There has been an ideological tug-of-war over women's place in Afghan society from the early years of the twentieth century between the modernising tendencies of its urban-based elite and the forces of conservatism represented by the Islamic ulema (religious leaders). Following the US-led invasion and the international donor community's subsequent efforts to “develop” the country, this struggle has acquired a new lease of life. Current debates reproduce the now familiar divide between cultural values and universal rights that characterises the wider feminist literature. While Afghan voices have been part of this debate, they tend to be drawn from more educated and politicised groups. This article uses the narratives of a small group of Afghan women from poorer urban households to explore how they evaluate the changes that have taken place in Afghan society and where their views position them in the ongoing debates.