well, wait a minute; let us not go overboard here They should be, but look, I am not sending my son over there for you to reconstruct and modernize a country. (S. Com. Foreign Relations, The Political Future of Afghanistan 47) This statement provides an example of how women in Afghanistan are portrayed to the American public, implicitly acknowledging that the images and discussion of women in Afghanistan have largely been conducted through this victim framework. This statement also provides an example of just how widespread and accepted such a victim framework is, owing to its reliance on other memes about Muslim women that remain pervasive in Western culture. The Afghan victim subject is easily recognizable because of the narratives mentioned above. Afghan women are exoticized and Orientalized, seen as victims to an incomprehensible religious and cultural force This Orientalism takes the form of an oppositional positioning between "us" and "them." While the American self is never explicitly mentioned in the discourse about the victim subject, the victim 48

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subject is clearly positioned in an oppositional relationship. Americans know they are free because Afghan women are not. Afghan women are not free because they are unlike Americans. This victim subject also falls into a recognizable pattern concerning Muslim women as a whole. Veiling is focused on as a marker for all oppression. Afghan women are positioned as the foil for the violent and cruel Taliban male. Afghan women as the victim subject are portrayed as passive to the situations around them. Notions of agency emerge in peculiar ways within the victim subject discourse. Clearly, the speakers across the board are reaffirming a liberal notion of agency that suggests structural oppression inhibits the expression of agency Focusing on the burqa as a marker of dress that precludes women from being active patticipants in their lives reinforces the idea that agency is only possible in an autonomous individual subject. Women whose autonomy is removed from them by cultural or religious dictates like the burqa have thus also lost their capability for agency whether they wear the burqa by choice or by necessity. Women in Afghanistan can only exercise agency after they are liberated by the U.S and are able to remove the burqa; the act of removing the burqa is one of few recognized expressions of agency. Women's choice to remain covered, whether because of fear as suggested by Rep. Wolf or because of religious or cultural reasons is not seen as a legitimate manifestation of agency To recognize this as a form of agency, Mahmood's analysis about the inhabiting of cultural norms rather than challenging them is helpful, 49

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broadening agency beyond an oppressive / subversive dichotomy. However, Sen. Eiden's quote discussing the ways in which Americans see the women of Afghanistan solely as oppressed victims demonstrates a tension in applying the liberal model of agency to the women of Afghanistan. On one hand, he ascribes agency to the women in the past. He posits women in the past as autonomous individuals capable of pursuing an education or holding a professional career. This agentic capacity is at direct odds with the overlapping narratives referenced by Biden. When Afghan women are constructed as victims, the external constraints they face excludes them from agentic status within a liberal humanistic model of agency. Furthermore, the dehumanization of women in Afghanistan within the discourse indirectly demonstrates the importance of agency Politicians and panelists decry the dehumanization of women under the Taliban, yet utilize language that further dehumanizes women. Such discursive dehumanization stems from the victim status of the women that in many ways draws upon a liberal humanistic model and is linked with an inability to exert agency in life. Or, in other words, the dehumanization of women in Afghanistan within the discourse d e monstrates that without a certain form of agency women are not seen as human. The words of Sen. Boxer stating that ... women are not human and in many ways don't exist" demonstrates that without agency one is seen as solely a victim (S. Subcom. Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, Afghanistan s Humanitarian Crisis).Without agency one is not seen as human. 50

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The Role of Afghan Women in Society Another pervasive frame that was drawn upon in Congressional records can be broken into two parts: the historical role of women in Afghan society and the role they must play in a postTali ban society The past was pointed at quite often in discussion, either referencing the "modem" manner in which women behaved in the 1960s and 70s or the supposedly primitive history of Afghanistan without the barest history of human rights, two framings that seem to be at odds with one another. Many of the Congressional legislators and witnesses before their committees discussed the participation of women in society prior to the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1979. Eleanor Smeal, the president of the Feminist Majority, while testifying in support of the women in Afghanistan pointed to the fact that the constitution contained an equal rights amendment. She referenced the way in which women were judges, lawyers and doctors (H, Subcom International Operations and Human Rights, Afghan People vs. The Taliban 13). Others, such as Assistant Secretary for South Asian Affairs Christina Rocca were slightly more reserved, but nonetheless pointed to the way in which prior to the Taliban, women in limited numbers were involved in public life. In the words of Representative Grace Napolitano: "they had universities with women in them who would wear high heels and dresses ... women were-and I don't want to use the word liberated to describe something-but it is a much more moderate and modem view of women's role in society in th a t context" (H Com. International Relations, America s Assistance to the 51

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Afghan People 40). Thomas Gouttierre, the Dean of International Studies and Director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University ofNebraska reiterates these sentiments: "It was still a poor country, but women were essentially not wearing veils, girls were going to school like boys, there were women who were ministers of cabinet and members of parliament, and Afghanistan essentially was trying to move itself from being an absolute monarchy to a constitutional parliamentary monarchy" (S. Com. Foreign Relations, The Political Future of Afghanistan 38). These individuals were drawing on the idea that in the past women were a part of a more modem society, pointing to their ability to go to school and work. Also, the idea that women were liberated is supported by the repeated references to women not wearing the veil or wearing Western style dress. These individuals, when discussing women in a postTaliban society, suggested a need to revert back to the way things were to reintegrate women in to the fabric of Afghan society. On the other hand, some individuals refer to the history of Afghanistan in the opposite manner, particularly when it comes to the rights of women. For example, Senator George Allen, when discussing attempts to foster democracy in Afghanistan said, "but Jet's recognize the history of the instability and violence and Jack of democracy in this country just in the last 100 years of the so-called country of Afghanistan ... This is what you are all facing as we're trying to bring some stability and concepts ofuniversal freedoms and human rights to this country, which has a history no history really much of it" (S. Com. Foreign Relations, Afghanistan: 52

