Transnational Marriages: Gender Struggles and family formation across Afghanistan borders

Marvah Shakib
Posted November 19, 2012 from Afghanistan

Exploring on Migration, Transnational marriages, and labor migration scholarly articles, i noticed most of the articles are presented from a gendered lens, mostly focused on feminized migration in certain countries mostly on Philippine women, Srilankan women and Colombian women etc.. However, these very less information on Afghan Migrants while there is huge movement of Afghans Migrating abroad through history, especially in the past three decades of war. On my interest, i wrote the following article, in which i present my believe that there should be a change in the gendered, discriminative laws, and social norms that affect, and violates men, and women; and sharing it with you.

Transnational Marriages: Gender Struggles and family formation across Afghanistan borders The gendered, power structured Afghan society affects transnational marriages. This paper, will firstly talk about gender struggles of transnational marriages that are shaped by material factors, or laws. It will present the effect of migration laws across borders, and marriage laws in Afghanistan, on transnational marriages, not only within the country, but also other countries across borders. Like the marriage law for afghan immigrants that is implemented by Iran government in which the choices of Iranian women to marry Afghan men are restricted. Secondly, in the power structured patriarchal society; a man plays a key role in marriage decision making across borders, and this affects women in the origin and the host country. Thirdly, many migrations are for economic and better life opportunities, but in some cases, some men play with the emotions of women establish a relationship to get visa, and support from those women, then leave them once they achieve their goal. Finally, not only women’s action, and choices are constrained because of the structure of their gender. men‘s choices and actions are also limited and constrained by the structural values of their masculinity role in the society. Hence, this paper focuses on the gender struggles of transnational marriage choices that are shaped by material factors like laws. Afghans’ patriarchal power structures in the society gives more space for men in marriage decision making across borders, which effect women in the source and host country. This paper suggests that a change in gendered stereotypes and roles is necessary in order to benefit both genders equally. There are two definitions of terms that are used in this paper. Firstly, the term “material factor” indicates the laws that affect migration, and transnational marriages. secondly, the term “love marriage” in this paper indicates that the adult man/ woman has a choice to choose her partner, then get married not considering their family’s choice. This can also be indicated to some exceptional arranged marriages, which were a love relationship and families agreed to accept the relationship. In general, the degree of transnational marriage, and life facility choices of men and women are shaped by the material factors of the society like migration laws in the state. Afghan men have more opportunity to travel alone and it is accepted by the society. By being able to migrate alone, they can have more options, and education, work, and new life opportunities, while an Afghan women occasionally can travel alone, and mostly for study. According to Constable, “…certain structural factors particularly legal once can constrain women within the local context, yet also provides transnational possibilities through which they can attain desired subjectivities” (N. Constable, 2003: 164).Constable in her article mentions that transnational marriages gives women a chance to gain agency, and have opportunity to make a new life with a modern perspective husband. Unlike the cases that she mentions in Philippines, it is hardly ever that an Afghan woman marries a foreign man, even if she is dying of family and social pressure. Thus, this is linked with the traditional, structured gender views that a man can have more freedom of choice, and movement than a woman. This also reflects in marriage choices, men can choose to have “love” marriage, but women do not often get to choose to have “arranged” or “love” marriage, her family usually chose for her. Further, the laws within the state can create opportunities, constrained choices, and limit opportunities. In Afghanistan laws are based on Shareya law, and in Shareya law Muslim man and woman can marry a non Muslim partner only if s/he converts to Islam. However, they way that it is interpreted and used in Afghanistan are gendered, which means it gives more choices and opportunities for men than women. For instance, the marriage law for Afghans marrying foreigners is interpreted as such: “It is not possible for a non-Muslim man to marry a Muslim woman unless he changes his religion to Islam. However, it is possible for a Muslim man to marry a non-Muslim, foreign, woman who is the woman of the book, Christian, or Jew. Additionally, the court will not register marriages involving Afghans who claim not to be Muslim, unless the couple consents to a Muslim religious ceremony. Afghan law considers all Afghans Muslim by default.” (Yazdani, 2012). As we can see the interpretation of law is gendered, and it constraints the choices of women to be able to marry a foreign man. Even if women are under physiological or psychological pressure, and are controlled by the society and experience a form of psychological or domestic violence, still they do not have much choice to leave that environment and recover. Thus, the law gives