Have you ever heard women say of men, ‘It’s like they’re all from the same mother?!’ This phrase usually comes up when women discuss the characteristics of their men. Despite cultural differences, there are so many similarities it’s uncanny!
Could the same be said of women? Despite our cultural and religious differences, women have a lot more in common than a womb and a pair of breasts! Woman around the world face similar challenges, and when there is break-though, it’s success for all of us!
Sometimes as women (as people in general), it’s easier to stay in our cultural circle where things are done ‘as they should be’ and nothing needs to be questioned. But it’s so important to understand each other and respect each other – we live on this earth together. In the words of the United Nations:
“Bridging the gap between cultures is urgent and necessary for peace, stability, and development…acceptance and recognition of cultural diversity – in particular through the innovative use of media and Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) – are conducive to dialogue among civilizations and cultures, respect and mutual understanding.
With all of that said, what is it like in the shoes of women around the world?
This article wass written by Lioba Bonda – a Shona woman from Zimbabwe, now living in Australia.
A traditional Shona woman is expected to be hardworking, resourceful, humble and most importantly subservient to her husband. It is expected that the woman will assume the lion share of the housework and responsibility of raising the children. At the husband’s family gatherings, all daughters- in-law are expected to chip in and carry out the duties of cooking and cleaning for the family gathering.
At puberty, your father’s sister known as ‘Tete’ guides you through this transition to womanhood. A close, trusted friend of your mother or village elderly, may also assume this role. The role amongst many other things, involves teaching on the management of menstrual periods and the importance of preserving ones virginity for marriage. Girls are advised to elongate their labia minoras (the inner genital lips), by gently pulling on them every evening before going to sleep. The desired or recommended length of about 4 cm may take a month or so to achieve. This is said to enhance the sexual experience for ones husband although others claim that it enhances the experience for both.
Although no specific Shona cultural dressing exists, modesty is expected, and fully covered is highly preferred. Fully covered being knee length or longer, with short sleeves or longer. A head-scarf called a ‘dhuku’ (pronounced doo-koo) may be expected in rural areas and at funeral gatherings, although this practice may be slowly fading. Those who choose to wear head-scarfs do so as a fashion accessory more than anything else. African attire has been adopted from other West African countries and has now become the norm – no one even thinks of it as a foreign adaptation.
Woman in dhuku(headscarf)
It’s fair to say that most of the Shona culture is patriarchal and women are often disenfranchised. Although great emphasis is placed on the young respecting their elders, women still often find themselves at the bottom of the food-chain because both the men and the children rely on women for their day to day needs.
In modern Shona homes, many of these practices are not followed strictly. The Shona culture in these settings is mostly present through language, food, the deep respect for elders and love for the extended family. When infused with the Western culture of recognising women and children as deserving to be heard and respected, it can be a really beautiful way of life.
This article was written by Rachael Cooper, a Columbian woman now living in Oman.
Becoming a woman in Colombia and most Latin American countries starts with a celebration called “Quinceañero” which is the Latin version of the Sweet sixteen – but at 15. It used to be a very traditional party where the girl who was celebrating her 15th birthday would wear a princess dress and dance the Waltz with her father and her “special male friend”. Times have now changed, and although people still celebrate this day, they do so in a more modern way -which often means dancing to reggaeton music and wearing suggestive clothing instead of the princess dress.
Credit: This is Rocio.com. Read more about this cultural celebration on Rocio.com.
After this party you are officially a woman, and that brings with it responsibilities and duties. Colombian culture is still a macho culture, where girls are taught to cook and keep the house tidy but most boys aren’t. People who are financially able send their daughters to university, and they are expected to get a qualification and start working to provide for themselves and the family. If they aren’t able to, then they get married! Colombian culture is very family oriented so a son or daughter would rarely be asked to leave the home – no matter how old they are.
Colombian women are more famous for their curves than their brains, which makes me a bit sad as there are many intelligent and capable women in my country but most of them focus in their looks. There is pressure to live up to the ‘curvy and beautiful’ expectations, so a few years ago Colombian women started to get more and more into cosmetic surgery, with lots of them getting butt and breast implants as birthday presents when they turn 18. This is a trend that has been spreading all over Latin America. Columbians are a mix of African, Spanish and Native American blood, which makes us very diverse.
This article was written by Olajumoke Popoola, a Nigerian lady living in London.
Nigerian women are taught that the man is the head of the house. Literally! I know the Bible also says the man is the head, but it is quick to add that men should love their wives as Christ loves the church. This creates the balance that is very critical for the smooth running of a family. If the woman respects the man, and he loves her back, then there are absolutely no problems to be had. Right? Not really! Our mothers are constantly telling us from a young age that no man will marry a woman who cannot cook! But what if I don’t like cooking? Or if I can’t cook very well? Why can’t I choose to marry a man who can cook so I don’t have to worry about my shortcomings in the kitchen?
We are taught to be domestic and do ALL the chores at home – waking up, cleaning the house, bathing the kids, feeding everyone, washing up the dishes, taking kids to school before going to work ourselves, picking kids up from school, feeding them at home, helping with homework, playing with the kids, feeding them and putting them to bed before daddy gets back home, feeding daddy his dinner and serving him a chilled drink afterwards for his TV-marathon, cleaning up the dishes, getting kids stuff ready for school for the next day, then going off to bed and sometimes having to perform your “wifely” duties before you eventually get a few hours of sleep…and then the cycle begins again! You get the picture, right? No wonder many women do not care about how they look anymore – they are so tired from being “super-moms” and “super-wives” that they no longer prioritize their health. And what do they get in return? Often a cheating husband who is suddenly attracted to that young, slim lady that reminds him of how his wife used to be!
