society and norms – Gender Roles: Women

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In Afghanistan, marriages are usually arranged, and women are usually less educated than men. They marry young, have many babies (preferably boys), generally do not work outside the home, and are usually restricted to socializing with female relatives. However, within the household they wield much power and influence in the decision making. The head matriarch is often the person who selects the brides for the family’s sons. Nomadic women have far greater control over domestic affairs and the family finances than their village counterparts.  Nomadic women have to take care of all family business while their husbands and sons are away for months at a time tending the herds. In all cases, females are highly deferential to all male family members, even when older females interact with younger male siblings and cousins.

For all Afghan women, maintaining a good reputation is a lifelong demand. Once a women’s reputation is tarnished, she is no longer respected. Promiscuity, rape, divorce and the like will all tarnish a women’s reputation.  Once a women’s reputation is tarnished, she is no longer respectable and society’s respect cannot be re-attained.  This is not true among men, who can redeem themselves through revenge or some honorable settlement.   Afghan society regards unmarried women over the age of 25 and divorced women with disapproval.  There is no dishonor in being widowed.  However, for financial reasons, a brother or father of the deceased husband will often take the widow as another wife or otherwise provide for her.

Restrictions on women under the Taliban and fundamentalist mujahedeen groups were severe and included loss of jobs and educational opportunities. Since the fall of the Taliban, women are returning to work and schools are slowly opening for young girls. It has been estimated that almost half of the government workers are now women, including 25% of the parliament.[3]

Western women may not be treated with the same respect as respectable Muslim/Afghan women.  In fact, Western women may be treated as if they were prostitutes.  This is because Western women are not held to the Islamic and tribal codes of honor and, in the minds of Afghan men, are already believed to be potentially (or likely) promiscuous.  Afghan men may be quite forward in their interaction with Western women.  Regardless of how a Western woman is dressed, Afghan men may leer, make inappropriate physical contact or even directly proposition a non-Afghan woman for sex — either outright or in exchange for something of value.

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