African Studies - Project
Culture has been used as a main reason to restrict women’s rights for a long time. Most cultures have very specific codes of behavior, law and social division and their traditional views are not always compatible with modern ideas like gender equality. However, among these same cultures there are reformists and those with other interpretations for the same writings and beliefs. Culture is fluid, and can change in accordance with ongoing political and social events.
This happens in African and Islamic cultures. Many “traditionalists” say that the harsh, unfair and unequal treatment given to women is part of their culture and ancient writings. According to Olatunji (2013), the origins of women discrimination in Africa, is not related to African culture nor religion. It happens due to “socio-cultural factors resulting from a patriarchal socio-economic system” (Olatunji, 2013). She also affirms that there’s nothing in African culture that justifies the subordination of women to men and when, this happens, it’s because of ignorance of culture and not of knowledge of it.
A similar situation can be stated in relation to Islam. In many of the countries with Islamic majority, gender inequality is more related to socio-economic problems and authoritarian governments, than religion or culture. In Iran, there were many popular movements, both secularist and Islamic, towards gender equality. Many reformist or moderate Islamic movements seek to give women more opportunities and rights. It has been the authoritarian government that has been preventing these reforms from happening, afraid of losing support of the traditionalist elite. The gender issue in Iran comes from the Islamic opposition to the Shah, before the 1979 revolution, where, trying to weaken the Shah’s power and the support for his modest reforms, they said those where not in accordance with Islam and that anyone that supported it was not a true believer. Since they had great influence with the common people it worked in their favor. The main reason for the opposition against the Shah, however, was not his reforms. It was the fact that he removed power from the Islamic elite and took a great deal of their land.
This happens not only in Iran, but also in other Muslim countries. Usually the ones with a more secular and democratic government have better genre equality status, than authoritarian ones.
Even though gender equality is considered a Western characteristic, the West is not free of gender inequality. Most of it also comes from “traditional” views on culture. The origins of this were traced back to the period of industrialization, urbanization and bureaucratization, when the culture of private/public life emerged (Herzog, 1998). This division sets women as responsible for the private life (mostly family issues), while men were better suited for public life (everything else). This division, implies different prestige levels among genres, with men having the “important” share of duties. With the rise of nationalisms comes the idea of women, as the “Mothers of the Nation”, where they should be the ones …