Posts Tagged ‘Leslee Udwin’


March 30, 2015
Afghan women at the market in downtown Kabul, July 16, 2002. National Archives and Records Administration.

Afghan women and a little boy at the market in downtown Kabul, July 16, 2002. National Archives and Records Administration.

Earlier this month, the New York Times published an article about the dangers Afghan policewomen face, not from suspected criminals, but from Afghan men who put policewomen and prostitutes in the same category and believe both dishonor their families. The article opens with the story of Parveena, who was shot 11 times at close range by a member the Taliban and killed for being a policewoman. A relative who was either in the Taliban or had Taliban sympathies had informed on her. The broader point the article emphasizes is the problematic nature of Western aid organizations’ requirements that Afghan women hold certain jobs, such as positions on local police forces, in order for Afghanistan to receive aid. As Parveena’s death sadly demonstrates, Western demands for gender equality in places where a violent patriarchal culture is deeply rooted can be dangerous, even life-threatening, to the women international humanitarian organizations want to help.

In this story and others like it that highlight women’s attempts to resist local conservatism, the emphasis is almost always on women — their lives, their bravery, the discrimination and violence they face. Getting their stories out to the world is a crucial step toward stimulating international efforts to support women, but absent from most of the conversations is an equally crucial question: where are the men? This is a play on distinguished international relations scholar Cynthia Enloe’s question to IR practitioners: where are the women? Enloe has built her career (and inspired a subsequent generation of scholars, myself included) on a commitment to incorporating the voices and perspectives of women into her examinations of war, militarization, and global affairs, issues that previous scholars had treated as men’s business. But what Enloe understands is that it is not enough to just talk about women — we also have to talk about gender. How does a gender ideology that infantilizes grown women and criminalizes women’s behavior outside a closely-monitored domestic sphere take hold in young men who, as boys, spent much of their time at their mothers’ sides? How can journalists, humanitarian aid workers, and others on the ground in Afghanistan and elsewhere give voice to the men who oppose violence and discrimination against women? If Western aid organizations expect Afghan women to have access to certain careers as a measure of “progress” toward gender equality, should foreign governments advising Afghan political leaders demand that those men be clearly committed to ending gender violence? Do foreigners have the right or responsibility to make such demands? Are they possible to enforce?

Addressing such questions is controversial. India banned the BBC documentary “India’s Daughter,” about the 2012 gang rape and murder of a woman medical student on a bus in Delhi, after an Indian court ruled that the film could “encourage and incite violence against women.” Filmmaker Leslee Udwin explains that the documentary is not just about the men who brutally raped and murdered 23-year-old Jyoti Singh; it is meant to force discussions about a broader, global culture that renders women’s bodies objects on which men vent their social anxieties and perform violent acts of dominance. Varying degrees of this culture range from sexual assault on college campuses to the murders of women like Parveena and Jyoti Singh. In banning “India’s Daughter,” Indian officials argued that Udwin’s interviews with the rapists and other Indian men who attempted to justify the gender hierarchy could spark more violence against women, but Udwin’s film is important precisely because it pays attention to men and seeks to understand the roots of India’s rape culture.


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