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Building Stability 23). Senator Allen in this statement suggests that Afghanistan has no history of freedom and human rights. If Afghanistan has no history of these ideals then creating a system that supports freedom and human rights would be an imposition of American ideals into foreign soil. Lome Craner, the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State, also suggests something along the same lines when he states that women in Afghanistan have "traditionally suffered disadvantages .. prior to the civil war" (S. Subcom. International Operations and Human Rights, Afghan People vs. The Taliban 26). While he does not go as far as to state that Afghanistan has no history ofhuman rights, he does suggest that women in Afghanistan have never had an equal footing, regardless of constitutional provisions and integration into the work force. And, as Tahmeena Faryal, member of the Revolutionary Afghan Women's Association (RAW A) cautions, "Just by saying that women were they are in some positions in Afghanistan, they were-most of the university students were women or 60 percent of the teachers were women, or there were female doctors does not mean that there were not human rights or women's rights violations" (H. Subcom. International Operations and Human Rights, Afghan People vs. The Taliban 66). Although women in Afghanistan may have been more involved in public life, it does not necessarily mean they had equal footing. The next component ofthis discursive frame concerning the role ofwomen in Afghanistan's future is closely related to both of these views of Afghanistan's past. 53

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This frame deals with the absolute importance of including women in the reconstruction of the nation. Multiple legislators and panel participants refer to the women of Afghanistan as "the key" to a successful future. Christina Rocca, in the same testimony cited above, made the connection between the past and the success of the future explicit: "In the past, women were a vital part of Afghan society. Having them back playing important roles in Afghanistan's public life, in government, schools and hospitals will help to rebuild Afghan society" (S. Com Foreign Relations, The Political Future of Afghanistan 9). Even Paul Wolfowitz acknowledged the importance ofwomen in Afghanistan (S. Com. Foreign Relations, Afghanistan: Building Stability 18). In testimony concerning terrorism and how to stop it, Senator Pat Roberts identifies women as the secret key (S Subcom Emerging Threats and Capabilities, Terrorist Organizations 3 7). Over and over again, legislators and panelists identify women as a central component to the future of Afghanistan, due to not only the percentage they make up of the population but also to their history as substantial contributors to society However, while many individuals believe in the importance of women in the future of Afghanistan, many others doubt the ability of women to step into leadership roles. Often these individuals suggest that Afghanistan's historical, cultural or religious past will inhibit the participation of women. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson expresses these doubts: .. .I mean, we talk about the power of women, but we are talking about religious devotion and religious ideology, and it seems to me that even a 54

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repressive religion, if they are taught from childhood, that they have accepted the submissive, repressed role, and that may inhibit some of the potential for them to liberate themselves" (S. Subcom. Emerging Threats and Capabilities, Terrorist Organizations 39). Senator Henry Hyde echoes these sentiments by suggesting that the Afghan people cannot be called upon to liberate themselves due to how "destitute and divided they have become after decades of war and deprivation" (H. Com. International Relations, The Future of Afghanistan 3). In another hearing, Dick Armitage suggests that empowering women in Afghanistan is not so simple because many women lack even rudimentary education, suggesting that women are not prepared to be empowered and full participants in society (S. Com. Foreign Relations, Afghanistan: Building Stabilit y 18). While many of the same individuals acknowledged the importance of women in rebuilding a successful Afghanistan, they also draw upon a discursive frame that positions women in Afghanistan as victims. As such, many of them doubt the ability of Afghan women to step up to the challenge of participating in political and social life. An exchange between Senator Joe Biden, acting as Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations and Fatima Gailani, an Advisor to the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan is particularly telling: Biden: In a democratic Afghanistan do you believe women will be represented? ... Do you think that the participation of women who I would think after 20-something years might be understandably less courageous than you and understandably more reluctant to engage in what we saw on the television [the conference in Bonn] ... So I guess what I am asking you is ... how long do you think it will take and what circumstances have to exist to 55

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provide an environment, even if there is a democracy, where women will feel the confidence to come forward? Gailani: Now, Senator, I challenge you that in a democratic Afghanistan, you choose the area, I will go and compete in an election with any man, against any man you choose .. .In the past in Afghanistan we had four women in the first parliament. Only one was from Kabul. The three others, they were nominated from their own villages, from provinces, and they won. Biden : I do not doubt that. All I am saying is that you have had more than two decades of misery and subjugation and brutality that women have been the victims of. Gailani: We had brutality not only upon women. We had brutality, period. (S. Com. Foreign Relations, The Political Future of Afghanistan 54-55) While Biden keeps returning to the question of how to involve women, particularly from outside of Kabul Gailani continually reasserts that a geographically diverse set of women have historically been involved in politics. When Biden attempts to clarify his position about the oppression that he sees as an obstacle to women's participation, Gailani removes the gendered component, making it clear that Afghans as a whole were repressed, not only women. By removing the focus from women, she is suggesting it is absurd to assume such repression would affect women and not men in political participation, directly pointing to the victim narrative that underpins the discussions of Afghan women. Biden continuously returns to the difficulty of engaging Afghan women in politics due to their subjugation, and Gailani rebuts his assumptions about the women of Afghanistan and their ability to reintegrate into Afghan society Within this discursive frame, women in Afghanistan are again caught in the narratives that pervade the relationship between the U.S. and the Middle East. The 56

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legacy of Oriental ism plays a significant role in the conceptions of Afghanistan's past and the implications for its future The idea that Afghanistan's past lacked the concept of universal freedom or democracy paints Afghanistan as a static backwards state, removed from time and the march of progress and modernity of the states in the West. This not only positions Afghanistan and the U.S. in opposition to one another but places the U.S. in a far superior position The difficulty of shaping Afghanistan to look like the U. S demonstrates that Afghanistan is seen as a place mired in tradition, a place in which many have difficulty locating the rational autonomy of the U S and a commitment to Western values of freedom and democracy. Conversely, some legislators and panelists pointed to the modern past of Afghanistan, in which women were able to participate in all facets of life. Modernity is linked with wearing high heels and dresses, as suggested by Rep. Napolitano, or by simply not wearing the veil. Not only is this a suspect criteria for modernity such a criteria explicitly positions Afghan women in opposition to American women who are free to wear high heels and dresses every day should they so wish. Pointing to these as markers of modernity affirms the position of the U.S as superior. Such an Orientalist narrative positions the U.S. as the normative center. Afghanistan, in its modern past was becoming more like the U.S. and must again seek to be like the U .S. in the future to achieve modernity. 57