the court authority to approve a man’s marriage certificate and the new formed family can enjoy the citizenship and state facilities, while a woman does not have such choice. Using her own citizenship, she cannot claim citizenship for her foreign husband. Likewise, in some cases, across the Afghanistan borders, women from other countries who marry Afghan men are also deprived of their citizenship facilities from their origin country just because they chose to marry an Afghan man. Nationality plays an important role on how countries decide to implement migration, or marriage laws. There are laws in some cross-border countries like Iran that constrain the transnational marriage choices for Afghan men and the host countries’ women (Iranian women). According to Zahedi Ashraf, “Many Afghan men have married Iranian women and their repatriation has caused a major dilemma for their Iranian wives. The dilemma stems from the Iranian citizenship laws which disadvantage Iranian women in transfer of their citizenship to their non- Iranian husbands and their children. Thousands of children born from these Iranian mothers and non- Iranian fathers are not recognized as Iranian citizens. They are considered Afghan nationals, and are thus not entitled to benefit from state funded education and health services” (Havedal, 2008: 19) This indicates that the cross border couples are facing very vicious issues, and life limitations, limitation of movement, limitation of creating a family, and limitation to enjoy the states’ facilities; because of the material factor, and laws of the host country. On the other hand, this also indicates the gendered citizenship, because if the husband is Iranian and wife is Afghan, then the state easily register their marriage, and give citizenship for the Afghan woman. Because there are legal courts that register their marriage, but no court will legalize the marriage of Afghan men to an Iranian woman It is banned by the state (BBC PERsian: 2011). This indicates that if the afghan man married to Iranian woman, and cannot legalize their marriage they cannot take citizenship. Thus, the gender roles in here are very constrained by the Iranian foreign marriage law. Importantly, the new generation, or children born out of such relationships are the victims, because they are deprived of their right to study, and hope for a brighter, better future. Hence, there should be a change in the laws in order to weaken the strong structured material constraints. According to Sorensen, “…There is a dire need for a reconstituted gender and family ideology (based on reality) and family policy (based on emerging transnational need) in sending as well as receiving countries.” (Sorensen, 2007 171). In this point, the need for change in the gendered structure form of material laws in the different counties that causes suffering for everybody. Thus, the gendered laws that create limitations, and countries that for one sex, or nation should be evaluated, and change in order to bring more equality and social change for good, and not maintaining a damaging and patriarchal structure. In the power structured patriarchal society; a man plays a key role in marriage decision making across borders, and effects women in the origin and the host country. In the South Asian and Middle Eastern countries, mostly men migrate, and go for work, or study. Being away from their families for a long time, their emotional and physical needs lead them to have an affair, or marry a woman in the host country. This sometimes the case that the man is already married in the origin country, and has to emotionally, and financially support his family back home, but he also has a second marriage in the host country. In such cases the position of the woman in the origin country becomes very vulnerable. In the absence of a husband the woman lives with in-laws family and is more likely to experience domestic or other forms of psychological violence. According to the World Fact Book, only 12.6% of Afghan women are literate ("Wrold Factbook"). This indicates that the majority of women in Afghanistan are illiterate; as most of women in Afghanistan are not literate, they will be dependent on the husband remittances. The man also has responsibility to support his woman in the host country, so he might not be able to support his wife in the source country, and she can experience economic crises as well. By the time, overwhelming feelings of responsibility, family and social pressure, he will have to choose one of the women, and in most cases an Afghan man chooses the Afghan woman thinking they share same culture, and he can practice his masculine role. Thus, the women in the host country will remain alone, and experience emotional depression, and sometimes have to take care of their children and need to bear responsibility. For example, in an interview with Mr. Ghafur, he said that he has traveled to the UK, 25 years ago to study, and he got married to a British woman. They have two kids together, one is fourteen the other is ten years old (Popal, 2012). He divorced his British wife five years ago due to cultural and ideological differences, and three years ago, he married an Afghan woman. It this case the British woman has to take care of the two children, one of which is handicapped. Hence, the woman has to start a single headed household, and take responsibility of home, work, and take care of her children, while the man has started his new life, by having two cute baby girls from his new wife. Thus, this example showed the gendered role of a man in women’s life through cross-border marriages. Ghafor’s decision on having a second wife, and getting divorce does not only effect the British woman by loading