Home Family and Marriage The conflict between marriage and work

The conflict between marriage and work

Q: If men saw that women’s work outside home is going to negatively affect their household duties; do they have the right to prevent them from working?

A: We have said earlier that there is no juristic rule that binds women to any household chore, and we have said also that breast-feeding babies can be a recompensed job. Consequently, men can never restrain the freedom of women under the pretext that she is being inattentive to the household tasks.

There is only one situation that allows men to bind the freedom of women and limit it to the house as required in the marriage contract, and that case would be when the work of a woman appears to be in opposition with the man’s right as a husband. Therefore, women should not carry out any job outside home that may breach the private right of the husband; a right that she had voluntarily committed to respect in the marriage contract. There is a jurisprudential opinion stating that the husband does not enjoy the privilege of preventing his wife from leaving her house except when her work becomes at variance with his marital right; and as long as this right is being complied with and never violated, women have all the freedom to move along as any other human being.

The traditional social norm that requires women to remain home does not, in fact, oblige them legally to do so, because the customary social norms, in this respect, cannot legitimately compel a human being to do anything unless these norms had turned into an explicit condition, that the woman would force herself to respect, in the marriage contract

Q: How can a woman arrange her personal and her public life in a harmonious way, especially when her husband refuses her participation in public activities? What is the legitimate position vis-à-vis this issue?

A: If a woman wants to succeed in creating harmony between her private marital relationship and her public social responsibilities, she must at first reach an understanding with her husband about how she is going to organize her time between complying with his own particular and general rights as a husband and fulfilling the duties she had taken on in society. We are treating here the case in which the man shows great awareness of the importance of social activities, and good comprehension to the necessity of his wife’s participation in it. Nevertheless, if the marital relationship lacks this sort of understanding upon which harmony could be established, the woman must work then on discovering the weaknesses of her husband such as needs, emotions, and conditions; and try to behave tactfully to embrace them and to consider them as advantageous chances to convince him of approving her social work. When the woman fulfills the needs of her husband, shows sensitivity to his feelings, and so on… usually, that would prompt him to accept to give her more freedom in her private as well as in her public life, and to offer her the opportunity to take actions outside the framework of the marital relationship.

However, sometimes the husband takes an active stance opposing his wife in what she intends to carry out, which reminds us of the situation of so many husbands whose attitudes are determined according to their personal desires only with no consideration of anything else, and who demand their wives to be, above all, exclusively theirs. All the more so, we have cases where men do not need women in a particular way as husbands, or where husbands oblige their wives to stay out of the social or the political arenas owing to their own individual complexes about that kind of work. In such cases where neither the discussion nor the embracing attempts are of benefit, the woman should make efforts to protect first her marriage life, especially if she finds herself in that life, then she must try to profit from the circumstances that allow her to work in the public field without causing any conflict between that work and her marriage life.

Then again, if the wife does not find herself able to accommodate both work and her marital relationship, she must then discuss the issue with her husband and present the dilemma as being a real problem threatening their marital relationship so that she can finally oblige her husband to take into consideration her need to work. Moreover, at the same time as we emphasize on the necessity that the wife remains, as much as she can, patient until she finds a solution to her problem, we add also that the marital relationship should be based upon love and compassion. So, if one of the two partners had lost the capability of maintaining the same path they had agreed on, or if both of them had failed of reaching a common perspective of life; they will undoubtedly be able to agree on another solution.

But to what extent it is important that men approve the work of their women, willingly or forced by reasons of neediness, this a matter that, from a legal perspective, depends on whether it is lawful for women to get out of their husband’s dwelling or not. The very well-known Sunnite and Shiite jurisprudents agree that women are not allowed to go out without their husbands’ permission except for the situation where her egress would be a legal duty required by society’s highest interest, or in case the wife had acquired the right of being free to egress by dictating a special term in the marriage contract. 

As far as we are concerned, we see that a woman can leave her husband’ house, even if he opposed it provided that her egression won’t be at variance with his private right as a husband. Consequently, a woman should follow the method she finds suitable to strike balance and harmony between her marriage life and her public life such as making sure to be present at home during the time at which she knows her husband will be in need for her.

Q: In your opinion, what is the attitude that the husband should take in order to finally accept the fact that his wife is carrying out a job outside home?

A: The husband should never think of his wife as one of his personal belongings; something that he owns and cannot be distinguished from a piece of furniture. On the contrary, he should regard her as a human being who has rights on him the same way he has rights on her. Thus, a man should treat his wife, as he would like her to treat him once having the power and the right to prevent him from achieving his political, cultural or religious duties. Then, let him ask himself this question: how would he feel if she used that right against him? Would he be comfortable? ! Men must esteem their wives as human beings and revere their personalities and the way they chose to live their own lives, just as they demand their wives to respect their humanity in this respect. Furthermore, they must not have recourse to the solid law in order to judge their relationship because; although, God had laid down a law defining men’s rights on their wives and women’s rights on their husbands, he wanted the two partners to flexibly use their precise rights under the general title he had put to their rights as spouses which is: love and compassion.