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The questions of agency concerning women's role in Afghanistan's past and future demonstrate the tensions created by utilizing only a liberal humanistic model of agency. Such a model locates agentic capacity in the ability to freely choose what to wear, or freely participate in public life with no structural obstacles. In the situation of Afghanistan as the legislators and panelists are describing it, women lack such choice and as such, lack agency. But there is a tension in utilizing this model that becomes particularly clear when discussing women's role in the future. In these hearings, many articulate their vision that women will become an integral part of society in the future. But conceptualizing this within a liberal model proves to be difficult. When possession of agency is tied to one's position and relationship to external structures, it is something that you either have the capacity for or do not. The transition from not having the capacity for agency to exercising agency proves to be difficult to conceptualize for legislators, which can be seen clearly in Sen. Hutchinson's quote previously cited:" .. .I mean, we talk about the power of women, but we are talking about religious devotion and religious ideology, and it seems to me that even a repressive religion, if they are taught from childhood, that they have accepted the submissive, repressed role, and that may inhibit some of the potential for them to liberate themselves" (S. Subcom. Emerging Threats and Capabilities, Terrorist Organizations 39). In this quote, Sen. Hutchinson doubts whether the transition can be made at all. Furthermore, this quote directly repudiates the conception of agency set forward by Mahmood in which she identifies the ways agency is exerted through 58

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actively enacting norms. While many legislators and panelists identify these norms as repressive, they can be locations to exert agency In the idea that women in Afghanistan can claim (or reclaim) their agency through their actions, the legislators and panelists seem to be reaching for a conception of agency that is more closely related to Grosz' conception of a freedom to, in which agency is located in the action and not a static attribute of the actor. If this notion of agency were to be understood, then the tension of moving from a victim to an active agent would be less salient. Furthermore, the exchange between Sen. Biden and Fatima Gailani demonstrates Biden actively grappling with the tensions inherent in utilizing a liberal humanistic model of agency. On one hand, he recognizes the role that women need to play in the reconstruction of Afghanistan On the other, he does not see how women in Afghanistan fit into th e liberal model of agency t h a t underpins the victim narrative that has been set forward Afghan women are not seen as the rational actor central to a liberal humanistic understanding of agency. Although Biden implies the y may have had autonomy and rationality in the past, the present situation is different. The U.S. as "Savior" Another discursive theme can be seen in the idea of the U.S as the s a vior. Not only is th e U.S. the savior but the American people had a moral obligation to save the people of Afghanistan who were extraordinarily grateful to be liberat ed. This theme was repeated by many different legislators in conjunction with the victim framework mentioned above 59

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The first component of this frame lies in the moral obligation that many legislators and panelists referred to in the context of liberating Afghanistan. As Eleanor Smeal President of the Feminist Majority states: "we as Americans do feel a moral obligation to Afghanistan because it was the last stop in the Cold War" (H. Subcom. International Operations and Human Rights, Afghan P e ople vs. the Taliban 14). Representative Dana Rohrbacher also refers to this moral obligation: "Our policy is the rebuilding of Afghanistan and the paying of a moral debt to the people of Afghanistan that is long overdue" (H. Com. International Relations Afghan Freedom and Support Act of 2002 46). This moral debt stems from the history of the Cold War and the perceived abandonment of Afghanistan after it had served its purpose against the USSR. Furthermore, the U.S. did not only have a moral obligation to Afghanistan based on the Cold War, but also because the United States is a world leader. In the words of Representative William Delahunt, the U.S. is a superpower "not just militarily, but morally, spiritually and in terms of a voice for democratic values and ideals and respect for different cultures, and respect for the dignity of sovereign nations elsewhere" (H. Subcom. International Operations and Human Rights, Afghan People vs The Taliban 21). In this framework, the United States is the leader of the free world, serving as a beacon for hope, democracy and human rights. As such not only does the U.S have a moral obligation but also the right to save people. Representative Doug Bereuter frames his argument about intervention in Afghanistan in terms of the right to save, referencing how the American public in particular has 60

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not seemed to understand the degree of assistance we have been providing to Afghanistan for some period of time, does not understand that we have intervened to save and assist Muslim populations against aggression in various parts of the world" (H. Com. International Relations, America's A s sistance to the Afghan Peopl e 54). Senator Richard Lugar echoes this suggestion of right and responsibility when he suggests that "only then can we replace Afghanistan's despair with a genuine future of hope" (S. Com Foreign Relations, Afghanistan: Building Stability 3). The moral obligation frame is also explicitly gendered, combining a sense of moral obligation with a female victim subject. Senator Barbara Boxer spells this out when she appeals for help for the women of Afghanistan. She asks : "So whatever happened to the gallant side of our spirits? Women and children, help them" (S Com. International Relations, Afghanistan's Humanitarian Crisis 57). She is deliberately invoking the idea of a female victim subject to suggest a sense of masculine chivalry is related to the responsibility to help the people of Afghanistan. Tying into the idea of the United States as savior, many legislators and panelists referred to instances in which the people of Afghanistan responded with gratitude to their liberation. Representative Edward Royce, having just returned from a trip to Afghanistan, describes one such instance: "Our delegation visited a hospital a hospital where the Taliban had taken the incubators and had forbid the treatment of women and outside the hospital little children would put their hands over their hearts-kids on the street, and say thank you" (H Com. International Relations 61

