Term Paper: Families in a Global Context Women

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Families in a Global Context

Women as the Architects of Family Life in Sudan and the United Kingdom

In today's globalized world, far more than just politics and economics shapes the international community. Instead, society is made up of families, and families are, in a sense, what control the actions of that society. Because family life is among the top values that many share, what is important in families is often what is important at the higher levels of government. In Western cultures, like the United States, this translates into family issues being at the head of the political realm. For instance, issues like abortion, gay marriage, and euthanasia have become so controversial because families are devoted to attempting to define themselves regarding these issues. In countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, religion is incorporated into the law in an attempt to define what family life is and should be. Across the globe today, families are no longer concerned only with their cohorts. Instead, they seek to understand what make other families tick, and what govern their actions by getting to understand families across cultural boundaries. A comparison of family life in both the developing country of Sudan and the industrialized country of the United Kingdom makes understanding families across the globe easier, allowing the similarities and differences of family life across the globe to be better grasped. Although the countries differ greatly, the comparison reveals that women and their roles are of primary values in both cultures.

Sudan, the largest country in Africa, is an excellent state to compare with the United Kingdom, as the African nation was once colony of the world power. For 58 years, Great Britain controlled Sudan, establishing its boundaries based on the European nation's political interest instead of paying attention to the ethnic and cultural issues that already existed among natives in the state. Because of this, intrastate relations in the area have been difficult, and civil war has shaped every aspect of family life in the tumultuous region ("Sudanese," 2008). But despite the fact that poverty and violence have had an irreversible affect on life in Sudan, families in this region are resourceful, and they have managed to make the best of what they have been dealt. In the hot weather, families stay cool and dry because of their mud-baked huts, and in the cooler regions, grass huts provide heat and shelter from precipitation ("Sudanese," 2008). Families draw strength from their folklore, religion, and traditions in order to make light of even the most strenuous circumstances. Folkloric stories about Fatima the Beautiful, a Muslim women who finds happiness in her beauty and many abilities, and Umm Ba'ula, the bogey-woman who threatens disobedient children, have played long roles in the establishment of family life and domestic traditions among the Sudanese ("Sudanese," 2008). Although the war-torn region has been split apart through political events, much of the Sudanese family life has stayed traditional because of strong religious and cultural ties to that type of life ("Sudan: A Cultural Profile," 2008). Strangely, that traditional family life is at the same time all about women and not about them at all. Identifying the female's role in family life is of the utmost importance in discussing this tradition in Sudan.

A Muslim nation, Sudan's women are kept by the decrees of Muslim law, forced to wear the traditional Muslim coverings, keep their eyes lower than their male counterparts when meeting men outside of their families, and take care of the domestic chores ("Sudanese," 2008, Cline 2009). Although the literacy rate in Sudan is only around 30% ("Sudanese," 2008), women are generally among the unschooled, and even educated women generally can suffer from these same restrictions. Expected to keep house and raise children, women are generally separated from men when it comes to celebrations and other public events in Sudan. Women eat together, after the men, and are left at home while men socialize with other men in their homes and public places. Although they are able to be together, women generally do not enjoy this same social privilege, even within the boundaries of their own sex (Cline, 2009). In addition, women are generally responsible for the handling of social services, according to Cline (2009). Those who are sick, old, and have other family problems generally turn to the women in their extended family to provide relief (Cline, 2009). Furthermore, marriages in Sudan tend to be arranged as an alliance between families, not necessarily a union of two people who love each other. In fact, the tradition of a bride price still occurs within the Sudanese marriage tradition ("Sudanese," 2009). Although it is important to remember that the women of the family are the head of the domestic realm while the men are the head of the public sphere, discrimination against women is rampant. This may be because of both Muslim influence and female circumcision, also called female genital mutilation (Cline, 2009). According to Cline (2009) female genital mutilation is widely regarded as a dangerous practice for women both psychologically and physiologically, causing problems when women bear children and a great deal of pain. In addition to this, it sets them apart as a class quite different than men. While men also undergo circumcision, the end result is not nearly as harmful as it is to women, and the practice can be seen a s a physical symbol of men's superiority to women.

In Sudan, family life is different depending on education, wealth, and level of commitment to the Islamic faith. Cline (2009) writes that some university couples live lives similar to Western couples, with males and females holding relatively equal positions. Indeed, women who are from wealthier families, and women in certain geographical areas, tend to have greater freedom than other women. But in all of these cases, stringent adherence to the Muslim traditions often trumps other social classifications. Thus, family life in Sudan is defined by the treatment of women. While much of Sudanese life leaves women out, the rest of the world can best understand family life in the nation through understanding the plight of women.

In the United Kingdom, family life is starkly different than what it is in Sudan. Men and women share modern conceptions of family life and parenthood by sharing the burden of domesticity and work. Determining how to manage a career with family is the challenge that most U.K. residents face, instead of the war and poverty encountered by families in Sudan. In the United Kingdom, couples have children later in life, men and women tend to have children while they are not married, and couples attempt to raise children together (Kathleen, n.d.). Something unique about the British state is the fact that it has one of the highest fertility rates in Europe, in addition to a high fertility rate among those over 30 and teenagers (Kathleen, n.d.). Although Sudanese families often include extended relatives and multiple wives, families in the United States and Britain generally consist of two parents and their children. Because mothers tend to work, young children often only spend time with their parents during those parents' time off of work, and attend a preschool or child care facility during the day, unless they have a nanny or babysitter who looks after them in the home ("Family Life," 2009). In fact, childcare is one of the primary issues with which British families have to deal, according to Kathleen (n.d.). Instead of relying on their homes to keep them safe from the elements, British families enjoy maintaining their homes as a matter of pleasure, tending to their gardens, yards, and exteriors. Economic status and culture is responsible for a majority of these differences. While the Sudanese must constantly battle poverty and civil war, residents of the United Kingdom enjoy a relatively stable political situation augmented by many conveniences. Regardless of these differences, however, an important similarity between family life in Sudan and life in the United Kingdom is the fact that, once again, women are the key players.

Although men and women are both represented in the British workplace and both are providers for their children, men and women's transitions to parenthood are "markedly different" (Kathleen, n.d., pg. 67). Because men have traditionally been members of the workforce, tending to remain as a part of that workforce until retirement, a clearer understanding of their role in the family can be obtained through data. The number of men in the workforce in the United Kingdom tends to follow a traditional pattern, as men tend to enter the workforce when they finish their educations. Women, who only entered the British workforce around the 1950s and who only very recently followed the trend of going back to work after having children, cannot be described by such a pattern. Although many women are choosing to return to work sooner after the birth of their children, the pattern of women's employment in the British workforce cannot be predicted as accurately because it still tends to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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