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Book review: 'We Are Afghan Women' tells of the fight to change cultural stigmas, empower women

Posted May 9

"WE ARE AFGHAN WOMEN: Voices of Hope," by the George W. Bush Institute, Scribner, $25, 352 pages (nf)

The atrocities wrought by Soviet armies, groups of Afghan rebels and the Taliban have turned Afghanistan’s streets into battlefields and innocent civilians into casualties. Shocking and extreme female repression was enforced, and women's jobs were taken away; they were not allowed even basic education and were killed or mutilated for the smallest perceived offenses.

“We Are Afghan Women: Voices of Hope” tells of courageous women who have risen above unfathomable difficulties to help empower others. It tells how the plight of Afghan women is slowly changing for the better — but not without a terrible price.

One woman recounts growing up surrounded by the nightly cries of her female neighbors being beaten by their husbands, brothers or fathers. Another Afghan woman's husband believed the propaganda and lies about the mistrustful nature of women and spent a decade locking her in the house every morning before he left for work.

The ways of life people in many areas of the world take for granted are almost unreachable for Afghan women. Women have put their lives at risk by holding secret schools in basements to teach young girls basic reading and writing. They’ve also endured cultural contempt for pioneering professions such as beekeeping, running a printing establishment and playing sports.

“We Are Afghan Women” is both heart-wrenching and profoundly inspiring. Each first-person narrative adds to the picture of Afghan women’s almost impossible realities. Because of the violence and political turmoil of Afghanistan, many of these women had to flee their country, only to find themselves in a different plight altogether: eking out existences and enduring atrocious degradations as refugees. “We Are Afghan Women” can be a life-changing read and one not soon forgotten.

Although “We Are Afghan Women: Voices of Hope” has clean language and no romance, it deals with domestic violence, sexism, torture, prejudice, rape and countless other harsh realities of living in a country that has undergone decades of civil unrest and anti-women propaganda. This is a book for adults or mature teenagers.

Elizabeth Reid has bachelor's degrees in economics and history. She has worked in retail, medical billing, catering, education and business fields. Her favorite occupation is that of wife and mother. She blogs at agoodreid.blogspot.com.

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