The other side of gender inequality: Men and masculinities in Afghanistan

Chona R. Echavez, SayedMahdi Mosawi and Leah Wilfreda RE Pilongo


The purpose of the research is to achieve an in-depth understanding of different notions of being a man in Afghanistan and how they contribute to gender inequality. This report is the result of a collaborative research project by the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA) and the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) that is designed to inform both policy and practice in how to address gender inequalities vis-à-vis notions of masculinities in Afghanistan.

A multi-method approach employed both quantitative and qualitative techniques to assess four different regions that manifested degrees of both conservatism and openness regarding gender issues and were satisfactorily secure; namely, Nangarhar, Takhar, Bamyan, and Kabul (rural/ urban). The quantitative data were generated through survey questionnaires administered to both young and mature male and female respondents. The data were subsequently analysed with appropriate statistical techniques and coding applied to classify thematic issues and create matrices in the qualitative analysis phase. The qualitative data were obtained from in-depth interviews, key informant interviews and focus group discussions. Another tool, a semi-structured community questionnaire, obtained both quantitative and qualitative data.

The proposition that ‘men should be the breadwinners of the family’ is universally accepted by the respondents, with mature and male respondents more inclined to agree strongly. Agreement with this statement does not significantly vary across levels of educational attainment in each of the four study sites. Almost all respondents concur that men should handle the security of their family, regardless of education level. Pashtun respondents show greater inclination to strongly agree with the view, followed by Hazaras, and Tajiks. Respondents generally agreed that ‘men should fulfil their families’ needs at all cost’, and there is no significant variation across age, gender, educational level, or ethnicity. Afghan communities set high expectations for men. Men in all four provinces, across young and mature focus-group discussion (FGD) participants and informants, can feel the familial and societal pressure of living up to the three traditional roles of being providers, protectors, and procreators. They also report the loss of a sense of integrity and worth when they cannot meet these expectations.

The idea that men are given the authority and power to be leaders within and outside their homes is prevalent among all provinces. The overall data show no significant variation between young and mature respondents. Agreement with this view decreases with increased educational attainment; this is true for men and women, and across provinces. The respondents accepted the views that ‘power goes hand in hand with being a man’ and ‘men should always be more powerful than women’. Mature (over 25) men and women are more likely to support these views than younger men and women. Fewer more educated respondents agreed with these propositions.

More than half of the 400 respondents find wife beating acceptable, including majorities among men and women. The data show no significant variation between the response of young and mature respondents. Acceptance of wife beating is highest in Nangarhar and lowest in Bamyan. Increased educational attainment is associated with decreased likelihood of agreeing to the principle that ‘it is acceptable for a man to raise his hands on his wife’. However, the majority of respondents, both male and female, reject the display of aggressive behaviour at home.

The report ends with recommendations on ways in which the research can be used to promote policies supporting gender equality.


Echavez, C. R, Mosawi, S. M., & Pilongo, L. W. (2016). The other side of gender inequality: Men and masculinities in Afghanistan. Kabul: Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit.