Afghanistan: country study of anthropological gender and (wheat-based) livelihood literature


This review provides a synthesis of the literature on the links between gender and social relationships, livelihood choices, and wheat-based systems in Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s recent history has been marked by extreme hardship and violence. The war economy has brought about a profound transformation in social relations and has dramatically undermined a rural economy based on subsistence agriculture and pastoralism. This scenario raises the complex issue of how to promote social cohesion and achieve land-based food security in a society devastated by suffering and loss. The introduction contrasts optimistic accounts about farming systems and livelihood options with a growing body of literature that clearly highlights a loss of confidence in farming as a means to generate a livelihood. The livelihoods that exist now are a result of the history of conflict and drought Conflict and drought have required households to implement flexible coping approaches. For a majority of poor households, non-farm labor, rather than agriculture, is the most important source of income. This has major ramifications for agricultural policy and programming, as it demonstrates that the needs of the rural poor are currently being missed due to the predominant (and misleading) focus on agriculture. With regard to development and empowerment, the literature shows that the process of reconstruction must take into consideration the gender dimension when serving the needs of women and men. Which are the areas where there is great potential to engage women and men? Which are the structures and narratives, both at the national and international level, that set out the constraints within which women and men must live their lives? Do those same structures also shape the possibilities for change and the form that this change is likely to take? Different framings of Afghan gender roles are juxtaposed and compared to highlight the complexities and negotiations that engage both genders in the process of decisionmaking. Given the present conditions of life in Afghanistan, punctuated by chronic crises and weak governance, religion and family may be perceived as the only force able to reinstate a sense of nationhood, solidarity between fellow citizens, and economic and political empowerment. In the fragmented landscapes of Afghanistan, the opportunities are limited, especially for the poor, and the need for income diversification is acute. This literature review shows that not enough is known of the extent to which men and women are able to access different livelihood opportunities, or the extent to which programs may impact on women and men differently. The references reviewed converge, however, when drawing attention to the diversity of livelihood strategies at inter- and intrahousehold levels, seeing this as a meaningful entry point into the processes of reconstruction, change, and resilience, and raising questions about assumptions linking agricultural growth, poverty reduction, and promotion of gender equality. In this highly complex politicized setting, it is crucial that strategies be explored with a view to supporting household livelihood diversification, rather than trying to move households to agriculture entirely