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Afghanistan Freedom and Support Act of 2002 5). Paul Wolfowitz describes a similar scene after U.S. invasion, when he describes a scene of"much waving, cheering and clapping, including from the women" (S. Com. Foreign Relations, Afghanistan: Building Stability 6). This meme suggests that all Afghans greeted the Americans as liberators, a notion that was challenged by an exchange between Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Tahmeena Faryal, a representative of the Revolutionary Afghan Women's Association (RA WA): Ros-Lehtinen: Ms. Faryal, if I could ask you this. Representatives ofRA WA have classified U.S. military strikes on Afghanistan as "unbearable for any Afghan," and perceived by many Afghans as U.S. aggression against your country. Yet in an article ... the headline read "Afghans cheer as U.S. jets hit Taliban." And it goes on to quote, "Afghans yelling 'it hit, it hit. Thank you America." And if you could explain this contradiction .. Are you suggesting that the Afghan people would prefer a continuation of the suffering under the Taliban over U.S. military strikes to precipitate the fall of the Taliban? Farayal: Well, we believe that the bombing in Afghanistan would really not do the job to eradicate terrorism and fundamentalism in our country or elsewhere in the world. (H. Subcom. International Operations and Human Rights, Afghan People vs. The Taliban 70) Farayal challenges the notion that bombing Afghanistan is good for the Afghan people, regardless of the intentions of that bombing She also challenges the theme of gratitude at liberation. While many Afghans were undoubtedly grateful, it is important to note that U.S. invasion did bring a continuation of the warfare under which the people of Afghanistan have been living for decades. This framework demonstrates the interplay of Oriental ism and power within rescue narratives. The power relationship in the rescue narratives is one that is 62

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skewed towards the U.S. The moral obligation that is invoked by legislators is laced with power and an assumption of the inability of some to save themselves. In many ways, power is tacitly assumed to be the reason for this moral obligation For example, Eleanor Smeal ties the moral debt to the Cold War. The U.S. wielded power during the Cold War through geopolitical machinations in a way that shaped the future of many states. This power to shape states implicates a moral obligation when the decisions of the U.S. are indicated to be the reason why a particular state experienced the conditions it did. Furthermore, by suggesting there is a moral obligation to save the people of Afghanistan, particularly the women, a dichotomy is created between the "rescuer" and the "saved." The "saved" become entirely dependent upon the good will of the "rescuer." By gendering the saved" as female, as is done by Sen. Boxer, the "rescuer" is implicitly gendered as male, invoking the need for a masculinist state protection model in a way that mimics rescue narratives within anti sex trafficking work. Suggesting a moral debt based on an assumption of moral superiority, a debt incurred by the exercise of power and a chivalrous duty erases the myriad reasons why the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, suggesting the war was necessary to reassert the humanity of Afghans, particularly women. Furthermore, deconstructing the statement by Sen. Lugar stating that "only then can we replace Afghanistan's despair with a genuine future of hope" demonstrates that "we," the U.S., are the active agents within this scenario (S. Com. Foreign Relations, Afghanistan: Building Stability 3). "We" have the right and the responsibility because 63

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"we" are the only ones who can replace despair with hope. If not for our intervention, Afghanistan would remain in despair forever. As can be seen from Sen. Lugar's quote, only we" are ascribed agency in this scenario Again utilizing a liberal humanistic model, this framework assumes that structural constraints inhibit the agency of the actor. The idea that the U.S. is the savior of the people of Afghanistan places the American subject at the center of action, with the people of Afghanistan nothing more than peripheral pieces to be moved around by the decisions of the American self. By suggesting that the U.S. had a moral debt and was received by the Afghans as the savior reduces the complexity of feeling the Afghans undoubtedly felt upon U.S. invasion. This is indicated by the exchange between Rep. Ros-Lehtinen and Tahmeena Faryal. Ros-Lehtinen asks of Faryal: "Are you suggesting that the Afghan people would prefer a continuation of the suffering under the Tali ban over U.S. military strikes to precipitate the fall of the Taliban?" (H. Subcom. International Operations and Human Rights, Afghan People vs. The Taliban 70) Faryal responds that she believes that bombing will not eradicate terrorism or fundamentalism. In this exchange, Ros-Lehtinen affirms that the ends justify the means when she blankets all U.S. military strikes under the goal of ending the suffering of the Afghan people under the Taliban. Utilizing the U.S. as savior framework allows for the dismissal of any collateral damage or suffering inflicted by the U .S. in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan Faryal rebuts this point when she states that bombing itself cannot solely be termed as "liberation," particularly if, 64

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as she sees it, the bombing will not accomplish the stated goal of eradicating terrorism and fundamentalism. The U.S as savior framework can thus prove to be dangerous on many fronts, as it utili z es a model of agency that affirms the American actor while denying the agency of the structurally constrained Afghans as well as allows for a dismissal of the suffering inflicted by U.S. invasion by simply stating it was in the aim of liberation Resistance and Challenges to the Taliban While most of the discursive frames drawn upon point to the subjection of women in Afghanistan there are instances in which the resistance and perseverance of women is referenced. Representative Joseph Pitts discusses his visit to Afghanistan and the overwhelming desire of the girls he met to resume their education: We visited a girls high school that had just reopened one week earlier after being shut down for five years .. The girls sat on blankets on the concrete or dirt floor because there were no desks, no chairs, and no text books. Yet the students were so motivated to learn that they had raised money from their meager earnings to buy plastic to cover the window holes, to pay daily for the kerosene to keep-to have some heat to keep out the biting cold. (H. Com. International Relations, Afghanistan Freedom Support Act of 2002 8) Furthermore, the work of organizations such as RAW A as they fought to provide health care and education to women during the Taliban was often referenced Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority points to the work that RA WA engaged in, pointing to the ways in which "Afghan women even in these most difficult times have been running clandestine schools health clinics in both Afghanistan and refugee areas" (S. Com. Foreign Relations, Afghanistan's Humanitarian Crisis 51). In other 65

