Comparative and international Family Research demonstration project
Cultural issues related to families are quite dissimilar in various countries. United States and Islamic republic of Iran exhibit great cultural diversity. Iran in known is known in United States for it's for its vast supply of oil. It is a fact beyond obvious perception that Iranian and American Culture are witnessed to be in the midst of a “culture clash” with perceived difference in values; this has lead to great confrontations and tension. “Iran's glory has always been its culture” (Frye, 2005), Is a quote that portrays the inherent relationship between people and their culture, this as had a immense effect in family setup. The family within the Iranian culture is a very autonomous aspect of their culture, heavily based on male dominance contrary with the Americans were women can live autonomously without a man's authority. Irrespective of this, Iranians as well as Americans equally treasure their exclusive and intricate cultural identity, whether it's the Iranians intrinsic values of Islamic religion, gender roles and family importance or America's unique marriage taboos depicts the importance of culture alike (COMM 325 Iran, 2007). From both perspectives, we must examine the impact of religion, education, housing and geographical location among others to understand their family structure and cultural issues.
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Housing and Geographical location
Iran is a country in south-west Asia. It is located at the southern shores of Caspian Sea, bordering the republic of Armenia, the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Turkmenistan to the north, Turkey, Iraq, Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman to the west, and to the east is Pakistan and Afghanistan (Tavassoli, 2002). It's the 18th largest country in the world with an area of 1,648,195km2 having an estimate population of 74 million people. It's a country with diverse landscapes varying from flat lands to deserts and from mountains to plateaus. It holds two mountain chains, the Alborz Mountains to the northand the Zagross to the south-west. This makes Iran's land of true beauty and magnificence (Tavassoli, 2002). It further has a massive volcanic peak called Damavand located along the Alborz mountain ranges (Neff, 2006). In additions, it's a home to two impassible barrier deserts called ‘Daht e Kavir' and ‘Dasht e Lut'. With this king of environment, the spatial characteristic of traditional Iranian houses reflects natural, geographical and cultural needs. One important aspect is adaptation to the harsh climate most notable on the central parts of the country. Houses are constructed of Adobe and brick with unique fabled artistic and deep heritage architecture while in the United States; houses are made of stones and blocks (Harvey, 2005).
Iranian education system is divided into five cycles namely, pre-school, primary, middle or guidance, secondary and post-secondary education. Elementary education is mandatory under the country's constitution but due to high number of applicants for post-secondary educations, admission to these institutions is based on a nation-wide examination, giving a opportunity only to the most talented and bright students. All these levels of study enjoy free education, private schools and universities too do exist but allowed by law to charge tuition fees. Demand for post secondary education far much exceeds supply with only 27% of all applicants being admitted. (MCHE, 2009), approximately 50% of the Iran's population is under the age of 25; hence quite difficult for the government to provide proper education for all (MCHE, 2009). Students at the two phases of primary and middle/guidance education are required to do a national and regional exam as compulsory for continuation. This does not apply in the United States. The literacy rates stand at 76.9% (UNESCO, 2009).
Islam is the religion of up to 98% of Iranians with approximately 90% being the Shi'a and 8% being Sunni. Other minorities make up 2% of the remaining non- Muslims. In Iran, divine law in the unique source of legitimacy and the unique interpreter of divine law is the spiritual leader. Any interpretations by the spiritual leader are not questionable. Furthermore, religion played a key role in the lifestyle of Iranians. Frey (2004) states that, issues such as polygamy were highly regulated by the Islam custom, where the religion permitted a man to have as many wives as possible. The religious law too supports the sanctifying of the family in diverse ways, defining conditions for divorce, inheritance and guardianship. These have had an impact in the entire family structure and ways of living. Issues of religious freedom are yet to be achieved with non-Muslims being discriminated and harassed. Conversion too from Islam is punishable to death. This is quite contrary to the United States were there is freedom of worship and change of religion. Atheists have their own rights too, and people's lifestyle seems not to be influence much by religion (Frey, 2004).
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Socio-cultural beliefs and values
Before revolution, the Iranian society practiced segregation of sexes. Men dominated the family and subjected women to hardship in the name of culture. Mostafavi, Mehryar and Agha (2006), argued that “men's beliefs family planning is the responsibility of women has reduced their likelihood of their participation in family planning activities” (Mostafavi, Mehryar & Agha, 2006, p.78). This means that men could not be keen at all on such issues of family planning at the expense of their wives. This is quite similar with the American culture in the fifties where, women where being taught to be housewives failure to which they were being despised.FRD (2004) further re-affirmed that,
“Women generally practiced use of chador (or veil) when in public or when males not related to them were in the house. In traditional view, an ideal society was one in which women were confined to the home, where they performed the various domestic tasks associated with managing a household and rearing children. Men worked in public sphere, that is, in the fields, factories, bazaars and offices. Deviation from this ideal, especially in the case of women, tended to reflect adversely upon the reputation of the family” (p.147)
An individual with no family ties has little importance and status in the larger society. Only if a person does something disgusting to Islam can such ties be detached. Even though the culture is strict in the roles of women, westernization has eroded some of these old values. Among these ideas are; women being involved in the public world such as education and labor force (FRD, 2004). In addition, the word ‘household' had a quite different connotation than it is for the American culture. While for the Americans it refers to the actual structure were the family unit resides, the Iranian culture describes it has the cooperation and relationship between man and the woman (COMM 325, 2007). The family is quite autonomous heavily based on male supremacy. Even if the oldest member is the grandfather, father or son, they have the right to be in charge of the household.
