Last Thursday at Hart House, U of T’s Afghan Students’ Association hosted their first event in their Diaspora Dialogues series. The evening consisted of a discussion that revolved around gender roles and expectations in an Afghan context, although it certainly shifted beyond these boundaries at times.

The discussion began with an exploration of conventional Afghan gender roles and expectations. Such conventions include women as the primary caregivers and men as the sole breadwinners of a family. Participants voiced their concerns over these rigorous expectations for both men and women. An interesting idea brought up was one of honour associated with women, and that women are expected to remain modest in some cases. However, this notion can lead to problematic situations, such as honor killings, as one attendee of the event mentioned.

The conversation then turned to discuss the projection of stereotypes onto Afghans. Participants expressed that many people believe all Afghan women are oppressed, and all Afghan men are hyper-masculine, overbearingly dominant, and protective. It was intriguing to watch the group move away from these stereotypes and deconstruct them as false assumptions. Furthermore, someone mentioned the North American war in Afghanistan playing a role in public perception of Afghans: the war perpetuates views of Afghans as morally inferior or backwards. These misconceptions arise out of fear and uncertainty towards a culture we are forced to fight against.

The discussion then moved to taboo subjects in traditional Afghan society, such as choosing not to marry or choosing not to have children. From here, the conversation shifted to what it means to be Afghan, and how certain definitions of this identity can be blatantly exclusionary.

Although the majority of attendees were Afghan, there was a place for everyone in the conversation. Both the discussion moderator and participants created an inclusive and welcoming environment for all guests.

When asked the purpose of the ASA Diaspora Dialogues, ASA president Wares Fazelyar explained that they aim to “Fill a void in our community—we want to create a space where topics pertinent to our community can be discussed in an open and respectful setting. Oftentimes, conversations on these topics are relegated to the private spheres of our lives and kept out of public discourse. We want to provide a platform for people to voice their opinions and hear others’, in hopes that this dialogue will spark growth and progress in our community.”

The night was an interesting glimpse into Afghan culture, views, and values. I encourage anyone interested in learning more about Afghanistan and Afghan-Canadian culture to attend the next ASA Diaspora Dialogue.