The International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) highlights attitudes and actions related to masculinities, gender norms, and women's rights in Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan, Jan. 29, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- The International Men and Gender Equality Survey in Afghanistan (IMAGES Afghanistan) produced by Promundo, UN Women, and Global Affairs Canada, in collaboration with local research partners Opinion Research Center of Afghanistan (ORCA) and Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU), is the first study of its kind and its scope in Afghanistan. IMAGES takes a wide-angle lens to gender relations in Afghanistan, investigating women's realities alongside the lives of men – as sons, husbands, fathers, and as individuals, at home and at work, in public and private life. The study includes quantitative and qualitative research with a nationally representative sample of 2,000 men and women aged 18 to 59 in Afghanistan, from 14 provinces in 7 regions.
Research results affirm the extreme traumas, risks, and challenges of daily life in Afghanistan, but also the resiliency of the country's people. Approximately 80% of respondents report one or more direct, serious experiences of conflict-related violence or hardship, such as living as an internally displaced person or refugee, facing bombardment, being robbed, and witnessing beatings. Feelings of stress, depression, and worry associated with family security are nearly universal among participants.
Women in Afghanistan experience particular, persistent and multifaceted threats, including: high rates of domestic violence (80% of women report ever experiencing one or more forms of physical violence and nearly 20% report being subjected to sexual violence from an intimate partner); as well as harmful cultural practices such as baad (giving away women to settle family or tribal feuds), badal (families exchanging women and girls), and honor killings (nearly 10% respondents is aware of at least one case in their community in which a woman was killed for being perceived to "bring shame to the family" in the past year alone). These factors are situated alongside women's and girls' limited access to education, financial independence, and political participation — as well as ongoing security challenges which limit mobility and broader participation in public life — further constraining the lives of women in Afghanistan. Even against this backdrop, two-thirds of men agree or strongly agree with the statement, "Women in Afghanistan have too many rights."
IMAGES Afghanistan data also show that older men demonstrate greater support for gender equality than younger men do, even when accounting for other key demographic factors and childhood influences. Young men in Afghanistan face a particular confluence of threats to their sense of identity, particularly their sense of achieving socially recognized manhood. In a time of high financial insecurity, political instability, and insurgency, young men struggle to achieve the social expectation that they provide economically and are a "protector" for their families. IMAGES evidence suggests that young men, facing these challenges to their rigidly defined masculine identity, may be compensating by retaining a stronger grip on rigid gender divisions in other spaces in their lives.
Additionally, women and men broadly disagree about women's suitability to be public leaders. Women are more supportive of gender equality in this domain than men are: only 29% of women agree that "because women are too emotional, they cannot be leaders," but fully 65% of men hold this opinion. Respondents, both women and men, are particularly unlikely to support the idea of women as police officers, judges, soldiers, and religious leaders. Participants in the qualitative research painted a picture of a society in which women are broadly discouraged from working outside the home, or from leaving the home at all. One young woman from Kandahar province described the restrictive environment women face, saying, "She must be covered while going outside the house, and no one should hear her laughing."
Reflecting on their fathers' role in childcare, up to 86% of men and women in Afghanistan remember their fathers taking care of them or their siblings, but less than 10% recall their fathers regularly cooking or cleaning. Respondents also recalled childhood homes in which fathers or brothers controlled the household in terms of financial decisions.
Not unlike the dynamics in their childhood homes, household work in respondents' marital homes tends to be divided on a strictly gendered basis. Women do the vast majority of household work in Afghanistan, regardless of urban or rural settings, level of education, or employment status. Many men said that they see women's undertaking of domestic work as integral to being a good wife – and a good woman. Many respondents agreed that men who do domestic work are commonly viewed as dishonorable. However, IMAGES data from Afghanistan demonstrate that children who grow up in homes where gender equality is modelled — with a father involved in household work and childcare — are more likely to follow this example themselves as adults.
IMAGES data also demonstrate not only the prevalence of men's use of intimate partner violence against their wives in Afghanistan, but also men speaking against this violence. Fully 65% of men report ever perpetrating one or more forms of physical intimate partner violence. At the same time, attitudes rejecting intimate partner violence were common among qualitative research participants. Some men reject violence in relatively paternalistic terms, suggesting that women need men's protection. Others offered more positive, aspirational ideas, calling on husbands and wives to discuss conflicts together peacefully, and many shared potential solutions.
Women in particular voiced that laws on domestic violence must be implemented more effectively; notably, calls for penalization of sexual harassment in public spaces were nearly unanimous, with over 80% of both women and men supporting this legislation. Other solutions to prevent violence focused on education, women's economic participation, and involving religious leaders. Some participants mentioned that men do not trust violence-prevention messages from non-Islamic sources. Instead, they said, eliminating violence should be taught through an Islamic lens.
Overall, IMAGES Afghanistan findings paint a picture of simultaneous conflict and courage, tradition and resistance, all leading to a varied landscape of gender-equality attitudes and practices. "By and large, Afghanistan's laws presume and reinforce patriarchal power and the subjugation of women," says Gary Barker, President and CEO, Promundo. "In addition, where men are under stress and long-established markers of manhood are removed, we see men fall back into a more rigid, restrictive version of manhood. Young men in Afghanistan today have grown up knowing a life in conflict, and this has taken a toll on men who exist in a deep well of trauma. An end to all violent insurgency and political conflict in Afghanistan must be an unwavering goal."