Polygamy is also practiced highly and enshrined in the Islamic law. This too is quite different with the United States where polygamy is hardly practiced. Another complex cultural practiced which is highly termed as a taboo in the United States is marriages within the family context and the process of choosing marriage partner. Reliance on family members to choose a spouse for one of their own for marriage is still quite prevalent in Iran (COMM 325, 2007). Marrying a close relative is termed incest in the United States and is heavily prohibited. As much these two cultures are geographically far away, and with such sharp difference in culture, they too have some relationship in common, just like Iranians, Americans still value the importance of the family set up. This is much portrayed by the politicians where they are highly influenced by the wider family in their quest for political ambitions in the United States. The perception of women in both cultures is still eminent. Although women enjoy freedom and little influence from men, there still exist notable hierarchal differences with male dominance on the top in almost all aspect. For example, men generally are still paid more and reside in plush places than women (COMM 325, 2007).
Sociopolitical systems and structures
The political system in Iran is quite peculiar; this is much attributed by the fact that the state is an institution of divine will, where the divine law is the unique source of legitimacy and political authority. The depository and unique interpreter of divine law is the spiritual leader whose religious jurisprudence is given to be in charge of all aspects of political society. The spiritual leader exercises his control over the judiciary, the army, the police, the radio and also over the president and parliament; institutions elected by the people (Fidh, 2003). This clearly depicts the Islamic ideology in the political framework of Iran, hence a theocratic republic. This is quite different from the American system were the religion is autonomous and has no direct link with the federal political system of governance (Iran Year Book, 1996).
Iran has three branches of government with the executive being headed by the supreme leader as the head of s tat e and present as t he head of government and council ministers whereas in the United states' executive consists of the president who is both the head of state and government and delegates. Both countries share four year term of re-electing leaders with most of the top organ leaders holding electoral offices (UNESCO, 2009).
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Iran is the second largest oil producer among OPEC member countries and it is the leading export commodity in the country. Agricultural products too such as wheat, rice etc contributes 10.4% of the GDP. The GDP stands at $852.6 billion and growth rate stands at 6.2% contrary to that of the United States GDP of$ 14.441 trillion and growth rate of 0.4% in 2008. The per capita income lies at $12,300 with an unemployment rate of 12.1%. Total exports amounted to $76.5 billion in 2008, 80% being from petroleum (UNESCO, 2009).These figures are quite insignificant compared with $1.283 trillion worth of export from the United States with a per capita income of $47,422 in 2008. The urban status has enjoyed lots of economic mobility due many opportunities emerging from government bureaucracies and revolutionary organization compared to the rural dwellers. Imports stood at $61.3 billion much being of industrial raw materials and military supplies (US Department of State, 2008).
Access and utilization of health care
The largest healthcare system is run and managed by the Ministry of health and Medical Education. It is charged responsibility to regulate and oversee healthcare system. However, access and availability of health care is limited particularly in provinces where figures indicate lower prevalence of diseases compared with nationwide figures. The government has also established low cost clinics to care for the law income. Able people mostly in the large cities of Tehran and Isfahan use private hospitals which charge heavy bills. This has boosted the Life expectancy of Iranian which stood at 70.8 years in 2008 with every citizen entitled to basic health care offered at subsidized rates by the government. In the United States, healthcare system lies on the private hands with a view government hospitals (UNESCO, 2009).
Food, dietary habits and body image
Several Iranian dishes originated from the Greeks, Arabs, Turks and Russians. This happened in the midst of human civilization through invasions. Their stable meal mainly comprises of larger amount of grains especially rice, fruits and vegetables with small amounts of read meat. A typical Iranian meal is often a heaping plate of rice spiced with greens (Spencer, 1997). About 6% of population of Iran is undernourished according to World Bank. This means they do not receive adequate nutrition. Of children too under the age of five, 16% are underweight and about 19% are stunted. This explains the nutrient deficiency in their diet. Stable food for Unites States is wheat and wheat product but their diet is much blended coffee, tea, fruit juices and cereals. They are quite accessible to balanced diets with low cases of nutrient deficiency (Spencer, 1997).
Technology and mass media
Iran still has limited media freedom in dissemination of information with the government being in control. The administration too is yet to allow the internet to be a public forum with government involvement in filtering the internet. Several cases of harassment and closure of internet cafes in Tehran with g rounds of no permits and promoting immorality but it became apparent that the closure was due to Iranian's use internet to make low cost international calls making the ministry of Post Telegraph and Telephone lose significant revenues (Washington post, 29th September 2006). With such frustrations, Iranians remain tangled with their culture with limited use of technology equipments in their households. A big contradiction exists with the United States where internet access is accessible by majority of the population without filtration by the government (Spencer, 1997).
Cultural issues related to families in Iran, is much affected by their religion. Through such studies of their cultural differences, it has helped to better understand one another and fully appreciate what we share in common and make sense of our perceived differences. This kind of understanding, help clear perceptions of hostilities and appreciate our fascinating cultures.