The Kite Runner depicts the political turmoil and class and ethnic conflicts in the 1970s and early 2000s in Afghanistan. Particularly in the latter, women in Afghanistan do not enjoy many rights and are expected to be subservient to men. We see more often in the novel examples of the mistreatment or judgment of women. Take, for example, Sanaubar, Hassan's mother. She is married to Ali but has an affair (or at least a one-time encounter) with Baba, Amir's father. She makes cruel remarks to and about Ali and the baby before quickly abandoning them only a few days after giving birth. Other kids in the neighborhood give Hassan a hard time about his mother, using offensive language to describe her. Later in the novel, she returns and makes peace with her son. However, her earlier life experiences, in part, show the limited options for women in Afghanistan.
Even in the American chapters (after Baba and Amir have moved to California), we see the restrictive expectations placed upon women. Soraya, Amir's eventual wife, is a source of shame to her family and herself after running away to live with a man to whom she is not married. Her parents find her and demand her return; however, she is ostracized and whispered about. This is despite the fact that in the United States, women have the freedom to choose partners and to cohabitate without being married. The Afghani expectations for women's behavior in romantic relationships (she should have one: her marriage, which must be approved by her parents) continue to loom over Soraya's American life due to her parents's (namely her father's) conservative beliefs. When Amir and Soraya prepare to marry, they must follow the traditions of their culture and Amir must formally ask Soraya's father to marry her.
The character who is most aligned with feminism is one we never actually meet in the novel: Amir's mother. We know little about her but we do know that she is well-educated and that she was a college professor in Kabul. She died giving birth to Amir, so he never met her, but he reads from her books. Baba, still clearly traumatized by her loss, does not talk to Amir about her. Ironically, Amir learns a little about his mother when he returns to Kabul as an adult and happens upon one of his mother's former colleagues on the street. In the Afghanistan that Amir returns to in the early 2000s, the Taliban would never accept a woman in such a position of authority, and women were not even entitled to basic education.
Khaled Hosseini's second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns,more overtly engages with the role of women in contemporary Afghanistan and raises more questions about their relationship with feminism than does The Kite Runner.
The restricted rights of women in Afghanistan allow for little feminist activity, and the examples in The Kite Runner are few. Soraya's short stay with her boyfriend is one example. She leaves her family behind to run away with her lover, experimenting with drugs and sex in an American rite of passage that would have been scandalous in Afghanistan. Indeed, it is still a scandal in the local Afghan community, and Soraya's father, General Taheri, quickly tracks her down and brings her home. The family then leaves Virginia for California to escape the notoriety, and Soraya returns to a life of subserviance to her father. Only when she meets and marries Amir does she regain her independence, and she refuses to honor her father's request to become a doctor or lawyer, choosing the life of a teacher instead. Hassan's mother, Sanaubar, could be considered a feminist. She chooses a life of prostitution, becoming unforgettable to more than one soldier. After her son's birth, she deserts her family, running away with a "clan of traveling singers and dancers." She eventually returns to Baba's home of her own accord, though mostly out of necessity, but also out of an independent desire to see her son and make amends for her past. Baba's wife, Sofia, can also be considered a feminist. Instead of becoming a housewife for her controlling husband, she teaches at the local university, and she must have maintained a powerful influence over him before her death.