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instances, the resistance of the people of Afghanistan is pointed to, and Afghans are referred to as "tough," able to recover from the experiences they have faced. Furthermore women in Afghanistan are fully capable of speaking for themselves, as can be seen in the testimony of the two Afghan women, Tahmeena Farayal with RA WA and Fatima Gailani with the Islamic Front of Afghanistan. Fatima Gailani specifically addresses some of the concerns that she has with Western feminists' concern with the situation of women in Afghanistan: Now, what provisions should we have for women in the future? As much as I am grateful for lots of women activists in the West to support us, they were the only ones who raised their voices when the governments had forgotten us or they did not have time for us, but I am also cautious that the Western feminism cannot work in Afghanistan ... But during the democracy of Afghanistan from 1963-1973 we proved that an Islamic constitution can give these opportunities for women . I believe we have enough evidence in Islam that we could support all these rights for women from the Islamic way. (S. Com. Foreign Relations, The Political Future of Afghanistan 51) Gailani makes it clear that the women of Afghanistan are able to exercise their rights but that a Western model of feminism will not work. Instead, she calls for an Islamic way address the rights of women, suggesting to the legislators present that she and other Afghan men and women are able to create democracy and human rights in their own fashion, not in the manner of the United States. She reclaims the right to determine what the future of Afghanistan will look like, challenging the superiority asserted in the Orientalist narratives that underpin much of the frames previously outlined. 66

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The resistance of women in Afghanistan demonstrates the assertion of agency on behalf of and by women in Afghanistan. The utilization of this frame highlights the dissonance found within a liberal humanistic model of agency when conceptualizing Afghan women. Liberal agency rests on the assumption of a rational, autonomous agent, a conception legislators struggle to reconcile with their view of Afghan women and the material, physical, cultural and religious structural constraints they face. However, despite the victim positioning of Afghan women, legislators and panelists still point to locations of action. A liberal model of agency is hard pressed to entertain both views of women in Afghanistan simultaneously. Either they are rational actors or they are not. Either they are oppressed victims or they are not. A liberal model would see the resistance ofwomen in Afghanistan as an anomaly at best and not as the norm. To better reconcile these opposite conceptions, legislators and panelists seem to be reaching for a "freedom to" model of agency in which agency is located in the act. This allows for an identification ofthe resistance of women in Afghanistan while recognizing their structural constraints. This also suggests that women's agency is forged in their relationship with structural constraints, invoking Butler's Foucauldian notion ofsubjectivation. Resistance is possible because ofthe oppression rather than in spite of it. However, within this frame, the agency identified is still tied to a subversive model. The only actions that are recognized as agentic are those that subvert dominant norms. Agency is identified in covert operation of schools or provision of health care. It is identified in the desire to learn, which is 67

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positioned as contrary to dominant norms. The agency found in inhabiting norms, as identified by Mahmood, falls outside of this frame. All of these discursive frames demonstrate the ways in which the overlapping narratives and their conceptions of agency structure the discourse on women in Afghanistan. The repeated return to a framework that posits Afghan women as victims is undergirded by a liberal humanistic form of agency that fails to ascribe agency to those who are structurally constrained. Furthermore, the active grappling of the legislators and the panelists with the difficulty of mapping a liberal humanistic form of agency onto the entirety of the discourse demonstrates the limitations of utilizing such a model alone. The discourse analyzed exhibits reliance on rescue narratives, Orientalist memes about the superiority of U.S. motives and gendered and racialized assumptions about women's capacity for action coupled with an understanding of the importance of not only ending the oppression of women but also supporting their participation in the future of Afghanistan. A reliance on a liberal humanistic model of agency alone struggles to conceptualize the entirety of these discourses, failing to provide an adequate path forward. 68

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CHAPTER IV AFGHAN WOMEN Women for Afghan Women (W A W) is an organization that is based in Queens, NY and Kabul, Afghanistan. Originally founded in 2001, the organization advocates for the human rights of Afghan women, including Afghan women living in the U.S. The first programs of W A W revolved around community outreach in Queens and a conference on Afghan Women's Rights. In 2007, WAW opened its first center in Afghanistan aimed at providing a location for men and women to go when their human rights have been violated. W A W provides counseling and also runs a shelter for women who need a safe haven. Currently W A W operates Family Guidance Centers in Kabul, Mazar-E-Sharif, Kapsia, Kunduz and Jalalabad (Women for Afghan Wome n). In the fall of 2003 W A W, in collaboration with Afghans for Civil Society and the Afghan Women's Network, held their third annual conference entitled "Women and the Constitution: Kandahar 2003." At this conference 45 women from Afghanistan created the Afghan Women's Bill of Rights, in which they outlined their demands for the rights of women and then presented them to the Constitutional Commission, a body of 35 individuals responsible for drafting the new constitution of Afghanistan. This conference brought together a group of women diverse across ages education levels class backgrounds, geographic locations and ethnic identities To demonstrate their commitment to representing the voices of all Afghan women, 69

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W A W deliberately chose to hold the conference in Kandahar, once a stronghold of the Taliban and still a bastion of conservative war lords rather than Kabul. This conference brought together elites as well as less privileged women from Afghanistan who were known to various activist and advocacy organizations to debate what exactly the demands of the women of Afghanistan were with regards to their own human rights. The conference itself consisted of education as to how the constitutional process worked as well as many open debates and discussions among the participants concerning what they wanted to see the new constitution look like. At the end of the conference, the women had drafted the Afghan Women's Bill of Rights, a document that they disseminated to a broad base of women's and advocacy groups to use in organizing. The Afghan Women's Bill of Rights was presented to the Constitutional Commission as well as to President Hamid Karzai, both of whom assured the women that their voices would be heard. The Afghan Women's Bill of Rights outlines sixteen primary demands and five additional demands for the constitution of Afghanistan, ranging from the provision of mandatory education for women to freedom of speech to equal pay for equal work to the guarantee of all constitutional rights to widows, disabled women and orphans. The additional demands cover areas that are not specific to women but are nonetheless vital to ensuring the success of women in Afghanistan These include concerns about disarmament and national security, the need for a strong central government and a 70

