The constructs of childhood in Afghanistan during the periods of Taliban and Post-Taliban rules are depicted in different ways due to the impact of global and local forces of society as the main means shaping them. Both books under consideration, The Breadwinner and Wanting Mor, give a deep insight into the problem and reveal the position of women and girls in Afghanistan where female inhabitants are deprived of the majority of rights, while men concentrate the whole power in their hands. These two books speak to the issue of children as social agents of their own lives. The constructs of female childhood in Afghanistan can be defined as total oppression of the female population during Taliban rule and as for the period of Post-Taliban rule, the construct of childhood experiences positive alterations through negative influence of the past oppression still remains.
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Although the books belong to imaginative literature, they are based on real-life stories of women in the contemporary Muslim world making them the perfect sources of information about childhood in Afghanistan. The events described in the two books took place during different periods of life in Afghanistan and they throw light on the position of women of both periods. For instance, the events described in The Breadwinner occur during Taliban rule of the country. Parvana, the protagonist of the novel, is a girl that disguises herself as a boy throughout the novel. The reason for her deliberate “change of gender” is that she has to become a real breadwinner and provide for her family instead of her father. Therefore, she has to go out and work but she is not allowed to leave the house for the reason of being a female as only boys are given such privileges. During the Taliban rule girls were in disgrace: “they forbade girls to go to school” (Ellis 11), “the Taliban decreed that women must stay inside” (Ellis 16). On the whole, the roles of women were reduced to cleaning, cooking, and other household chores due to the aggressiveness of local forces.
The events depicted in the novel under the title Wanting Mor, occur during the Post-Taliban period, hence its importance for the issue under discussion. The novel shows that the oppression of the female population is still in practice but women and children are given more freedom in comparison with the time of Taliban rule. The stepmother of the protagonist, Jameela, is shown as a powerful woman who has rights and control and influences the relationship between Jameela and Jameela’s father forcing him to abandon his daughter because her son has shown feelings towards her. In addition, when Jameela appears in the orphanage is she able to go out freely without a man accompanying them in contrast to the situation in the above book. Also, the example of Jameela shows two significant changes in the position of women: she attends school and her deformed lip is operated on that is the sign of positive changes in the construct of female childhood caused by a global force.
Jameela is a girl that experiences many difficulties in her life, like her mother’s death, her stepmother’s rude treatment, her father’s betrayal and her life in an orphanage.
The behaviour of the father of the girl is an example of global force influencing childhood as his behaviour is westernized as he drinks alcohol and skips prayers and his rude attitude to the daughter is the consequence of the global force in its negative sense. The novel shows the unlimited power of the Afghan adults over the children. For example, Jameela is afraid of the adults. She always obeys the orders of the adults and never talks back to them, as she obeys the traditions of her culture and faith (that are local forces in the novel). This leads to the concept of the innocent child. A child has no power, follows all the rules and is not able to express his/her feelings freely and this especially concerns girls in Muslim culture as they are kept pure and innocent because they are prepared towards marriage and motherhood.
In the article under the title “Out of the Indian Diaspora: Mass Media, Myths of Femininity, and the Negotiation of Adolescence between Two Cultures”, the authoress shares her experience of coming out from Indian culture and attempts to join the Westernized world. The article offers a distinct opposition to the Western concept of a woman shown in mass media and the Indian concept of “a very evil woman” as “westernized, individualistic, and sexually aggressive, ready to lead men to their ruin” (Durham 197) that is contrasted to “a good woman” who is “a controlled, chaste, surrendering individual” (Durham 198). Durham’s article can be also applied to Afghan culture that uses the same seven stereotypical role specifications for women since their childhood (198), moulding and forcing them into what they think is appropriate in society.
These examples from two fictional novels and real-life experiences the author of the article give the readers a perfect opportunity to trace the way how global and local forces construct the childhood of girls and children in Afghanistan.
Ellis, Deborah. The Breadwinner. Toronto, Ontario: Groundwood Books/ House of Anansi Press.
Khan, Rushana. Wanting Mor. Toronto, Ontario: Groundwood Books/ House of Anansi Press.
Durham, Meenakshi Gigi. “Out of the Indian Diaspora: Mass Media, Myths of Femininity, and the Negotiation of Adolescence between Two Cultures”. Growing up Girls: Popular Culture and the Construction of Identity. Eds. Sharon R. Mazzarella and Norma Odom Pecora. New York: Peter Lang, 1999. 193-205.