College of Arts and Sciences


English Literature and Humanities

Faculty Mentor

Nova Robinson, PhD

Faculty Editor

Onur Bakiner, PhD

Student Editor

Ryan Thelin


From the interwar period (1918-1939) to the present, the United States has been involved in the Middle East not only in a military capacity, but as a creator and funder of educational programs in the region, especially for women, most frequently in Afghanistan. Although there is existing literature which examines the numerous and complex political effects of US intervention via such educational programs, this paper analyzes how previous US educational programs in the wider Middle East create a historical basis for colonial feminism which drove these programs and still persists today. This ideology is one that ultimately harms the women targeted, in this case Afghan women, in that it constructs these women as requiring Western salvation from their native cultures while simultaneously disregarding their voices and agency. Due to its self-interested nature, colonial feminism in these education programs has allowed for and excused ideologies that undermine Afghan women’s rights, such as the mujahedeen and the Taliban. Additionally, colonial feminist educational programs distort or ignore sociopolitical and cultural factors that affect women. In Afghanistan, these include internal colonization, gender politics as they relate to political legitimacy, and the problematization of “the veil” by the US, particularly in the aftermath of 9/11. The paper critiques past and present US educational programs using this lens to advocate a move away from the historical, socio-politically destructive colonial feminist approach by putting Afghan women’s voices and agency first in future programs.

Keywords: Afghanistan, education, gender politics, Westernization, colonial feminism