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Farhana Rahman

Farhana RahmanFarhana Rahman (Cambridge International Trust and Murray Edwards Scholarship)

"Moral Crimes" in Afghanistan: Women, Society, and the Construction of Gender Identity

Supervisor: Dr Manali Desai (Department of Sociology)


My doctoral research focuses on gender violence in Afghanistan, specifically exploring the narratives and life histories of women accused of “moral crimes” in Kabul. I intend to use the issue of “moral crimes” as the thematic fulcrum for investigating multiple converging narratives that shape and continually reconstitute the dominant discourses on women in Afghan society. According to Human Rights Watch, 95% of girls and 50% of women imprisoned in Afghanistan have been accused or convicted of such crimes. The construction of normatively acceptable behaviour of women, and the power structures in society that sanction the concept of “moral crimes” still remain largely unexplored in the broader literature concerning women in Afghanistan. A wider aim of this research is to examine and conceptually capture the innovating language and debates surrounding society, rights, justice, and normative discourse in Afghanistan through a gendered lens, and attempt to understand the relationships and interactions of cultural interpretations of Islam with societal narratives on religion and ethics.


I was born in Bangladesh, and raised in Zambia and Canada. I have several years of experience in the gender and development sector, working internationally for various development organizations in the global south. In 2015, I helped to establish the first academic program in gender studies in Afghanistan, based at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul, where I also taught in the area of sociology of gender. Since 2011, I have been a consultant and trainer providing technical expertise on gender equality, social policy, education, and legal analysis for various UN Women, UNDP, and USAID projects in South Asia and Africa. I have lived in and worked on projects in a number of countries including Afghanistan, Uganda, Bangladesh, Zambia, India, Jordan, Kenya, and Germany.

Academic Background:

MPhil (Distinction) in Multi-disciplinary Gender Studies, University of Cambridge (2013-2014)

Honours BA in Peace and Conflict Studies, International Relations, Arabic (Language Citation), University of Toronto (2007-2011)