Two people fall in love, decide to marry, and live happily ever after. That is what we all like to believe marriage is, right? Unfortunately, it isn’t always so simple. Every couple will have their share of challenges and obstacles that may push them to their breaking point, and marriage is no different. It is still possible, however, to have a rich and fulfilling partnership that can last a lifetime. The key to success is cultivating a space in the home where both male and female partners feel respected, safe, and heard. In essence, the foundation of a happy home is ensuring love and equality are felt between two partners.
For the purpose of this post, the marriages discussed consist of a husband and wife from various countries. It should be noted, however, that the main theme of equality in the home can be applied to all frameworks of marriage everywhere (including LGBTQ+ unions).
Marriage practices vary widely across the world. This map created by the WomanStats Project helps to capture the discrepancy of equity in family law and practice. Data on each country from the following variables were analyzed to create this scale: 1) Age of Marriage, 2) Consent in Marriage, 3) Marital Rape, 4) Polygyny, 5) Divorce Accessibility, 6) Abortion Law, and 7) Women’s Property Rights.
Here are some examples of family law/practice from five countries from different color groups (dark green representing the best score and red representing the worst). Sweden (dark green), United States (light green), Peru (yellow), Botswana (orange), and Iran (red) implemented the following laws/practices that contributed to their score:
- “Women in Sweden are not legally required to obey their husbands.”
- In the United States across “various immigrant, ethnic and religious communities,” there is a presence of forced marriages; agencies across the country identified up to 3,000 cases between 2010 and 2012.
- “An abusive husband can claim impunity by citing his wife’s lack of education or status as justification for his actions.”
- Botswana has different forms of marriage. If a woman is married in “common property” or traditional law, she is “a legal minor and required to have her husband’s consent to buy or sell property, apply for credit, and enter into legally binding contracts.”
- The law in Iran “considers sex within marriage consensual by definition and, therefore, does not address spousal rape, including in cases of forced marriage.”
Marriage practices can have serious implications for the legal, political, and economic security of women. What is happening in the home is a glimpse of what is happening in society. If women are not safe or taken seriously at home, where will they be? There are countless other harmful marital practices such as honor killings, beatings, dowries, child marriage, baad, and double standards of marital fidelity. These practices contribute to, as well as stem from, a sexist agenda. By stripping away the power of women on every level of society, especially the intimate level of marriage and family, patriarchal societies are sustained.
To combat this, individuals and communities can fight for better marriages through personal behavior change and/or legislation changes. Not all practices in marriage are as extreme or obvious as issues of abuse, child marriage, and infidelity. Other less severe, but still present, practices that work against gender equality in marriage are the expectations of 1) decision-making solely entrusted to one partner, and 2) child-rearing to be one parent’s responsibility in a two-partner relationship.
Decision-making looks different for every couple. While it is okay to divide up certain decisions, it is important to have enough respect for one another that there is a conversation and trust between husband and wife. Stereotypically speaking, men are often the ones with the final say in decisions. One reason given in an Afghani report reads, “If women are consistently less educated than men, it makes them less respected in the family, less able to have decision-making power in the family.” One way to help encourage societies across the world to value women’s voices is to prioritize women’s education. When we invest in women, we invest in communities, families, governments, and countries as a whole. Women have much to offer in and outside of their home. It is important to give them the freedom to share their voice and for the rest of society, including husbands, to take the time to listen.
Child-rearing, while not something that all married couples experience, is a biologically gendered task that often becomes socially gendered in a marriage. Traditional gender roles tell us that men are to work and provide income for the family while women are to stay at home to raise the kids. This way of living is not wrong; in fact, it is the right choice for many. There are, however, two main concerns that come from this traditional mold: 1) some fathers are pressured to prioritize their career over time with their children, and 2) some mothers are eager to engage themselves in the workforce but face the pressures of being full-time moms.
In a Pew Research Survey, people were asked what they thought was most important for a father to provide his children (see “A Father’s Role”). Income was the least important out of the top four; children and moms would rather have fathers providing emotional and moral support than to stay long hours at work. If money is an issue, many mothers are willing and capable to step in for part-time work. This would allow for fathers to have sufficient time to fulfill their responsibility of providing their children attention and learning. The reasons why some mothers want to work can go beyond a paycheck though; many say they desire to make a difference outside of the home, or to find a greater sense of balance in their life. It is important for every couple to counsel together to find whatever works best for their family and personalities.
Marriage is a basic unit that has been used for millennia. While no two marriages are the same, there can be similar structure. By implementing proper laws and enforcements, the vilest of marital practices can be eliminated. Then, through individual attention and effort, partners can learn to value one another in greater capacity and work together as a unified team. It is through persistent, daily efforts that individuals in marriages and countries as a whole can come to appreciate the indispensable value of mutual respect and equality across gender lines.
WomanStats map: http://www.womanstats.org/maps.html
Pew research of father’s role: https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/06/14/the-new-american-father/
Pew research of mother’s work preferences: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/08/19/mothers-and-work-whats-ideal/
Anderson, Lisa. “Forced Marriage in America: many women don’t know their rights, fear to claim them.”Thomson Reuters Foundation News. 2012. http://news.trust.org//item/?map=forced-marriage-in-america-many-women-dont-know-their-rights-fear-to-claim-them/
Md. Misanur Rahman, Dr. Vincentas Rolandas Giedraitis, Mrs. Tahmina Akhtar. “The Social Sanction for Divorce: Who Ultimately Pay the Social Costs of Its Adverse Effects?” Sociology and Anthropology 1, no. 1 (2013): 26-33. DOI: 10.13189/sa.2013.010103
US State Department: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Botswana. Washington D.C. 2009. https://2009-2017.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2008/af/118987.htm
US State Department: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Iran. Washington D.C. 2019. https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/iran/
Theirworld. “How the Afghan authorities could get thousands of girls back into school.” Reliefweb. 2018. https://reliefweb.int/report/afghanistan/how-afghan-authorities-could-get-thousands-girls-back-school
Behson, Scott. “A Dad’s Dilemma: Prioritizing Time Versus Money.” HuffPost. HuffPost, December 3, 2013. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/a-dads-dilemma-prioritizi_b_4038134.
“Mothers and Work: What’s ‘Ideal’?” Pew Research Center. Accessed September 23, 2019. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/08/19/mothers-and-work-whats-ideal/.
“Mothers and Work: What’s ‘Ideal’?” Pew Research Center.
Howington, Jessica. “11 Stats About Why Moms Want to Work.” FlexJobs Job Search Tips and Blog. FlexJobs.com, August 26, 2015. https://www.flexjobs.com/blog/post/12-stats-about-why-moms-want-to-work/.