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Monday, 12 October 2015

The Underground Girls of Kabul

Book Title: The Underground Girls of Kabul
Author: Jenny Nordberg
Publisher: Hachette
Price: Rs. 399/-

Afghanistan was once listed as the world’s worst place to be a woman, by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, and the world’s worst place to be born, by the United Nations. It is no surprise that it is undoubtedly the world’s worst place to be born as a woman. Jenny Nordberg reveals to the world a very painful reality in the Afghan world: the practice of Bacha Posh, or dressing girls as boys to “save face” in a social structure that has no place for women. Deborah Ellis (in The Breadwinner series) and Siba Shaqib (in Samir and Samira) were predecessor authors who trod this path: but Jenny takes these themes into the real world and buttresses it with hard fact in her tome.

Chronicling the stories of Azita, a female parliamentarian who sees no choice but to dress her youngest daughter as a boy; of Zahra, the tomboy who struggles with the impact of puberty and refuses to turn back into a girl; of Shukria, a girl who lived twenty years as a boy and was then married off and has now mothered three children; and finally, Nader, an adult woman who prays alongside Shahed, an adult undercover female police officer, as they remain disguised as men, this book is a real eye opener.

Taking on the patriarchy in one of its brutal manifestations, Jenny Nordberg’s book really reflects the many layers and nuances in Afghani society vis-à-vis women. It isn’t linear, what the state of women is, in the nation. And this understanding is exactly what helps explain why it has continued to remain such a women’s-rights-blackhole, and why western ideals of empowerment of women won’t necessarily work to help emancipate the Afghan woman. It projects powerful realities of masculinities of violence in inadvertent women, inadvertent feminists turning into brutish anti-women champions, and the birth and manifestation of patriarchy in a skewed social order.