Families in a Global Context  Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

As one commentator notes; "What this adds up to is, in my view, a significant shift in the balance of work and family life. Roles are changing, the nature of care is changing, and the stress related to juggling the balance is increasing (Edgar, 1997, p. 149)

A number of statistics also help to outline the nature of the family structure in a developed economy like Australia. In terms of workforce participation, the figures are as follows: "….86% for fathers and 56% for mothers in two-parent families, and 65% for male and 43% for female sole parents"(Edgar, 1997, p.151). This is also indicative of a shift in the role of the female as solely a homemaker. "In 1993, 53% of couples with dependent children were both employed & #8230;" (Edgar, 1997, p. 151). Therefore, there are still imbalances and disparities in terms of the family structure and this is a challenge that the family as a continuing societal institution has to face.

3. Swaziland

Swaziland has a somewhat different historical and political profile compared to Australia and therefore a different family structure -- which in turn impacts on the challenges facing the family in that country. Swaziland or more correctly the Kingdom of Swaziland, also known as Ngwane, is a small and relatively impoverished country that is surrounded by South Africa and Mozambique. It is linked to the South African society both economically and historically -- particularly with regard to struggle against the apartheid regime and white rule that dominated that country until fairly recently. This era also influenced family life as a result of the exploitation of the indigenous population and the migration of men away from their families to work in the South African mines; which had a severe impact on family life in many areas of the region.

In economic terms the country is largely dependent on agriculture and subsistence farming but in the last decade there have been rapid improvements in the country and a general upliftment of the region. It is therefore a developing country that is in transition and which is rapidly becoming a part of the international community through globalization ( U.S. Department of State Background Note: Swaziland).

The family in this country is typically traditional and extended. There is a tradition of sharing and interaction among all members of the large families. As is the case in most traditional family structures there is a rigid hierarchy with the father as the head of house who wields all the authority. There is also a sharp distinction between male and female roles and duties within the family structure. The elderly are also treated with respect and reverence and are seen as reservoirs of knowledge and wisdom (Family Life).

In many ways this traditional family structure is very different to the more loosely structured and ambiguous structure found in the family in developed counties like Australia. However, in terms of the modern era the Swazi family faces many difficulties and challenges. One of the most profound of these is sexual inequality within the family structure. As discussed above, Australia is grappling with the challenges of increasing female involvement and advancement in the home, work and market place. On the other hand, while globalization and communications technologies and competition are forcing all countries into the international arena, the typical Swazi family is still embedded in older gender roles and norms. This also refers to class and social stratifications, where the female is seen as a second-class citizen and where the society is stratified along lines of strict gender roles.

One of the greatest challenges to Swazi society is therefore the issue of gender rights within the family. This is also exacerbated and compounded by very serious health issues that also relate to the family in this country. This refers particularly to the HIV / AIDS crisis in that country. Swaziland has the world's highest adult HIV prevalence rate of 26.1% (History of AIDS in Swaziland). As will be discussed this has far-reaching implications for the family.

From a legal perspective, the Constitution of Swaziland ( 2006) grants the same legal rights to men and women. However, in reality,

Swazi tradition continues to limit women to inferior roles. Legislation in Swaziland is based on a dual system of traditional and civil law. Several discriminatory laws are still in force, having not yet been aligned with the anti-discrimination measures in the Constitution (Gender equality and social institutions in Swaziland).

This situation could be seen as a prime example of the essential challenge that faces the family structure in Swaziland, as well as in many other developing countries. In other words, there is a tension and a sense of discontinuity between the traditional cultural views of the family and the new democratic ideals of family roles that have been introduced through colonization and the spread of globalization. In brief globalization is a way of describing the "…the spread and connectedness of production, communication and technologies across the world. That spread has involved the interlacing of economic and cultural activity." (Globalization) the process has immense ramifications for cultural development and change as well as implications for the future of the family.

Therefore, there is a new ideal of the way the modern family 'should be', which is in line with the developed world but out of sync with the traditional culture. This creates tension and confusion within the society that needs to be resolved.

For the most part, marriage is still governed by unwritten traditional laws and the practice of arranged marriages involving young women persists. The rights of women within the family are unclear and vary widely depending on the situation. Couples often marry in a civil ceremony, but adhere to traditional rules. This can create confusion over which regulations to apply in regard to divorce, child custody or inheritance (Gender equality and social institutions in Swaziland).

Furthermore, there are also many other discriminatory aspects that pertain to the traditional family structure in this country. For example, "…children belong to the father and his family, who are given custody following divorce. Women are generally confined to traditional duties in the home and have limited decision-making powers" (Gender equality and social institutions in Swaziland).

The country still practices polygamy as part of the traditional culture but this is not permitted under civil law. This adds another dimension to the complex family structure in this region. This is also exacerbated by the prevalence of HIV / AIDS. As noted, this is a central health issue that is affecting the basic structure of the family and which in many cases is destroying the extended family, with many children having to grow up as orphans. The high rates of this disease are upsetting the natural family balance and this has become an issue that is central to the continuation of the family as an institution in this region (Dreman, 1997, p. 290).

4. Summation and conclusion

The central differences between Australia and Swaziland are characteristic of the differences between developed and developing countries. The family structure in Australia is in the process of meeting the challenges of the emerging globalized economy and the democratic ideal of gender equality. The traditional family structure of Swaziland on the other hand is emerging from a formal and traditional family structure and has to meet the challenges of not only the demands of globalization and democratic ideals of equality but also the very serious challenges posed by health issues such as HIV / AIDS.

In both these countries there are the demands and motivation to conform that is part of the process of international globalization. While class and other social structures do play a role this is more evident in the case of the Swazi family structure. While they differ in terms of technology and economic affluence what is common to both cultures is that the family structure is being challenged by changing gender roles within the family. The traditional male dominated family is giving way to a more equitable distribution of roles and functions that is based more on economic factors rather than on traditional mores and norms.


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Edgar, D. (1997). Chapter 9 Developing the New Links Workplace: The Future of Family, Work, and Community Relationships. In the Family on the Threshold of…

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