Claiming Afghan Women: The Challenge of Human Rights Discourse for Transnational Feminism

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Women's and Gender Studies



Publication Title

Just Advocacy?: Women's Human Rights, Transnational Feminisms, and the Politics of Representation


The videotape image lasts only a few seconds. It documents the murder of Zarmeena, a mother of seven accused of killing her husband; she was executed by a member of the Taliban in the center of Kabul's soccer stadium before a crowd of thousands. The shaking camera records the first gunshot through the back of the kneeling burqa-covered woman's head, then jerks downward to a blurred image of the ground as a second shot is heard followed by screams from the crowd. Less than twenty-four hours earlier, the nightly radio broadcast of Taliban evening news had announced that Zarmeena would be executed and the men, children, and especially women of Kabul were expected to attend. The members of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) Reports Committee, who were charged with collecting information about Taliban atrocities against women, quickly convened in secret to discuss how they would document the execution. Using firsthand testimonies, eye-witness reports, and photographs, RAWA's Reports Committee had documented a litany of floggings, amputations, and sexual violence, but they decided that for an atrocity of this magnitude they would, for the first time, risk finding and using a small video camera in order to capture a compelling image of the execution to show the outside world (Brodksy 13-17). Although the resulting image betrays the inexperience and emotional horror of the RAWA member who hid the camera beneath her burqa, the Reports Committee expected the brief but powerful video image to reach international news agencies. And it did. However, the execution of Zarmeena occurred in November of 1999, but the taped image of her death captured by RAWA members did not reach wider audiences until two years later when CNN broadcast it over and over again in the fall of 2001.


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