Society and Norms: Family and Family Life - Overview

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The extended family is the central social structure in Pakistani society. Extended families typically remain together for life. Communication and socialization are limited almost exclusively to the extended family and generally the family provides everything necessary for life. Therefore, the importance of the Pakistani family unit cannot be overestimated. In rural areas the extended family can be quite large and within tribal populations the extended family can consist of the whole tribe. Recently, in urban areas, the family has begun to consist of just the mother, father, and children.

Nepotism (brothers taking care of brothers) and favoritism are normal and expected ways of life in Pakistan. The word for this in Arabic is Wasta (WAH-stah), meaning "connection or pull". Wasta is defined as "the use of connections to provide services for family and friends." Wasta is how Pakistanis have survived in sometimes hostile environments without the help of an effective national government [1]. In fact, the concept of Wasta is not just Middle Eastern but can be found anywhere there is "a large, dysfunctional bureaucracy and extensive patronage systems" [2]. Who one knows and how one takes care of their family and friends are vital aspects of life. Whether in government, in educational institutions, in business, in marriage, or in personal relationships, Wasta is universally applied.

Family bonds and family honor are sacred among Pakistanis. Family honor determines the family’s status in society, because of this, honor is jealously guarded. To bring shame upon a Pakistani family will almost certainly result in some form of retaliation or revenge. Family matters are considered extremely private and are not discussed publicly, particularly matters concerning female family members. When a female family member is shamed, the retaliation may literally be a matter of life and death for both her and the offender. Except for the wealthy and middle class, Pakistani wives are seldom seen in family photos with adult male family members.

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