This is by no means the ‘norm’ but is a near-accurate example of many families in urban Nigeria today. All because we cannot (or do not) want to ditch this cultural prison! We see men in the western-world being the main carers at home, and sometimes even the cook! They share responsibilities at home and are not afraid to be tagged “spineless man” just because they choose to help with the chores at home.
I long for the day when I will see a Nigerian men, IN NIGERIA, wearing the apron and serving up dinner and wash up dishes afterwards. When they will wash the clothes, and do the school run. They are quick to forget that when mummy is happy, everyone’s happy! Conversely, I long to see women washing the family car outside, driving everyone to church on Sunday, changing faulty light bulbs and even being the bread-winner in a family, with no hard feelings from the husband or extended-family members.
I believe that we should learn to be gender-neutral in our daily lives. And who knows, maybe – just maybe – the success rate of marriages will improve.
This article was written by Mrs Roohina Sial, an Indian Muslim woman living in Zimbabwe.
Being a woman is a celebration, a blessing. A man will never know the prolonged pain of carrying and giving birth to one to a baby, and the parallel emotions and intense love that emanate from a woman to her child. Being a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, is a very special thing.
My culture and religion emphasize the need to my duties at home before I step outside, and everything else follows quite simply. The way of life that I choose to follow is based on religious teachings, and being a Muslim, Islam is my way of life and hence my culture.
In Islam, a woman is glorified and respected from every angle, and her status is uplifted. Centuries ago, and even in recent times, women had no rights and were considered a possession, being treated as men wished but this has since changed. As a Muslim woman, I am expected to protect my modesty and this includes covering my head. People often wonder if I am subjugated, but it actually is a choice – my choice – and it gives me a sense of liberation. In some cultures, women are looked at as sex objects and they spend hours in front of the mirror adorning themselves and trying to achieve ‘beauty’ and acceptance into society – some even spend thousands of dollars on cosmetic surgey! This is something that Muslim women don’t have to worry about.
A woman is the fairer sex; sensitive, emotional, beautiful, intelligent, loving, caring, responsible, and mature; but does that mean that she should be degraded and misused? I as a mother play the pivotal role in my family. In comparison to the father I am given 3-fold more the value, which automatically positions me indispensable. My role as a wife is a pleasure since the piety of my husband is judged by his treatment of me. To date, innumerable pregnancies have been terminated because the baby was female, whereas in my culture, daughters are considered a blessing.
My parents had the huge responsibility of bringing me up with affection and protection. My most important job is to nurture my kids (my husband provides that environment) and take care of my home (this includes my kids and my husband). I can also work if I chose to. My culture and my religion have spoilt me and made me taste the peak of respect and security.
This article was written by Sheefa Siddiqui, an Indian woman living in Zimbabwe.
The Indian woman, whose status and role was traditionally well defined and almost fixed in society, is now experiencing far-reaching changes. Women in modern times are entering into new fields,previously unknown to them. They are actively participating in social, economic, and political activities. Many woman actively supported and participated in the Nationalist Movement and secured positions and offices in administration and public life in free India.
Women’s equality in terms of education, employment, and power is still an individual rather than a universal achievement, and even today girls are taught to be more homely, timid, submissive, obedient and in certain cases even taught to dream only of being a good wife, mother and homemaker (the ideal being one who does not raise her voice). The modern woman desires to work mainly because of the pressing economic needs of the family.
The traditional status and role sets of women are breaking up and new role-sets based on achievement, independence and equality are gradually coming up. We’ve come a long way from ancient Indian culture where a woman did not have any rights and did not inherit anything. Where having your period was seen as a disease and nobody dared touch or eat with you – where you were made to sleep in the animal shed for 7 days! Where a woman would be banished to the jungle if her husband died, or even burnt alive with her husbands corpse!
This article was written by Maria Moreira, a Brizilian woman living in London.
I believe that Brasilain women have progressed in that we have rights when it comes to voting, and are equal to our male colleagues at work in the big cities. In rural areas and small cities however, the ‘macho’ male mentality is a still very much predominant, and I think that there is a still alot to be changed.
In Brasil, women are expected to work hard to raise a family and to be in charge of looking after the home. The man is seen as the main breadwinner and the head of the household. In most cases the men don’t get involved in playing with or supporting the kids – they see themselves as responsible only for providing food and shelter. This is something that I feel needs changing – men need to be more involved in parenting their kids – this shouldn’t solely be a woman’s responsibility.
But the biggest issue I believe women in Brazil face, is their self-image. Brazilian women are known to be beautiful, and the media has created a pressure for women to be perfectly beautiful. As a result, many women have low self esteem and don’t feel confident unless they are wearing something to make themselves look beautiful (what they have come to believe is beautiful). They are very competitive, and they will have as many cosmetic surgeries as they can, to change their appearance in order to be ‘beautiful’.
Brazil has the highest amount of cosmetic surgery in the world, and in some cases tragedy strikes and people end up losing their lives . Brazilians are obsessed with being good-looking! Sometimes they cannot even afford food but they will ‘afford’ expensive clothes. They’d rather spend their last money on a nice pair of heels than a good meal.
Brazilian women are normally hard-working, intelligent and well presented, and they would do so much better if they understood and focused more on the power that is within them and less on the superficial.
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