Our Women Are Free

Gender and Ethnicity in the Hindukush
Wynne Maggi
An exploration of the lives of women among the Kalasha, a tiny, vibrant community in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province


The Kalasha are a dynamic community of about three thousand people living in three tiny finger valleys near Chitral, Pakistan. A tumultuous history has left them the only remaining practitioners of cultural and religious traditions that once extended across the Hindukush into Afghanistan. The Kalasha differ in many ways from the conservative Muslim communities now surrounding them.

Yet despite their obvious religious differences with nearby communities, when asked what makes the Kalasha unique, both men and women often reply, "Our women are free" (homa istrizia azat asan). The concept that Kalasha women are "free" (azat), that they have "choice" (chit), is a topic of spirited conversation among the Kalasha. It touches at the heart of both individual women's identities and the collective identity of the community.

Our Women are Free introduces the historical and cultural landscape of the Kalasha and describes the role that "women's freedom" plays as an ethnic marker for the entire community. Throughout the narrative, Wynne Maggi stays close to conversations and events that illustrate the daily life of the community, focusing particularly on the Kalasha people's sense of humor; on the pleasure they take in work, children, ritual, and relationships; as well as on the complexity and seriousness of their social lives.

Accessible and thought-provoking, Our Women are Free will be of interest to professional anthropologists, area scholars, and other social scientists.

Wynne Maggi teaches anthropology and women's studies at the University of Colorado.

Praise / Awards

  • "Our Women Are Free makes a compelling contribution to feminist anthropology, one that will undoubtedly propel it into the ranks of the classics. Maggi has written ethnography that is uncommonly animated, capturing the ironic inconsistencies of daily life that sometimes challenge the anthropological quest for clear explanations. Her story not only illuminates the subtle meaning of 'freedom' for Kalasha women, but allows us to experience the process by which she came to understand the importance of this construct—and its intersections with gender—for Kalasha ethnic identity. She has thus added a rich dimension to the discussion of reflexivity that has been so central to the work of feminist anthropologists, reminding us that engaged ethnography must continue to be at the heart of our enterprise."
    —Ellen Lewin, University of Iowa
  • "A beautiful study of one of the most fascinating peoples in Asia: the last Indo-European-speaking pagans, with their menstrual huts, wine, and midwinter sacrifices. Vividly captured through close and sensitive fieldwork, Maggi covers a broad spectrum of what matters to people who are Kalasha. Central and most striking is their tradition of 'freedom' for woman, which is close to the hearts of individual women's identity, and the collective identity of the Kalasha--in a self-aware contrast to their Muslim neighbors. A delicate and intimate study of family, gender, love, and pride among people at once humble and self-assured."
    —Fredrik Barth, Boston University
  • "This is one of the most clearly and gracefully written 'new ethnographies' I have had the pleasure to read. It seamlessly incorporates a critical assessment of current and historically significant theory concerning gender and agency, with an extraordinarily well told story of the author's learning process, both of which frame but in no way upstage the telling of the community under study."
    —Margaret Mills, Ohio State University
  • ". . . a nuanced and sympathetic analysis of the status of Kalasha women and of the key role they play in representing and preserving Kalasha ethnic identity."
    —A. Rassam, CUNY Queens College, Choice, September 2002

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 296pp.
  • 12 drawings, 15 photographs, 7 tables, 1 map.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2001
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-06783-1

Add to Cart
  • $30.95 U.S.