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How do culture norms and expectations either support or belie safety?

Recent research survey from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research conduct provides an intriguing look at cultural expectations for women's attire in a set of Muslim countries. This article stimulates a lot of questions around culture and safety:

Photo of David Price
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To set the context for this question, I'm not interested in whether or not these perceptions are right/wrong, conservative/liberal, etc. I think this is a good example that stimulates more substantial questions to research further, especially for those of us who don't understand or live in this type of culture for women:
  • What happens when individuals don't fit within the margins of cultural norms? 
  • How are norms reinforced by a culture and it's people?
  • Are norms reinforced differently for men and women?
  • Is it 'unsafe' for a woman to not fit within a cultural norm?
  • In this specific case, do a majority of women understand what the cultural expectations are? And if so how have they been 'educated'?
  • Which provides more benefit to the individual: 1) adhering to cultural expectations (even when restrictive) or 2) resisting expectations as a way to bring change (especially when they are restrictive)?
  • When, if ever, do cultural norms and expectations intersect with issues of safetly for individuals.
  • Is it ever a good idea to attempt changes in culural norms for the majority in order to benefit a subset of the population? When might it be the case either way?

Please note: I am by no means trying to correlate anything here between religion and women's safety. Yes, the two can intersect. But in this case I am attempting to constrain the exploration of questions to the characteristics of cultural norms at large and their benefit and/or hinderance. Better said --> how can we better understand cultural norms as a framework for designing solutions.


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Photo of Ashley Jablow

Glad to see you joining in David – and great points here. It's going to be key that we consider cultural norms, and differences, as we design together.

Photo of Suzanne Kirkpatrick

Great discussion topic, David. And very relevant to the thinking I've done about designing culturally appropriate reflective garments for women:

I've also wondered to what extent not adhering to cultural norms -- in clothing for example -- puts a woman at risk. As you move along the spectrum from left to right, I think that the risks posed by deviating from the norm decrease as you move to the right. On the far right (#4 and #5) the practice of covering one's head is primarily about religious and cultural considerations where deviants from those norms are less at risk in terms of personal safety. On the far left (#1 and #2) the practice of covering one's face, head, and body, is oftentimes intricately linked with considerations of safety and bodily protection, religious and cultural norms.

I would be glad to invite you to join the reflective garments team to build on this line of thinking and help develop this concept further.

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