Violence against women is a pervasive phenomenon, not exclusive to developing or backward countries, Islamic nations, or Afghanistan. Advanced countries worldwide also grapple with the problem of violence and discrimination against women, and as a result, they seek various solutions to mitigate this issue. The prevalence of violence against women is to the extent that approximately one out of every three women globally has experienced physical or sexual violence during her lifetime. The only distinction Afghanistan holds from other regions is that, while elsewhere efforts are made to combat and prevent the spread of violence against women, in Afghanistan, not only is there a lack of effective measures to curb violence, but the policies of the ruling political system are designed to treat women as subjugated entities, depriving them of their fundamental rights, and subjecting them to horrifying dungeons of fear, attempting to extinguish hope for the future within them through cunning stratagems.
This text aims to illustrate that violence against women has its roots in socially accepted stereotypes and norms. These norms contribute to structural inequality between men and women in society, sometimes resulting in the mistreatment of women’s bodies as possessions of men, who feel entitled to dominate them. The consequence of these norms is that women may, at any given moment, compromise their lives based on society’s misconceptions and misguided beliefs. In some cases, these misconceptions and beliefs take on religious and moral colors, justifying discrimination and injustices against women through the misuse of religion and ethics.
Social norms that are anti-women are typically based on a set of shared beliefs among all members of society or specific religious and ethnic groups. These norms define how people interact with women in the home, society, and the workplace. Incorrect information and false beliefs about women, such as the idea that men have the right to control women’s bodies and determine a specific framework for their lives, lay the groundwork for widespread violence against women and delay the elimination of discrimination.
Social issues experts have identified several incorrect social beliefs that intensify and reinforce violence against women in society. Some of these beliefs and stereotypes can be articulated as follows.
The Necessity of Women’s Obedience to Male Family Members
The role assigned to women in the family, inherited from distant pasts, dictates that women should be submissive to male family members. For instance, a daughter is expected to answer to her brother, even if she is older than him. As per societal norms, a woman must be obedient to her husband under any circumstances. Therefore, a daughter, following the example of her mother, is expected to behave in accordance with her husband’s wishes. This includes aspects such as eating, drinking, dressing, and engaging in activities, aligning with the desires of her husband. She must strive not to make the slightest mistake in his eyes. Even when expressing her feelings, desires, and opinions, she should articulate them in a way that aligns with the man’s preferences.
According to common norms, maintaining a harmonious relationship with the husband is considered a sacred duty for a woman. Consequently, if a woman neglects these customs and traditions, the penalty may involve severe physical violence. This is intended to eradicate any inclination towards opposing traditions from her mind. It also serves as a lesson for other women to learn from her fate, ensuring they do not repeat her mistakes and violate societal norms.
In religious teachings, much has been said about the necessity of a man’s authority over a woman and the notion that a virtuous woman is one who is completely obedient to her spouse, lacking any will against the desires of her husband. Those advocating for the submission of women and not refraining from verbal and physical violence use religious teachings to justify their actions. Some structural discrimination against women in Islamic societies is implemented through the teachings of religion.
A Man Can Desipline A Woman
This belief is prevalent among both men and women, particularly in conservative societies, asserting that if women fail to fulfill their responsibilities and duties or exhibit behavior conflicting with accepted social norms, men have the right, and even the obligation, to resort to violence against them. It is deemed necessary for a woman to carry out her responsibilities and obligations in the best possible manner, with her mental and physical well-being considered secondary. There are individuals in various societies who consider psychological and physical violence against women justifiable if a woman disobeys her husband or opposes his views.
According to social norms that still persist in many societies, men have the right to monitor all the movements and activities of women and girls within the family. For instance, they may check their mobile phones and keep an eye on their activities on social networks. Covert surveillance of the virtual activities of family members, in some cases, has laid the groundwork for the emergence of escalated violence, and victimizing women. In certain societies, women who have been perceived to commit disgraceful acts have been murdered by their families without the perpetrators fearing consequences, and authorities have often refrained from seeking accountability for such actions.
Women and the Sexual Demands of Their Husbands
One of the longstanding beliefs and perceptions passed down to us from ancient times, and actively instilled in the minds of girls from childhood, is the notion that it is incumbent upon a woman to sexually please her husband in every possible way. Regardless of the woman’s physical or mental state, this concept is consistently emphasized in books addressing sexual education. Religious and juridical texts also instruct women to pay attention to the sexual desires of their husbands, urging them to exert all their efforts to fulfill these desires. Sex education books, apparently influenced by religious teachings, teach girls to consolidate all their strength and power to be entirely at the service of their husbands. In this context, a religious and social belief has emerged that a woman’s body is the exclusive property of her husband, and she must be ready to serve him whenever he desires. This extreme male dominance perceives women not as life partners but rather as sexual slaves, akin to women who were captured as prisoners in medieval wars. Observations and research indicate that in certain societies, women are expected to be constantly ready to provide sexual service to their husbands, regardless of whether they themselves are physically and mentally prepared for sexual intercourse or derive pleasure from it. Furthermore, research suggests that 70% of women worldwide, despite spending prolonged periods with their husbands, have not experienced complete sexual satisfaction. In many cultures, discussing a woman’s enjoyment of sexual pleasure is considered taboo, and it should never be alluded to.
