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Gathering Strength
By Peggy Kelsey
2012
Reviewed by Angie Mangino
Rating: 5 stars
 
Reading the book for this review brought me into the lives of Afghan women who I would not have had the pleasure of knowing.
 
The author, in the very first sentence of the Preface, sums up the presumption we make about Afghan women.
 
“In the Western world, the media has led us to think of Afghan women as an homogenous group with one outlook and one set of generally horrific experiences.”
 
This book proves the opposite.  Yes, there are some terrible experiences, and some major cultural differences, but so too, there is much strength, courage, and determination in the women interviewed that the world needs to know.  What many often forget is that each person everywhere is a unique individual, and in all situations, each will respond uniquely.  When people can speak to other people about their lives, experiences, hopes, desires and goals, stereotypes are demolished,  Only then can differences be addressed from a mutual place of respect, and in this way, all of humanity benefits. 
 
For example, Laila, an engineer in the City of Kabul Urban Planning Department, explains why she asked the author to interview her.  “I wanted to talk about the problem of domestic violence.  I want to say that just because some is educated doesn’t mean that they don’t experience violence.  Even educated women have a lot of problems.  Also, we cannot say that men are the only cause of violence against women.  Women also do it.  One example concerns mothers-in-law.  Many of them abuse their daughters-in law.”
 
While Zainab, a Director of the Community Development Council, informs, “This country is very traditional, and changing the minds of these people will not happen overnight.  We have to go step-by-step and make our people understand every woman’s and every girl’s right to education.  Then, girls can help support their families, which will lessen the financial pressure on the family, and thereby lessen violence.”
 
Setara, an Afghan woman writer, shares, “Afghan women and girls hide everything inside.  They feel a mountain of pain and no way to struggle against it.”
 
When asked what gives her hope, Setara states, “The struggle and hard work of the young generation, both women and men, give me great hope.  …I’m optimistic that there will be something good in our future.  I grew up in war, conflicts, rocket, and fire; everything that was in Kabul.  …At that time I just watched.  Now I write about it.”
 
Maral, a young Afghan woman in her thirties, tells us, “Education in the only way to change the minds of people in a good way, but it takes a long time.”
 
Photographs of these and so many other Afghan women interviewed add power to their words, their eyes especially giving readers a window into their lives.
 
The author added a glossary of words, as well as a glossary of people, places, and organizations at the end, to help readers understand better references made in the interviews.  A bibliography, notes, and an index, with sections of frequently asked and reading group questions complete this exceptional book for more in-depth understanding.