responsibilities on her shoulder and mentally oppressing her by psychological pressures that what will happen to her handicapped child, and what will be their future without having a father to give them love, and support. The children might also experience “care drain” especially the handicapped child, who really needs special care. This creates problem not only within the family, each member will luck love, and care, as well as bearing responsibility, but also it can affect the society, if those children grow up, and the mother cannot control, they choose the wrong way, and become thieves, or addicted. Furthermore, many migrations are for economic and better life opportunities. But in some cases, some men play with the emotions of women, establish a relationship to get visa, or support from those women, and leave them once they achieve their goal. According to Sorensen, “… motivation behind migration is simply economics” (Sorensen, 2007, 166). This reflects the fact that the migration, and transnational marriages can also be for economic improvement. As people who are migrating from Afghanistan are mostly men. They have the chance to improve their economic situation and enjoy better life facilities abroad, and this can be costly for women in some cases. For instance, Nazia Stanakzai is an Afghan woman who migrated to Germany fourteen years ago. She has finished her studies there and is working. She met a man eight years before, and established a relationship thinking that she will get married to him, and he promised so. Their relationship lasted for seven years, then she found out the guy is married and has a daughter in her age. He used her citizenship to get German citizenship by having a fake marriage, and he used her money and life facilities, but left her, and joined his wife, who was invited by him to Germany after he received his citizenship passport (Stanakzai, 2012). Nazia was oppressed emotionally, and betrayed economically, but neither the Afghan government could do anything, nor did she complain to the German government. This case shows us the degree of valunaribility of women in cross border marriages issues because of their gender. The social norms of their culture and the patriarchal structure of the society affect them no matter where they live, and how independent they are. On the other hand, not only women’s action and choices are constrained because of the social construction of their gender, but men‘s choices and actions are also limited and constrained by the structural values of their masculinity role in the society. In patriarchal societies, men are obligate to be the head of their families, economically support their families, and play certain roles. It limits them in terms of cross border marriages, and their choices of life partner. For instance, in an interview by Ahmad Shakib, who lives in Moscow for eight years he said, “As an older son of the family, I have to be responsible for my family’s economy and support them, if not it is a shame for me” (Shakib, 2012). Shakib is from a family who really value the culture, religion, and traditions; he himself also believes in arranged marriage, and wishes to have a decent, “proper” Afghan woman as his life partner. As he went to Moscow illegally, till now he is not a citizen, and does not have a passport, therefore cannot invite anybody to Moscow. He has founded his own private business there, and does not want to leave it, and come back to Afghanistan where there are not enough job opportunities. Therefore, as a man head of his family, he has to sacrifice his physical need and emotions in order to maintain his masculine role according to the structure image of a man in the society. Thus, this indicates that the society norms, family process and relations, or feeling like the responsibility to look after parents and family, shapes other relations that we maintain transnationality. According to Sorensen, “Family process and relations between people defined as kin constitute the initial foundation for all other types of transnational social relations” (Sorensen, 2007: 154). This indicates that the society, family, culture, and religion that we grow up and make relationship also affect the ties and relationships that we make in cross-borders and our ideology as well. This saying applies on Shakib, whose ideology is shaped by the culture, religion, and the family that he grew in, and made it hard for him to choose a life partner in a non- Muslim country, where the ideologies are different. Thus, gender structured image of men also frame their choices, and actions, and shapes the family and society’s certain expectation from them, that makes them responsible and under pressure. To sum up, this paper presented individuals who move across-borders as specifically as gendered subjects, and how their gender role, expectation, ideology effects constrains their choices and experiences. As this paper mentioned, the laws constraints choices within the country and cross borders laws for the Afghan Nationality, which also affects the women who wants to marry Afghan men like in the case of Iran. The migration laws sometimes violate certain rights for a minority groups and it should be changed. The power structural view of gender gives certain limitations and constructs certain behavior and action for both men and women. This is not only a social fact in specific countries as I mentioned Afghanistan only, but it affects transnational marriages immensely. The question to evaluate further is the solution for the change of structural norms of gender is to change the origin countries’ culture and views? To what degree is it possible? How migration and transnational marriages can contribute to this change?

