Inequality has been a constant throughout history for women. In some places, notably the West, women made huge strides towards equality and gaining respect. Even though the west has made these changes, women still face sexism in many places. Khaled Hosseini examines in A Thousand Splendid Suns the treatment women receive, specifically Laila Mariam. Hosseini tracks Mariam and Laila’s lives in Afghanistan and shows them how they endure sexism despite the political climate. Afghanistan has a patriarchal culture that often leads to sexism.
In a patriarchal system, the men make the most money and women take care of their children. Mariam observes the doctor in a burqa while Laila is giving her birth. She said, “Here, a lady… who knew that she had been lucky to have gotten a job, that there would always be something else taken away”. The fact that so many women have been deprived of their rights is enough for this doctor to know she’s lucky. Women are often denied an education because they feel it’s not important to fulfill their motherly and wifely duties. Babi Laila, Laila’s Father disagrees. Babi thinks that Laila’s future is dependent on her being educated. Babi tells Laila when discussing the idea to flee Afghanistan that “You will continue to go school… That is our number one priority, getting you a great education.” Babi displays characteristics not typically found in a patriarchal society which help show the contrast between societies in which women are treated as equals and the patriarchal society in Afghanistan.Patriarchal societies are associated with male dominance, so women often experience violence at the hands of men with no interference by the government. The government questions Laila, Mariam and other women who try to escape Rasheed. The officer in charge of the interrogation tells them that Rasheed is abusing the women in their house. Rasheed, just as Laila predicted, will abuse both women when they return home. Rasheed told Laila that he would find Aziza after locking her and Laila up in a hot, dry room for a long time. Rasheed acknowledges openly that he is able to abuse or kill his wife without repercussions. Men are not punished, but women are. Mariam was executed after she confessed to killing Rasheed in self defense. The stark difference in both cases shows the different treatment women and men receive under the law.
This idea can lead to the notion that patriarchal structures often focus on oppressing women and limiting their independence. The Taliban issue a list of rules when they take over Afghanistan. The Taliban have included a list that targets women specifically: “You are to stay at home all the time… If going outside is necessary, a…male relative must accompany you.” These rules are meant to make women dependent on their male relatives and control them. Afghan women lose more freedom when they cannot leave their home without male escort. Mariam Laila will be particularly hurt by this, since Rasheed has already restricted their independence. He is also supported by the Afghan government.
The patriarchal system of politics is often associated with sexism against women. Women who live in these areas are subjected to abuse and oppression by men. They may also be denied education and jobs, which further erodes their independence. In a part where women have equal rights, it is easy to overlook the fact that other places are very different. Hosseini reminds his readers through Mariam’s and Laila’s struggles that the fight to achieve equality around the world has not ended.