This PhD project is part of the RCN funded Violence in the Post-conlict State. A provisional abstract of the thesis is below 


This thesis examines contestations over violence against women as entry points into an analysis of gender, politics and sovereign power in contemporary Afghanistan. Based on 12 months of fieldwork, the thesis explores the evolving parameters of what ‘counts’ as violence against women in Afghanistan as articulated in legal frameworks and practices, in public and media debates and in the interventions of political leaders, diplomats and aid workers. In particular, the thesis investigates a handful of processes in detail; the origins and fate of a new law on violence against women,  a series of controversies over women’s shelters, attempts to bestow recognition on informal justice processes and the trajectories of individual episodes of violence as they travelled through different and sometimes competing legal forums. Arguing  that definitions of and responses to violence against women are productive of gender relations,  I show how the outcome of these struggles  have the potential to redraw boundaries between government and family domains, and to subordinate women to kinship power, or alternatively, constitute them as full legal personas.  I find that while gender violence was increasingly adjudicated in public and government forums, and while more transformative discourses were gaining some ground, the central violation that was articulated in public was that of familial loss of control over female sexuality.


The thesis further analyses negotiations over and interventions into violence against women as revealing of shifting domains and claims of sovereignty, of projects of power and of political technologies. The processes detailed in the thesis illuminates a landscape of the plural and competing legal regimes that in specific time and place presided over individual episodes of gender violence This analytic brings into view a host of partial sovereignties; a constellation of women’s activists and progressive justice officials , underwritten by Western funds and support, executive case by case interventions demanded by patronage politics and achieved through  invoking tribal templates, the application of customary practices of restitution in forums increasingly promoted by Western academics and NGOs, and the imposition of  Taliban courts as part of the insurgents’ attempt to assert their rule. The thesis also shows that far from operating as a singular bloc, Western forays in Afghanistan produced multiple and contradictory effects on women’s security and protection.

The PhD candidate, Torunn Wimpelmann is enrolled at the Department of Development Studies at SOAS. Her thesis supervisor is Prof Deniz Kandiyoti.