When the husband subjects his wife to a cruel and an unfair treatment deterring her from carrying out the missions that enrich her humanity and redounds to the benefit of the society she lives in, he would be diverging from the love and compassion path. However, that is not to say that husbands should give their wives the freedom to be completely liberated from their marriage responsibilities because; once women choose to get married, they must in fact fulfill their obligations as wives. Then again, that does not mean that women’s role, outside the framework of their relationship with their husbands and their children, is canceled. Indeed, women can benefit from the free time they have for themselves to invest them outside the frame of their marriage life just as men use the free time they enjoy to make use of them beyond the environment of their marriage life. Verily, a man should regard things from a perspective based on both a humanitarian and a pious perspective in order to be able to allow his wife the opportunity and the freedom to enrich her human experience, which, in return, will be to the advantage of the society she is a member of. In this respect, we cite the Tradition: “God loves the Muslim who wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself, and hates for his brother what he hates for himself.” So, if the physical relationship is what makes a woman the wife of somebody, then faith makes them brother and sister. Consequently, the man should treat his wife according to what that brotherhood requires. In his will to his son Al-Hassan (a.s.), Imam ‘Ali (a.s.)   said: “O son, maintain parity between you and others; wish them what you wish yourself, and hate for them what you hate for yourself.”

Q: If the well being of the family necessitates that one of the married couple quit his activities outside the house, which one of them is supposed then to abandon his job?

We cannot come to a decision by just approaching the subject vaguely; on the contrary, such issues need to be examined on the ground because it is easy to quickly decide that it is the woman who must leave the social domain for the sake of the private causes. Actually, in situations where the case concerns all the members of the community, we must take into account the need of the society in order to conclusively determine which one, the man or the woman, is to resign his public activity. Well, in some cases, when the role of men is richer than that of women, necessity requires that women leave their position in the public arena.

Q: How could we maintain that the work of women outside home is acceptable and attainable with regard to men’s usual unwillingness of helping their wives out with the household chores due to their belief that this is a shameful thing to do?

A: The belief that it is disgraceful for the man to manage household tasks is derived from the social culture and not from Islam. In fact, Islam has nothing to do with this belief and the story of Imam ‘Ali (a.s.)   and Fatima Al-Zahraa’ (a.s.) is a decisive proof regarding that. Through our readings, we learn that Al-Zahraa’ and Imam ‘Ali (a.s.)  went to  Muhammad(p.)  in order to divide the work between them since they were both overwhelmed with duties to fulfill. So, the Messenger (p.)   assigned Al-Zahraa’ the job of preparing flour and making bread, and allocated ‘Ali (a.s.)  the task of sweeping the house and collecting firewood. Thus the Prophet(p.)  did so to show people that the contribution of men in their housework does not carry, in itself, any humiliation .

Sweeping the house is a job that the majority of men do not accept to undertake; however, ‘Ali (a.s.)  had naturally accepted to assume it as if it were part of his own responsibilities. Islam regards work, as long as it is lawful, as something honorable, regardless of its nature and with no differentiation between one kind of work and the other on the level of dignity.

In addition, the belief that it is shameful for men to carry out housework is not restricted to men alone; more correctly, it is widely spread amongst women too. Women do not accept the aid from their husbands in handling their household affairs because they would consider that as interference in their own business, they might feel accused of being careless, and they would probably think of it as an indication that they are not shouldering their own responsibilities. Therefore, the man is not the only one responsible of this belief when we regard it as an obstacle hindering the work of women. Consequently, trying to alter and overcome this belief requires a change in the social and cultural conceptions.

Q: We notice that motherhood drains women’s efforts and time; in your opinion, how can women maintain harmony and compatibility between their role as mothers and their social general responsibilities?  

A: Women can benefit from their leisure time to take part in social activities because each and every woman, no matter what the circumstances of her life are, has some spare time, which may get longer or shorter, that she can make the most of outside the milieu of her family. Hence, the responsibilities of motherhood can neither represent a justification for women to seclude themselves apart from society  nor an excuse for not carrying out their public responsibilities.

Q: Can we specify a certain phase of children’s life and say that mothers should cease their social activity at this  very period?

A:Personally, I think that no woman would be obliged to bring her social life to a standstill just because she is being occupied with her children. In fact, she will always have her own personal space, regardless of how little that space is, that she can avail herself of to lead her own social life, and that she can employ into the service of the public welfare.

Q: What are, in a nutshell, the advantages and disadvantages that can result from the work of women outside their homes in your point of view?

A:Undoubtedly, women’s engagement in the work field affects their personality positively in respect of their private lives. And we observe such positive effects with regard to the financial contentment that work would achieve for her and which in return would succeed in protecting her against hardships and adversities that may lead her to undesirable situations or even to deviation. All the more so, leading a career redounds to women’s benefits taking into consideration the individual independence from others that contentment provides her with and which in parallel will protect her against the pressure that others can practice on her, in case they wanted to and in whatever way they can think of.

On the other hand, the work of women outside homes succeeds frequently - especially when women are married - at the expense of the children and the marriage life. Therefore, when women waded through the work arena due to the industrial development they lost lots of their inner peace and serenity and they started to suffer from the problems created by their absence from home (daycare centers, servants at home, difficulties facing the marital relationships, and so on….).  

Furthermore, we notice that this matter has some negative implications on the ethical level, because the society that does not enjoy the moral impregnability is very likely to be subjected to deviation. Notwithstanding the civilization that human society had reached, it still regards women as physical objects only, and this is clearly shown through what the advertising agencies, the fashion houses, the feminine artistic culture and so on….  are trying to do. As a matter of fact, men always look at women from the standpoint of being a male looking at a female and not from the perspective that women and men are above all human beings dealing with each other. Well, when we take this aspect into account ,not to mention the numerous trials that women pass through, we find that taking on the responsibility of a certain job outside home holds lots of disadvantages for women on the ethical level.

Some societies have no problem dealing with this issue because they do not regard the ethical commitment as essential in the first place. We come across such situations in the societies that give both men and women the freedom to use their bodies as they desire without any moral restriction. In fact, these societies do not suffer from the detriments that accompany women’s work on the ethical level; nay, they suffer from other consequences such as troubling the relationships between men and women.