THE WESTERN WAY OF LIFE THROUGH THE EYES OF WOMEN REFUGEES
By Elena Chalari & Nadir Noori
In recent years, the refugee crisis, coupled with the humanitarian and social conditions of our times, have led to the prevalence of a certain social model, one of a multicultural society — whose needs are reflected in our current reality.
However, does a real implementation of this social model exist? In practice, how much is achieved? Is there a harmonious coexistence between people from different cultural backgrounds? How do the members of society feel about this experience?
We spoke with two women refugees about how they perceive the western way of life, if and how they are affected by it, but also how they evaluate it, in light of their own cultural backgrounds. We asked them if and how much their habits have changed since they’ve been in Greece.
They replied that they have changed, but explained that the changes have not been very great. These changes have mostly to do with social status and social life in general. For some, their social status in Greece is better than in their country of origin, but for others, the opposite is true.
As they explained it to us, women here have the choice to “live for themselves”, clarifying that they believe that women here make their own choices, as long as their actions do not cause insult to their husbands, their family, and their husband’s family. In other words, it’s more of a superficial, not genuine, freedom — nevertheless it initiates hope for independence.
In regards to “western standards” — the opinions of the women we spoke with varied greatly. The women from Afghanistan stated that the word “woman” is practically synonymous with the word “slave” and that although women may be givers of life, they are not allowed to live their own lives. Oppression is rampant there, and efforts to change the situation — efforts made by the women themselves — often have little or no impact. Only a very small percentage of women are able to make successful changes in their lives, while most women remain stuck in an oppressive environment.
In Iran, the social position of women is better, but cannot compare to the western standard. The women refugees from Iran who we spoke to, consider that women in Europe live practically “like princesses.” In general, the restrictions placed on women are mainly derived from traditional beliefs and habits, and there are fewer legal limitations. The constraints generally refer to various aspects of daily life.
In their country of origin, the women do not have the right to work freely, and sometimes do not even have the right to go outside. Even educated women, cannot freely pursue careers or work among men. Moreover, even though women have access to the internet and social media, they do not have the right to post photos, or in general post about themselves.
In regards to marriage and family, according to the law, women do have the right to file for divorce. In practice however, due to traditional ways, they don’t act on this right. On every level, men are the ones to make decisions regarding women’s lives. Even the choice of husband is not theirs. The truth is though, that in the old days things were far worse. Changes have been made, but again, only for a small percentage of women — this cannot be considered satisfactory.
During the interview, the following question was raised: Why do men agree with this kind of oppression, and why, after the progress made during the 70s and 80s regarding women’s issues, hasn’t this growth continued?
What partly is to blame for the hindrance of this progress is the war and lack of an intercultural society. There is also a lack of an organized state, resulting in there being no effort made to change the situation via education, schooling etc — and in this way young men in turn, remain within and uphold traditional values.
In Iran, the situation changed when Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamist regime came to power. In Afghanistan, perhaps freedom was not developed properly, for both men and women. Perhaps it was too difficult for men to accept the entirety of what freedom for women really meant, and perhaps this caused insecurity and the fear that an independent free woman, would no longer have a need for men. Due to the lack of proper, organized education — in the eyes of men, this freedom was seen as something very bad.
In regards to the “western way of life”, the women we spoke to emphasized that they would like to continue to follow many of their own habits and uphold their values, such as respecting elders, certain wedding traditions, as well as the idea of a husband-as-protector. However, they said they want to embrace elements of the western culture, mainly issues pertaining to equality, education and labor. Ideally, they want to maintain elements from both cultures and combine them creatively. On the one hand, they surely want to be members of a European society, but they also don’t want to lose their own ethnic identity and traditions.
The original story was written for Inclumedia Lab & published at solomon.gr (18/06/17).
Photo Credits: Solomon & Nadir Noori