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protection of the sovereignty of Afghanistan. To read the entire Afghan Women s Bill of Rights, refer to Appendix A. The Afghan Women's Bill of Rights provides an opportunity to look at another discourse surrounding women in Afghanistan and their needs. While the demands made in the Bill of Rights may not represent the wishes and desires of all of the women in Afghanistan, they represent a section of the society active in agitating for change. As such, while the demands cannot be claimed to be all encompassing of a monolithic "Afghan woman," they still hold weight and present an example of the voices of women in Afghanistan. While the conference was organized by Women for Afghan Women, W A W members did not participate in any of the sessions, with the exception of serving as the occasional interpreter for journalists. The conference participants, as mentioned above, came from a wide spectrum of backgrounds While W A W attempted to recruit women from all walks of life, it can be assumed that many of the women who participated were relatively elite. The conference workshops were conducted in both Dari and Pashto. All demands and the exact wording found in the Bill of Rights were agreed upon unanimously by all of the participants before being made public. The paper will now move into an analysis ofthe conceptions of agency that underpin the demands made by the Bill of Rights by looking at the specific language of the Bill as well as by examining the conference notes that Women for Afghan Women made available on its website. 71

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At the very outset, the Afghan Women's Bi II of Rights uses strong language to identify women's active stake in ensuring their rights are protected by the new constitution. Not only do they identify themselves as Afghan Muslims they continue on to say that the constitution being created "affect[ s] the futures of ourselves, our children and our society" ("Afghan Women's Bill ofRights"). In this way, they are setting up an active interest in the future of society and positioning themselves as having a role in the creation of the future rather than simply being affected by what the future holds The opening statement continues: "As representatives of all of Afghan Women, we demand that these rights are not only secured in the constitution but implemented" ("Afghan Women's Bill of Rights"). Again, the use of the active authoritative voices serves to function as an introduction to the tone of the rest of the Bill of Rights and clearly shows that not all Afghan women are mute, voiceless victims. The conference notes state "It seems impossible to read it [the Bill ofRights] without realizing that it is a cry for liberation on the part of women who have endured brutal suppression but whose collective will remains unbroken" ("Women and the Constitution: Kandahar 2003"). In some ways, many of the demands operate within the "freedom from" framework outlined above, demonstrating the real salience of the need to be free from external constraints. For example the third demand outlines: Protection and security for women: the prevention and criminalization of sexual harassment against women publicly and in the home of sexual abuse 72

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of women and children, of domestic violence, and of 'bad blood price' (the use of women as compensation for crimes by one family against another). This demand addresses the very tangible threats that women face to their bodily security It also indicates that violence against women is a phenomena that prevents women from expressing their full humanity and as such represents an external constraint that must be minimized. In many ways, a good number of the demands made could be analyzed from the "freedom from" model, including the fourth demand reduction of time before women can remarry after their husbands have disappeared" and the fourteenth demand: minimum marriageable age set at 18 years." These demands outline a desire to be free from practices or laws that they feel prevent the success of women. However, if we shift the framework to the one used by Grosz to conceptualize freedom as manifest in specific actions rather than a free actor, we can see that many of the demands also fit into this framework. For example, the demand that women receive the right to "participate fully and to the highest levels in the economic and commercial life of the country" can be seen as an articulation of the desire for women to manifest their subjectivity in the economic sphere. Further, the demand that women have the freedom to vote and run for election to office demonstrates the value placed in political acts when expressing the self Furthermore in the conference notes, the participants were asked : "What do we expect from the world from Afghan government, from law ? One woman responded "the right to learn and grow 73

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intellectually," while another responded "the right of relaxation and enjoyment" ("Women in the Constitution: Kandahar 2003"). While most, if not all, ofthe demands made by the Afghan Women's Bill of Rights seem to be politically progressive, Saba Mahmood's analysis of agency is also helpful to understand some of the demands. Specifically, the seventh demand outlines the right to marTy and divorce according to Islam While it may seem to be politically progressive to demand the right to divorce, the inclusion of Islam demonstrates that this is an exercise in agency that inhabits norms just as much as it challenges norms. This demand demonstrates that were Islam to be looked at as simply an oppressive force, as many view it in the West, one would be missing the importance that Islam plays in providing a location to express agency. In addition, the Bi 11 of Rights specifically mentions that the women creating it are Afghan Muslim women. This speaks to the importance of religious identity in informing the way they approach these demands. Furthermore, the notes from the conference demonstrate how many of the women see an incorrect interpretation of Islam as the root of their oppression rather than Islam itself. When brainstorming the question "What are the factors which prevent women's rights?" one response referred to "people's ignorance of Islamic law," while another discussed the "discrepancies between traditional customs and actual Islamic values" ("Women and the Constitution: Kandahar 2003"). Furthermore, in response to the question: "Why did we come here?" one respondent 74

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answered "to realize our legal rights which Islam has given to us" ("Women and the Constitution: Kandahar 2003"). The Afghan Women's Bill of Rights is an interesting articulation when considered alongside the Congressional records already analyzed. It represents an active agentic voice demanding what is best for themselves and their country. For example, the Bill of Rights speaks to the importance of Afghan women in society very similarly to the discussions in the committee hearings. While those in the committee hearings often doubt the ability of Afghan women to participate in society due to oppressive religious or cultural conditioning, the Bill of Rights identifies barriers to participation in society in external structures that have shaped the lives of women but have not cowed their resolve. They point to Islamic religious practices that are in their words, "a willful misreading of sacred Islamic texts," but do not conflate those oppressive religious structures with their ability to move forward and create a better society ("Women and the Constitution: Kandahar 2003"). Their ability to participate in the reconstruction of Afghanistan is not changed by oppressive structures, merely impeded. They can still actively create the future of Afghanistan even though they have faced and continue to face structural constraints. In this sense, a freedom from model works as a valuable tool to identify the need for a removal or a reconfiguration of oppressive external structures. This narrative challenges the centrality of the static victim subject that was often seen in the committee hearings. In the Afghan Women's Bill of Rights, there is no sense of the passive victim. There is 75