Women face sexual harassment due to their style of dress
One of the prevalent misconceptions is an erroneous stereotype used by some individuals to justify the increasing instances of sexual harassment and violence against girls. They claim that the fact that some girls and women in society face various forms of sexual harassment is due to their provocative and seductive clothing choices. According to these individuals, the main cause of incidents related to sexual harassment against women is not the unrestrained and deviant behavior of sexual offenders but rather the way women and girls dress. In their view, women in both Eastern and Western societies face daily instances of sexual harassment, yet there are some who consider women to be at fault, placing the primary blame for these events on the way women and girls dress. Despite being victims of sexual harassment, women are sometimes held responsible, and the main burden of blame is unfairly placed on them, effectively turning the victim into the accused.
In Afghanistan, this stereotype is also prevalent and popular. The Taliban and their allies strive to deprive women of their presence in society, tolerating it only when women are fully covered in thick garments, leaving no opening for visibility from head to toe. The Taliban and their allies justify women’s exclusion from society under the guise of observing the hijab, attributing it to religious considerations to discourage any opposition. However, the concept of hijab and modesty is relative and varies from one society and culture to another. The definition of hijab in Europe differs from that in the Middle East. What may be considered normal behavior for a woman in Russia might be deemed inappropriate or forbidden for a woman in South Asia, and this has no direct connection to religious beliefs and convictions.
Another noteworthy issue is why, instead of blaming and condemning women for their dress, we don’t ask men to control their gaze, restrain their instincts, and not subject women to harassment. Why is the emphasis always on women’s hijab, but there is no talk about educating men? In a patriarchal value system, the shortcomings and misconduct of men are often overlooked, while women are depicted as demonic and ugly creatures.
The Necessity of Women’s Childbearing
One of the stereotypes contributing to various forms of violence against women is the belief that the primary duty of women is procreation. In a patriarchal system, it is expected that men provide for the family’s financial needs, and take on the overall management, while women are tasked with the internal well-being of the family, giving birth to children, and raising them according to societal norms and values. If, for any reason, some women deviate from this norm and engage in activities other than childbearing, such as participating in political and social activities like men, they should expect various labels and criticisms. Both men and women in society may censure them for forgetting their primary role in society and diverting their efforts toward other pursuits.
Continuing the narrative, according to prevalent cultural norms in our country and other regional nations, girls are expected to marry at a young age because culture and traditions dictate so. Certainly, a significant portion of girls conform to these traditions and, by marrying at a young age, practically expose themselves to various harms. Early marriage compels a girl to bear a child at a young age and take on the never-ending responsibilities of motherhood. Unfortunately, in our societies, a woman’s body is treated as a commodity that must be priced. In such a situation, the later a girl marries, the less value is placed on her body. Educated women in these societies constantly face such a dilemma. Due to continuing their education, they are forced to endure pressures and, for example, not marry until they reach the age of thirty, which results in them not having much value in prevalent value systems!
While positive changes regarding the early marriage of girls have occurred in Afghanistan compared to the past, early marriage still prevails in certain segments of society and remains a concern. Awareness should be raised about the dangerous consequences of early marriage, and undesirable norms and traditions in this regard should be brought to light, criticized, and proven to be incorrect.
Misjudgment Regarding Divorced Women
Divorced or widowed women often face discrimination and disdainful attitudes in many countries. Deep-seated beliefs about the role and worth of women in these societies contribute to this derogatory outlook, restricting their ability to participate actively, strive, and play a meaningful role in society. When a shared life falls apart, and both parties decide to separate, according to the norms and unfavorable traditions in societies like Afghanistan, women are considered the primary cause and culprit for the separation. They are viewed as unable to cope with the challenges of married life. In such societies, a woman seeking separation from her husband not only has to endure the scornful gaze of society but, in many cases, is also forced to bear the financial burden of her own livelihood. Even close relatives may reluctantly provide assistance. The demeaning treatment of divorced women, coupled with the poverty and struggles they face after parting ways with their spouses, has led many women to choose to endure the hardships and violence of married life over separation. The aversion to the associated difficulties and the stigma attached to divorced women make them reluctant to seek divorce despite the challenges they may face.
Women and girls face various forms of violence on a daily basis. This issue is not exclusive to specific countries but extends to all nations worldwide. There are various ways to earnestly address and combat violence against women, and one crucial approach is to tackle the cultural norms and attitudes that contribute to violence, humiliation, and degradation against them. Some exploit religious slogans as a means to promote violence against women. This approach is highly detrimental, not only perpetuating the neglect of women’s rights and delaying the realization of their rights but also inflicting harm on religion itself, portraying it as an advocate of discrimination, bias, and narrow-mindedness.
It must be explicitly stated that gender equality is one of the foundations of fair living in the modern world. Any belief or culture that distorts this equality is condemned and deserves criticism and censure. Religious interpretations that reinforce unfair sexual relations and strengthen gender-based discrimination are unacceptable and must be vigorously opposed in every possible way.