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Love in Afghanistan highlights strength and vulnerability of Afghan women

October 30, 2013 5 minute Read by Sara Van Wie

Love in Afghanistan, an original drama from Charles Randolph-Wright, opened at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. last Friday, October 18.  The play tells the story of Duke and Roya, two young adults who find love in the most unlikely of places: Baghram AirForce Base in Kabul, Afghanistan.  Duke, an American hip-hop artist, and Roya, a high-level interpreter for the U.S. military, fight to navigate a complicated world of newfound romance in the midst of extreme cultural differences and the uncertain political and security future of Afghanistan.

Throughout the story, Love in Afghanistan highlights an Afghan cultural practice that allows families without a son to transform one or more daughters into boys.  These girls, known as bacha posh, spend their adolescence dressed as boys, assuming all the responsibilities of a son and being granted all the privileges of being male.  Bacha posh, unlike their contemporaries, are able to move freely about town, attend school, and run errands for their families.  When they reach puberty, however, the girls return to live as young women.  Love in Afghanistan’s Roya grew up bacha posh, and she struggles as a young adult woman who refuses to give up the freedoms she lived with as a boy.

Playwright Randolph-Wright created the work after reading an article about bacha posh in The New York Times.  “I was fascinated by the idea and by these young women.  Having this entitlement [of being a boy] and then having it taken away interested me.  I asked, ‘How does one function? How can you have responsibility, privilege and education and then, all of sudden, it is gone?”  Randolph-Wright’s question echoes in the hearts of many women in Afghanistan today, who face uncertainty in the months leading up to presidential elections in 2014 and the drawdown of U.S. and NATO security forces.  Many fear that the rights and privileges they have regained in the last 12 years will be lost without continued international support.

The Arena Stage seeks to engage the D.C. arts community in discussions about these critical, time-sensitive topics.  After several matinee performances of Love in Afghanistan, the theater hosts panel discussions focused on different issues relevant to Afghanistan today.  These discussions feature experts in the content and ideas presented in the performance and provide audiences with opportunities to consider Afghanistan beyond current media headlines. 

On October 26, Anita McBride, former chief of staff to First Lady Laura Bush and a member of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, participated in the first panel discussion hosted at Arena Stage.  As she reflected on the character of Roya, who despite eminent dangers is committed to remain in Afghanistan to work on behalf of other women, McBride commented, “there are no more resilient or courageous people on the face of the earth than Afghan women.  They have come so far in the 12 years since the fall of the Taliban, and people need to know it!”

Roya embodies both the strength and vulnerability of Afghan women in this season of the country’s history.  Today, Afghan women enjoy increased access to education and job opportunities, but they often do despite consistent and life-threatening opposition.  “There is a concern among Afghan women that the steps they have been able to take, the work they have been able to do outside of the home – running for and becoming members of Parliament, becoming law enforcement officers – will be maintained,” McBride added.  “The fragility of the security situation is still forefront in their minds – it threatens those gains.” 


The Bush Center supports continued and ongoing commitments to Afghanistan and programs that specifically benefit its women and children through its Afghan Women’s Project.

Love in Afghanistan will run at Arena Stage until November 17.  For information about the panel series, or to learn more about the production, visit http://www.arenastage.org/shows-tickets/the-season/productions/love-in-afghanistan/events/.

 

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