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an articulation of the hardships suffered, but the subject remains active throughout. Furthermore, the subject that is centered is one that is religiously and culturally specific. By rooting the demands in a specific identity, the Bill rebuts the transcendent subject of liberal humanism that exists prior to entry into cultural and historical systems. In doing so, the framers of the Bill are demonstrating the importance of their identity. They are demonstrating similarly to Fatima Gailani in the Congressional hearing mentioned above, that they wish to reconstruct their society in their own way, rather than in an externally determined fashion. The implications ofthe demands articulated in the Afghan Women's Bill of Rights are manifold. By positioning an active Afghan woman subject, the centrality ofthe victim subject becomes destabilized The Afghan Women's Bill ofRights presents a road map for l egislators unsure ofhow to reintegrate women back into the fabric of Afghan society The demands outlined are not an example of external forces determining the fate of women, but rather an example of Afghan women reclaiming their own fate While their demands cannot be claimed to represent the entirety of Afghan women, merely by organi z ing on their own behalf Afghan women demonstrate to the world that they are ready and able to take control of their lives The Afghan Women's Bill of Rights demonstrates that Afghan women, rooted in their specific historical, cultural and religious traditions, are still able to exert agency despite ovenvhelming oppressive conditions. However, it is important to recognize that the Bill of Rights is not the only example of agency exerted by Afghan women, 76

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simply one in which agency is easily recognized. Utili z ing the model posited by Butler allows us to recognize that the selfhood and potential for agency are formed in interaction with oppressive forces and tying in Mahmood we can understand that such agency can be exerted in many different locations that do not necessarily destabili z e norms 77

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CHAPTER V DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION The discursive frames identified within the U S political discourse, that of women as the victim subject, the role of women in Afghan society, the U.S. as a savior and the possible sites of resistance paint an interesting picture of conceptions of women in Afghanistan within the context of agency. The victim subject discursive frame is the most pervasive and overarching narrative concerning the women in Afghanistan. The victim subject frame most often draws on an Orientalized liberal humanistic model of agency, which assumes that subordination inhibits the exercise of agency. As such, if the women of Afghanistan are victims of intense subordination due to religious or cultural structures, they lack the capacity to exercise agency One of the few actions explicitly recognized as agentic is that of removing the burqa. By reducing the potentiality of agency to one action, the women are reduced to objects, stripped of their personhood unless they act in a manner that makes sense to foreign observers operating under the assumption that veiling represents all oppression. The women lack the ability to leave the house. They lack the ability to speak for themselves, as evidenced in the myriad ways that legislators and panelists speak on their behalf. Even the ability of women to decide whether or not to wear the burqa is denied to them. One legislator suggested that women did not remove the burqa because they were afraid, rather than as a personal or social choice they were making. This can also be seen in the failure to 78

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acknowledge that prior to the Taliban, many women in Afghanistan wore the burqa while many did not. By drawing on the victim subject framework, legislators and panelists deny agentic capacity to Afghan women unless they act in accordance with existent notions of what modemity looks like, creating a teleology of progress and a hierarchy of superiority. In many ways this epistemically denies the personhood of such women while decrying a regime that physically attempted to deny their personhood. In addition, the victim subject framework operated from the concept of a "freedom from'' as outlined by Elizabeth Grosz. The concept of liberating the women of Afghanistan fundamentally rests on the idea that there is something to be gotten rid of, namely the Taliban. Or, taken one step further, the women of Afghanistan must be liberated from a cultural and religious tradition that is oppressive. Only then can they exercise any agentival capacity The framing of the role ofwomen in Afghanistan's past and future shows a similar reliance on a liberal humanistic model of agency. However this frame reveals some tensions created by assuming a liberal humanistic model of agency. Women in the past were rational actors and had agency, as evidenced by their ability to go to school, hold professional positions and dress in "modem" ways. This modemity reflected the capacity for choice in the professional sphere as well as choice in dress. Again, actions reflecting individual agency are limited to conceptions that support a Westem notion of what constitutes modemity, dichotomizing an American "self" to an Afghan "other." Women in the future hypothetically have agency, as their role is 79

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vital in the reconstruction of Afghanistan according to the testimony analyzed. By identifying agency as something that was present in the past and in the future, the location of agency in the present is denied. This denial of agency has tangible implications for the future of Afghanistan. While there is an acknowledgement of the role that women must play in the future of Afghanistan, there is also a pervasive sense of doubt that women would be able to step into such a role. Such doubt, underpinned by a liberal humanistic idea of agency, makes it unclear as to how to move from the present condition to the future condition of full participation in society. Women's participation in the future is a hypothetical goal, but an inability to recognize agency in the present enables a continuation of memes about women in Afghanistan that ensures their voices will not be heard. Not only is their participation in the present denied, the capacity for action in the future is doubted, further ensuring that the framework that sees women as incapable of full participation continues. Unfortunately, this has proven to be true. While politicians declaimed the importance of women participating in Afghan society, in large part this did not translate into tangible commitment. None ofthe demands outlined in the Afghan Women's Bill of Rights were included in the constitution, for various reasons. While there was an equal rights amendment, it was framed in a way that leaves it open to interpretation in enforcement by the government. The positioning of the United States as the savior enables imperialistic interventions on behalf of women. If women cannot exert agency in the present, the 80

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United States must act in their interests. This proves to be a cyclical argument, however, as those in the U.S. speak for women in Afghanistan on the grounds that they cannot speak for themselves, while denying them the opportunity to speak for themselves. It is all too easy for the U.S., when placed in the role of deciding what is best for women in Afghanistan, to make broad assumptions that ignore the lived realities of women. For example, while security was emphasized in the testimony before numerous Congressional committees and in the Afghan Women's Bill of Rights, the U.S. engaged in bombings that decidedly affected the security of women in Afghanistan. Another example can be seen in the way the U.S. actively engaged with the mujahedeen when seeking military victories, ignoring the ways in which the mujahedeen violated the human rights of women regularly in manners similar to the Tali ban. The denial of agency of the women of Afghanistan allows for an extension of U.S. hegemonic power that results in the victimization of men and women in Afghanistan. While there was numerous instances where resistance to oppression was identified, in large part they were posited as anomalies rather than the nom1. These sites of resistance drew on a notion of agency that still tied agentic capacity to subversive action. Tying agency explicitly to what were undoubtedly courageous activities such as educating girls in secret or running clandestine health care centers, still falls short of ascribing agency to women who were not engaged in subversive activities but were nonetheless living their lives under the Taliban, asserting their 81

