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Continuity And Change In Traditional Afghani Family

Family and tribal identity have encompassed Afghan women's lives. Marriages were endogamous based on family considerations, tribal lineage, and geographical location. Nancy Tapper (1991) writes about Pushtuns' tribal system in pre-1970 Afghanistan as patrilineal and endogamous. Property inheritance was patrilineal (through the male line), and women did not inherit property except their trousseau given by their birth family. The Hazarahs and some of the Tajiks followed the inheritance requirements of the Islamic law of Shari'at, in which daughters inherit half and wives one-fourth of the property. Divorce was rare, and polygamous marriages were common.

As in many North African and Middle Eastern societies, an Afghan man's honor is closely linked to the behavior of his female relatives. A woman's indiscretion could directly affect a man's social standing. Consequently, men controlled women's behavior in public and monitored their interaction in private. This control was rarely complete, and women could subvert men's control and exert influence in family relationships.

Marriages, until legal reforms in family law, were arranged in three forms: among equals for the bride-price given to the father of the bride, as an exchange of brides between families for the bride-price, and as the giving of the bride for blood money (i.e., the victim's family would agree to receive a girl from the accused's family instead of avenging their member's blood by killing the accused) or as compensation for stolen or destroyed property (Tapper 1991). These forms of marriages are less common today, and giving women for blood money has been banned completely. As in many Muslim countries, family is still the locus of social relationships, ethnic identity is strong, and for the most part marriages take place within the same tribal lineage.

Many aspects of family relations changed after the leftist government of Mohammad Saoud came to power in 1973. Women were allowed into the National Assembly; forced marriages were banned; a minimum age for marriage was established; and women gained the right to employment. The socialist government established a national educational system for all children; schools were co-ed, and 70 percent of teachers and 50 percent of civil service employees were women. These changes were voluntary, and many urban families supported a gradual change of gender roles. After the Soviet army left and the Mujahidin took power, many of these rights were canceled, although haphazardly.

In 1994, when the Taliban came to power, they officially rescinded all previous reforms and launched a campaign of terror against ethnic minorities, especially Shiite Hazarahs and some Tajiks. They imposed a strict gender code based on their interpretation of Islamic law of Shari'at. Immediately after takeover, on September 26, they issued an edict that banned women from working, closed girls' schools, and required women to wear Borqa—a full body covering with a meshed section for the eyes—and to be accompanied outside home by a male guardian. Women's access to health care was restricted and female health care workers and aid workers were either purged or had their activities constrained. As a result, women's health has suffered. In a 1998 survey, Zohra Rasekh and colleagues reported that women living in camps in Pakistan had a high rate of depression, displacement hardship, and other health-related problems.

Initially, Afghani women's oppression received world attention that condemned Taliban policies. Simplistically, these policies were attributed to the extreme Islamic fundamentalism that disregarded Pushtuns' ideals regarding family honor and tribal identity. The Taliban forces consisted of Pushtun boys trained by conservative mullahs in madrasses, or Islamic seminaries, in Pakistan. They had minimum contact with any women, including female family members. In the seminaries, they were taught a potent revolutionary ideology constructed of Pushtun notions of shame and honor based on men's control of women's sexuality, combined with Pushtuns' perception of their ethnic superiority. In madrasses, this ethnic and gender supremacy was cast into conservative Islamic theology to create the Taliban's notion of pure society and women's place in it.

The fate of women received world attention, but at the same time, all family members suffered. Men paid heavily for the war and Taliban domination. The few who were employed were mindful of their family's security, faced harassment by morality police, and looked to protect their sons from a A group of children read in a school located within a mosque in Afghanistan. When the Taliban came into power in 1994, they closed many schools and prohibited education for females. These restrictions were lifted in September 2001. CAROLINE PENN/CORBIS military draft that had no age limit or required consent. Those unemployed tried to support their family without the safety net of the extended family. In rural areas, drought limited pastures for herders and made farming less predictable. The only income left was from smuggling and poppy cultivation. If they moved their families, men went back and forth to care for elderly parents or other relatives. They faced capture or bandits, and in the host countries performed the most undesirable manual work. For urban families, women's confinement meant closure of schools and loss of women's income. Many families, including some Taliban officials, who did not support school closure moved their families out of the country to secure education of their children, both boys and girls, and keep them away from the clashes.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsAfghanistan - Historical Background, Continuity And Change In Traditional Afghani Family, The Afghani Family In The Early Twenty-first Century