Journal of Human Rights Practice vol:7 issue:2 pages:299-326
The Taliban regime in Afghanistan helped create an image of Afghan women existing simply behind the burqa—a voiceless victim needing outsiders to rescue her. A review of western media reporting, campaigns and books and articles written about Afghan women illustrates an overwhelming tendency to exemplify—or symbolize— Afghan women with images of them dressed in the pleated blue burqa. This was particularly obvious right after the events of 11 September 2001, when books on Afghan women proliferated. This reflection is an attempt to echo those stories that often do not make it into the mainstream media. These stories come from an in- novative, art-based project called ‘Legislative Theatre: Democratizing Women’s Rights in Afghanistan’—a form of participatory theatre or ‘theatre of the oppressed’, as developed by Augusto Boal. In a traditional society such as Afghanistan, where it is primarily men who occupy public spaces for discourse, women have few chances to gain access to the public sphere. As such, this lack of visibility, in and of itself, has made it easier to report on them as being helpless. During the last decade, however, certain opportunities presented themselves to broaden women’s participation in the public sphere, such as the genre of theatre under discussion here. This project there- fore was an important platform to create opportunities for women to speak out and have their opinions heard. It also served as an occasion to see the other side: the enthusiasm, energy and bravery that many women exhibited in order to challenge norms and question the status quo in the face of formidable circumstances; the col- lective efforts and voices that are translated into political agency; and the strength coming from the inside—even if they are behind the blue garment.