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humanity in day-to-day survival. If we shift the model to Grosz' conception of a freedom to, where agency is located in actions rather than in singular actors, we can begin to understand that agency is not only rooted in a freedom from external oppression but is a potentiality in any interaction. A decoupling of notions of agency from a subversive / oppressive dichotomy further broadens the discussion to include many of the ways women in Afghanistan were asserting agency in ways that did not challenge nom1s yet were still locations of agency. Bringing the model used in the U.S. political discourse together with the model used in the Afghan Women's Bill of Rights demonstrates the problems in relying solely on a victim framework to understand the situation ofwomen in Afghanistan. By relying on a liberal humanistic model of agency that fails to recognize Afghan women's capacity for action, the U.S. reifies a framework in which women do not have any voice or active participation in society. If the model one works from fails to see women's potential for action, then no space is given for women to participate in actively rebuilding the nation and reintegrating into society. The importance of women will be paid lip service but women will continue to be locked out of discussions that have direct relevance to their lives. Conclusion The women of Afghanistan have experienced untold hardship. Their experiences not only under the Taliban but also in the years of civil war leading up to the current situation have been tremendously difficult. They are undoubtedly victims 82

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of their circumstances. There are many narratives that structure the relationship between the U.S. and Afghanistan. Women from the Global South as a whole are essentialized into a monolithic "oppressed woman," ignoring historical and cultural specificity. Furthermore, perceptions of Muslim women fall prey to Orientalism, a way of structuring knowledge that positions the "Orient" and the "Occident" in opposition to one another, with the Occident occupying the normative position, morally and culturally superior. However, to see women in Afghanistan through a liberal humanistic model that positions them only as victims denies them the possibility of agency. It negates the action, subversive or otherwise, that they have been engaging in that demonstrates their active humanity and personhood. And perhaps most dangerously, it provides a framework that is self-propelling, effectively providing more barriers to women's participation in society than already exist. Such a victim narrative fits in with existing memes about Muslim women and women from the two-thirds world in particular, memes that reduce such women to mute victims of their culture or of broader geopolitical machinations. Campaigns to save such women, while well intentioned, often replicate such memes without calling into question the models of agency that underpin the assumption that such women need to be "saved." The U.S. political discourse replicated many of these memes, drawing on discursive frames that positioned Afghan women as victim subjects who played a role in the past and who will play a role in the future through the beneficence of the United States as the 83

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savior. This frame of the victim subject was replicated to some degree in the Afghan Women s Bill of Rights, but was complicated and contextuali ze d by an assertion of the agency and power on behalf of all women in Afghanistan by those who came together to create the Bill itself. By broadening the definitions of agency, we can recognize that all humans, regardless of structural constraints or oppressive conditions, possess the capacity for action. If people are capable of acting on their own behalf, then any attempt to rebuild Afghanistan without centering the voices of the women as equal partners in their own salvation will simply reify the imperialistic tendencies that characterize the U.S existence as a global hegemonic power. 84

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APPENDIX A Afghan Women's Bill ofRights Kandahar 2003 The Afghan Women's Bill of Rights was drafted, signed, and presented to President Hamid Kar zai by women leaders from every region of Afghanistan, who participated in the third annual conference of Women for Afghan Women (W A W). This conference, entitled "Women and the Constitution: Kandahar 2003" was held on Sept. 2-5 in Kandahar Afghanistan, in partnership with Afghans for Civil Society and the Afghan Women's Network. The conference was pioneering for two reasons. First, it was held outside Kabul, in fact in the fom1er Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. Second, it brought together 45 ethnically diverse women community leaders in the movement for women's and human rights in Afghanistan, many of whom were grassroots women's rights activists, both educated and under-educated, from rural provinces all around the country. This document was created entirely by the participants with each right debated and its wording unanimously agreed upon before inclusion into the document. This document was presented to Minister of Women's Affairs, Habiba Sarabi, the Constitutional Commission of the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan, and President Karzai. In addition, the conference participants are distributing the Bill of Rights throughout the country to educate communities about women's and human rights. WAW is proud to have supported the dynamic voices represented in this document. We continue to stand with our sisters Afghanistan in the struggle for their rights, especially in this critical moment in history. Afghan Women's Bill of Rights On September 5, 2003 in the historic city of Kandahar, we, the Afghan Muslim participants in the conference, "Women and the Constitution: Kandahar 2003", from Kabul Mazar-e-Sharif, Kandahar, Herat, Wardak, Jousjan, Badakhshan, Samangan, Farah, Logar, Garde z Kapisa, Uru z gan, Paktia, Helmand, Baghlan, Sar-e-Pul, having considered the issues of the constitution that affect the futures of ourselves, our children and our society make the following demands on behalf of the women of Afghanist an. Moreover as representatives of all of Afghan women, we demand that these rights are not only secured in the constitution but implemented 1. Mandatory education for women through secondary school and opportunities for all women for higher education 2. Provision of up-to-date health services for women with special attention to reproductive rights. 85

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3. Protection and security for women: the prevention and criminalization of sexual harassment against women publicly and in the home, of sexual abuse of women and children, of domestic violence, and of "bad blood-price" (the use of women as compensation for crimes by one family against another). 4. Reduction of the time before women can remarry after their husbands have disappeared, and mandatory government support ofwomen during that time. 5. Freedom of speech. 6. Freedom to vote and run for election to office. 7. Rights to marry and divorce according to Islam. 8. Equal pay for equal work. 9. Right to financial independence and ownership of property. 10. Right to participate fully and to the highest levels in the economic and commercial life ofthe country. 11. Mandatory provision of economic opportunities for women. 12. Equal representation of women in the Loya Jirga and Parliament. 13. Full inclusion of women in the judiciary system 14. Minimum marriageable age set at 18 years. 15. Guarantee of all constitutional rights to widows, disabled women, and orphans. 16. Full rights of inheritance. Additional demands affecting the lives of women: 1 Disarmament and national security. 2. Trials ofwar criminals in international criminal courts and the disempowerrnent of warlords. 3. A strong central government. 4. A commitment to end government corruption. 5. Decisive action against foreign invasion and protection of the sovereignty of Afghanistan 86

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