Treatment of Women in the Patriarchal Society of Afghanistan in the Novel A Thousand Splendid Suns
Throughout history, women have often experienced inequality. In some parts of the world, specifically the west, women have made many strides to gain respect and equality. Although the western world has been taking these steps, there are still places where women face severe sexism on the daily.
In A Thousand Splendid Suns, author Khaled Hosseini explores the treatment of women, specifically two by the name of Laila and Mariam, in Afghanistan. Hosseini follows their lives and the political atmosphere in Afghanistan to show how Mariam and Laila experience sexism but still persevere. Patriarchal societies, like the one in Afghanistan, have often led to severe sexism towards women.
In the typical patriarchal society, men are the breadwinners while women are to stay home and care for the children. When Mariam is standing in the hospital as Laila is giving birth, she notices a doctor wearing a burqa. She describes, “Here was a woman… who had understood that she was lucky to even be working, that there was always something, something else, that they could take away” (291). Women have already had so much taken away from them that this doctor knows she is lucky to be working as many other women do not get the opportunity. In addition to not working, women often do not even receive an education as it is deemed unimportant to their wifely and motherly duties.
Although many men in the book would agree with this logic, Laila’s father Babi has contrasting thoughts; he thinks that educating his daughter is crucial to her success in life. When discussing the idea of fleeing Afghanistan, Babi explains to Laila, “You would continue to go to school… That would be our absolute top priority, to get you a good education” (150-151). Babi displays characteristics not typically found in a patriarchal society which help show the contrast between societies in which women are treated as equals and the patriarchal society in Afghanistan.
Patriarchal societies are associated with male dominance, so women often experience violence at the hands of men with no interference by the government. When Laila and Mariam attempt to flee Rasheed, they are caught and questioned by the government. When they tell the officers in charge of their interrogation that they are not safe in their home, the officer responds, “What a man does in his home is his business” (266) meaning the women are left to their own devices when it comes to Rasheed’s abuse.
As Laila and Mariam predicted, once they return to Rasheed’s house, he goes on a rampage, abusing both women. After locking Laila and Aziza in a hot room without water for a prolonged period of time Rasheed tells Laila, “You try this again and I will find you… And when I do there isn’t a court in this godforsaken country that will hold me accountable for what I will do” (272). Rasheed is openly acknowledging the fact that he could abuse or even kill his wives with no repercussions. The idea of men not facing punishment is contrasted with the punishment women receive. When Mariam turns herself in for Rasheed’s murder she is executed even after saying she killed him in self-defense. The difference between the two circumstances show the drastic differences in the treatment of men and women in the eyes of the law.
The idea that men can get away with more than women can feed into the concept that patriarchal systems often emphasize the oppression of women and therefore limit their independence. When the Taliban takes over in Afghanistan, they issue a long list of rules. In this list is a set of rules, the Taliban specifically targets women: “You will stay inside your homes at all times… If you go outside, you must be accompanied by a… male relative” (278). These rules are issued to control women and force them more dependent on men. Because women are not able to leave their houses without a male escort, the women in Afghanistan lose even more of their freedom. This is especially hard on Mariam and Laila as Rasheed already limits their independence and now, he is backed by the government.
Political systems defined by patriarchy are often characterized by sexism towards women. The women that live in areas with these political systems face oppression and abuse at the hands of men in the society and are often denied jobs and education, furthering their lack of independence. Living in a part of the world where women are seen as equals can make it easy to forget that conditions elsewhere are vastly different. Through the struggles that Mariam and Laila face, Hosseini reminds the reader that the global fight for equality is not over.
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