References: Constable, Nicole. "University of Pittsburgh." University of Pittsburgh. 10.163 (2003): 164. Print. Yazdani, Kazem. "Marriage and the right to choose partner." The Republic os silence. Oruzghan Provencial website, 19 2012. Web. 7 Nov 2012. < af/article/2752/>. Havedal,, Anja . "Migration." AFGHANISTAN RESEARCH AND EVALUATION UNIT [Kabul] 01 2008, 19. Print. Popal, Ghafor. Internet Videoconference Interview. 03 /11/2012. Stanakzai, Nazia, Phone Interview. 04/11/12 "Marreigestory of An Aghan man with an Iranian woman." BBC Persian [Kavul] 09 05 2011, n. pag. Web. 17 Nov. 2012. . "People and Society: Afghanistan." The Wrold Factbook. Centeral Intellegence Agency, n.d. Web. 17 Nov 2012. Sorensen, Ninna Nyberg. "International Organization for Migration." International Organization for Migration. (2007): 154, 166. Print.


File presentation_paper.docx
Ending Gender-Based Violence 2012

Comments 3

Log in or register to post comments
  • Kara Lozier
    Dec 07, 2012
    Dec 07, 2012

    Dear Marvah,

    Thank you for this very interesting article. As a newly converted Muslim and an Afghan by heart (not by blood), your article was especially engaging. I appreciate that you were also sensitive to the constraints on Afghan men. I was not aware of the laws in Iran related to citizenship. It certainly discriminates against Afghan men marrying Iranian women and, like you said, hurts the women and children. Do you think it's possible to change the host country's culture and views? That seems like a very big challenge. Do you think most Afghans are aware of the laws when they enter these marriages?

    I am glad you shared this topic with us as it was not something I had ever read or thought about before.

    Peace and blessings, Kara-Amena

  • Marvah Shakib
    Dec 09, 2012
    Dec 09, 2012

    Dear Ms. Kara-Amena, Thanks a lot for encouraging me! This is one of my writings that i really enjoyed thinking and writing about these issues. After reading so many articles on Migration and femenization of labor migration. Reflecting back to my country, we hardly have women migrating for work outside. However, overwhelming, men and family migration are happening due to non secure, and unstable security situation in Afghanistan. Among those migrants, that majority are men, beside benefiting, some of them also really suffer a lot from different perspectives, so i decided to present it in this paper. To answer your question, not most Afghans migrating in Iran know about the laws, because most of them go for work and are uneducated. this is one root of the problem. To answer the first question that you asked has engaged my mind as well, it might be possible through media awareness, primary education, in educational systems, and projects working for bringing change in their oriented ideology, and against racism. although, it will take time, to change the "oriented" ideology of Afghans that "other" nations have, especially considering all Afghans as building construction, uneducated workers.

    I am happy that you enjoyed my writing!!!

    just curious..why have u decided to become a Muslim?

    Best Regards Marvah Shakib

  • irina_costa
    Dec 12, 2012
    Dec 12, 2012

    Dear Marvah,

    Thank you for sharing with us your essay. It really captures a lot of the interlinks between border crossing, citizenship marriage law and a strictly disciplining gendered society . The relationship between Afganis and Iranians is little known and Im greatfeul to read and familirize myself with those borders and those stories of border-crossing and marriage migration. It feels that throughout your essay you are looking at marriage as a migration strategy manipulated by those who decide to move abroad..usually sort of trying to deceit one of the partners. But from my own experience marriage is such a complicated arrangement, such a rigid institution, such a straightjacket for human feelings, attachments and interests. Migration is also a very difficult process for an individual, things change - feelings change, opportunities change with age and place...while I really enjoyed and found informative your review on marriage law and citizenship Im sometimes more flexible when I look at how marriages and relationships fall apart. Do you have any thoughts on that? I don't know this is simply my reaction after reading this text. One extra question - where do Afghan's migrate predominantly?

    all best