Between the Hammer and the Anvil: Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Islam and Women's Rights


Kandiyoti, Deniz. 2007. "Between the Hammer and the Anvil: Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Islam and Women's Rights." Third World Quarterly 28 (3): 503-17.

Author: Deniz Kandiyoti


This paper argues that gender issues are becoming politicized in novel and counterproductive ways in contexts where armed interventions usher in new blueprints for governance and 'democratization'. Using illustrations from constitutional and electoral processes in Afghanistan and Iraq, it analyses how the nature of emerging political settlements in environments of high risk and insecurity may jeopardize stated international commitments to a women's rights agenda. The disjuncture between stated aims and observed outcomes becomes particularly acute in contexts where security and the rule of law are severely compromised, where Islam becomes a stake in power struggles among contending factions and where ethnic/sectarian constituencies struggles of representation in defense of their collective rights.

Keywords: post-conflict reconstruction, women's political participation, governance, Islam, women's rights


  • Since the September 11 attacks and the US’ subsequent invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, there have been various political efforts to incorporate women’s rights into the reconstruction agendas of Iraq and Afghanistan; however, in the absence of stable government systems, the realization of these rights has been difficult. In Afghanistan, a new Constitution was drafted in 2004 that advocated the political representation of women. These efforts at gender equality have been undermined, however, by documents such as Article 3 of the Constitution entitled “Islam and Constitutionality,” which demands that all governmental laws abide by the laws of Islam.
  • In Iraq, the situation of women deteriorated in the years following the 1980-88 Iran-Iran War and the subsequent invasion of Kuwait. Following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the country underwent a process of Islamization, which delegitimized the efforts of various Iraqi women’s rights groups. Sectarian strife also poses a barrier to the inclusion of women in the political processes in both Afghanistan and Iraq. In Afghanistan, women generally affiliate themselves with ethnic and political constituencies, which divides them from one another, preventing them from uniting for a common women’s rights cause. In Iraq, despite the quota promoting women’s participation in politics, most women identify as Shiites, the more conservative of Islam’s factions. Kandiyoti also argues that compounded with the conservative Muslim religion, the war economies of Iraq and Afghanistan have exacerbated gender-based violence.
  • Kandiyoti proceeds to address the reasons for violations of women’s rights in Afghanistan, attributing the poor situation of women to a combination of poverty, displacement, and the drug economy. During the civil war following the emergence of the Taliban in 1994, human rights violations, including crimes against women, were rampant. The Taliban imposed laws the limited the freedoms of women, including a conservative dress code and a curfew. Because of the poverty that defined the post-conflict period in Afghanistan, many men resorted to female trafficking as a source of income and sexual violence as an outlet for economic-related stress.
  • Kandiyoti concludes by stressing that the women’s rights agenda that accompanies post-conflict reconstruction efforts faces major hurdles. Prolonged conflict has also brought about social changes in Afghanistan and Iraq that force women to combat the threat from conservative social forces while also fighting for their rights.

Topics: Democracy / Democratization, Gender, Women, Governance, Constitutions, Elections, Post-Conflict Governance, Peacebuilding, Peacekeeping, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Religion, Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Africa, MENA, Asia, South Asia Countries: Afghanistan, Iraq

Year: 2007

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