Veiled Courage: Inside the Afghan Women's Resistance. By Cheryl Benard. Broadway Books, 2002.

 

Cheryl Benard heartily discusses her views about Afghan women and the works of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA).  Most of the book is about RAWA, its founding and influential characters, and its activities in helping Afghan women.  Established in 1970s, RAWA was a clandestine organization originally engaged in anti-Soviet activities.  In early 1980s the organization moved its headquarter to the border area in Pakistan and began offering its services to Afghan refugees.  Soon, RAWA emerged as a major organization gathering information, gauging public attitudes, raising consciousness, publishing a magazine, educating women and children, offering health and social services, combating violence against women, and assisting and empowering female victims of rape and abuse.  While RAWA’s activities in refugee camps in Pakistan faced numerous obstacles, in Taliban controlled areas of Afghanistan they were extremely dangerous.  Benard describes many of these activities and gives us a sense of characters and views of individuals whose courage and dedication made it possible for RAWA to achieve its objectives.  A special chapter is devoted to author’s view of Afghani men, their involvements in and support for RAWA, women’s ideas about men, and RAWA’s efforts in changing men’s ideas about women.  In the wake of the recent American intervention in Afghanistan, Benard feels that RAWA needs to adapt to new changes and increase its involvement and impact on Afghan society. She discusses the following alternatives: a political party, a more traditional women’s movement, an NGO focusing on food, educational, and social service efforts, and an “oppositional group with the capacity to work underground.”   This informative and passionate book has been put together quickly in response to recent changes in political fortunes of Afghanistan and the need for information about women in Afghanistan.  Though non-academic and market driven, the book helps the reader to appreciate the difficulties experienced by Afghani women in a patriarchal society.   – A. A. Mahdi, Ohio Wesleyan University