Seminar Talk: ‘Under a Red Veil: The Soviet Women’s Rights Project in Afghanistan and Beyond’

A very quick update from the depths of dissertation and paperwork land. I’ll be giving a talk tomorrow, Thursday, February 28 at 5 PM in the Basement Lecture Room of the Taylor Institution Slavonic Annexe, itself located at 47 Wellington Square in central Oxford. (See a map here.) As usual, the Prezi and some reflections should be up afterwards.

Pretty much how I imagine myself: giving lessons on the Soviet & Afghan attempt to 'do' women's rights and girls' education in occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s

Pretty much how I imagine myself: giving lessons on the Soviet & Afghan attempt to ‘do’ women’s rights and girls’ education in occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s

In the meantime, here’s the abstract for the talk:

Perhaps moreso than any other country in the world, Afghanistan reflects outsiders’ anxieties about the fate of women in the Islamic World writ large: at once a land of acid attacks and burqas, and highly educated, de-veiled, indigenous Afghan women rights’ campaigners. Yet the history of women in Afghanistan,and what their fate meant for outside powers and 20th century women’s rights programmes, is complex. In the 1920s, modernizing élites in Kabul championed women’s education. While the period after the Second World War also saw tentative steps towards de-veiling, more education, and greater opportunities in the workplace for some groups of Afghan women. At the same time, Leftist Afghan women developed their own idiosyncratic critique of gender relations in the country, looking to the Soviet Union as a model.

When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, however, this exchange became more intense. The war also presented Soviet women’s groups with a chance to bring their vision of the Revolution, and ‘women’s rights’, to their Afghan counterparts. This talk examines how, offering a brief overview of feminism in Afghanistan and the USSR in the 20th century and the way two very different women’s rights projects spoke – or failed to speak – to one another in the 1980s. Focusing on a 1982 seminar held in Moscow for Afghan women’s representatives of the Democratic Organization of Women of Afghanistan, a sub-organ of the Afghan Communist Party, this presentation seeks to highlight some of the alternative possible trajectories for a ‘women’s rights’ project, centered less around ‘human rights’ and civil society than around national self-determination and the state, that seemed ascendant in the 1980s before cratering with the collapse of the Soviet Union and Communist Afghanistan.

Here’s hoping for a good turnout!


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