For the last 100 years, women’s rights have been undergoing a struggle, resulting in women clawing their way up the equality scale with men. While the West still has a ways to go, Western women can look to the developing world to see just how bad things were.
Yet not all of these regions are 100% male-dominated. Many of the strictest male chauvinistic regions have small cultural minorities where women rule, and have more rights or better positions in society, than Western women.
10. Sahrawi Muslims Of The Western Sahara
In 1975 Morocco invaded the country of “Western Sahara”. Ever since the Moroccan invaders marched across the border, there has been a low-level War for Independence against the occupiers. These fighters, called the Sahrawi National Liberation Movement, or Polisario Front, continue their struggle to this day.
While both Morocco and Western Sahrawi share Muslim cultures, the Sahrawi brand of Islam is much more liberal than the conservative Moroccans. In Sahrawi culture, the women holds the power in the marriage and, if her husband displeases her, then she can divorce into becoming a revered member of Sahrawi society. Divorced Sahrawi women are revered and much sought after by male suitors, moreso than an unmarried virgin.
9. Western African Countries And The Akan People
Western Africa has probably the highest concentration of nations in the world, and many are ranked among the worst in the world for women’s rights. Yet, mixed among these chauvinistic cultures, are minority populations of the Akan. Although modern forces are changing their culture, the Akan people are historically a matrilineal culture, where inheritance and power falls in the women’s hands. When a man has children, they aren’t his; rather, they are his wife’s families’ children.
8. Sworn Virgins In Albania
Before Communism relaxed the intense traditional chauvinistic culture of Albania, the region lived under the law of Kanun: a medieval set of rules that tightly restricts women’s rights, going so far to state that “a woman is a sack made to endure.” Yet, in Albanian culture, there still remains a unique cultural aspect called the Sworn Virgin. Rural Albania is plagued by blood feuds that often last for generations. Many times, all the men in a family will be killed in revenge for something their great-grandfather did. Since all power rests with the men in this society, a women has to take their place to keep the family running. Called Sworn Virgins, these women basically become, and are seen by other Albanians as, men. They dress and act like men, but are immune from a blood feud and, with their elevated status as a “man,” equal to any other man they serve as the family’s legal guardian.
7. Young Women In Amish Culture
The Amish are a strict Christian sect that frown upon any technology or concept that distracts from family unity and God. Living much like we did 200 years ago, the Amish shunning of modern technology means they still drive their famous horse-drawn carriages, and sit at home in the dark with no electricity, and only candles to keep the nightlife from being totally pitch-black. The women’s role is seen as the homemaker, and she traditionally spends her time in the kitchen and at home. Yet the Amish have a unique aspect to their culture: Rumspringa. Roughly translated in English as “running around,” Rumspringa is when Amish teenagers are allowed to live by whatever rules they want, under the concept that, after experiencing outside culture, they eventually renounce it and come back into the fold by being baptized into the Amish church. During this time, the Amish girls are given free reign to do what they want, until they make the choice to return to the church.
Iroquois society, or the Iroquois League, is famous for inspiring the American Revolution against the tyrannical British King, and many of the League’s tenants made it into the American Constitution. One thing they don’t talk about is the role of women in Iroquois culture. Women held the power, and all wealth, passed through the mother’s side. After marriage, the man moved in with the wife’s family and, if the marriage didn’t work, he would be pushed out. While the Iroquois nations were ruled by chiefs, they could be removed and replaced at any time by a council of women elders. The League still exists today, straddling the Eastern border between Canada and America.
5. Polyandry In The Himalayas
Polyandry, or the practice of one wife having several husbands, used to be quite common in the Himalaya region that now makes up Northern India, Nepal, Bhutan and China. As the more mainstream, male-dominated, cultures creep into these formerly-remote regions, the practice is slowly dying out. Sometimes, the practice is forcefuly removed by cultures who feel threatened by women’s rights. Even now though, you can still find little clusters of Polyandry communities alongside the world’s tallest mountains.
4. Minangkabau In Indonesia
Indonesia has more Muslims than any other country in the world. Many areas of Indonesia follow strict Islamic law, which limits the rights of women. However, in Indonesia, the Minangkabau people, the largest matrilineal culture in the world, thrive. At the age of seven, boys are sent off to live in a religious school. When they are of age, they are encouraged to go out and explore the world and make their riches, before returning to settle in their homeland. With no men, this leaves women to take care of the home and economic life of their communities.
3. Mosou People In China
Sexuality was so suppressed in China, due to its traditional male-dominated culture and eventual Communist policies, that China has a unique mental condition called Shen Kui, or sexual-frustration-sickness. This is not the case with all of the people living in China though. One ethnic group living in Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces in China, close to the border with Tibet, revolves around the empowerment of women. In Mosou culture, there is no concept of marriage. Rather it is the women who, depending on who suites her fancy, asks a man to come to her house for, well, liaisons. Any children that result from these encounters are raised by the mother’s extended family.
2. Meghalaya In India
In the Meghalaya culture of India, there is a problem not encountered very much anywhere else in the world. In Hindu culture, where women’s rights are always under threat, with the Meghalaya people they have the opposite problem: men’s rights. In their culture, women have all the sway: wealth, the family name, and most of their culture’s power, which passes from woman to woman with little or no say from the menfolk. Recently, Meghalaya men have been organizing to fight for equal rights with women.
1. Kalash People In Pakistan
In Pakistan, where half the country is run by the seemingly anti-woman Taliban, there lives a small minority group where women have more rights than even women living in the West. The Kalash people live in Northern Pakistan’s Chitral Valley, close to the Afghan border. Rumored to be decedents of Alexander The Great’s conquest of Afghanistan, around 3000 people live in their little valley Utopia. For thousands of years, this women-centered culture has left them peace-loving and virtually crime-free. In Kalash culture, women choose their partners and, if the men don’t keep them happy, they can be discarded, with no repercussions, for a new man.
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