Beyond this contemporary world of ours, where a woman still makes 79% of what a man on the same job makes, deep in Saharan Africa, is a culture so progressive it could even make some liberal western cultures blush.
Meet the Tuareg tribe. They are a community of liberal values, one in which every woman leads a life of glorious freedom with regard to her body, sexuality and ownership.
The Tuareg break all stereotypes about Islam.
Even though the tribe has embraced Islam they have firmly held onto some of the customs that would not be acceptable to the wider Muslim world. Most Tuaregs have developed their own distinctive brand of the religion. It is, for instance, the men and not the women who cover their faces. When asked by photographer Henrietta Butler why this was, the answer was simple:
“The women are beautiful. We would like to see their faces.”
The Tuareg is a settlement of about 2 million nomadic people who live across the Sahara Desert, in the North African countries of Mali, Niger, Libya, Algeria and parts of Chad.
Women here have a sexual identity and worth of their own.
The Tuareg women hold the right to have multiple sexual partners. Entertaining different overnight guests on different nights is a common occurrence for a woman of this tribe. The only prerequisite is to follow a strict code of privacy – the men must enter and exit their tents before sunrise.
Nobody chooses for Tuareg women, but themselves.
Owing to the sexual freedom they have, the women of this community often choose to marry relatively later than in other tribes. They choose their partners after being wooed with poetry carefully written by men hoping to win their love over with words. But it is not a one-way street: the women are just as capable of putting pen to paper, using their own alphabet, taught to them by their mothers.
And divorce is not a thing of shame.
The Tuareg people recognise and honour a divorce as well and associate no disgrace with it. A woman can choose to end a marriage and often it is, in fact, the woman who takes the first step towards a divorce. A woman’s family sometimes even throws her a party to celebrate the event and let other men know she is available once again.
And in the case of a divorce, the wife continues holding possession of everything she brought to the marriage and that includes the children. What’s more, she takes ownership of both the animals and the tent as well.
Not matriarchal, but matri-lineal.
Even though Tuareg not a matriarchal society where women of the family are in-charge of social and political decisions, they are closely deferred to by the men discussing these issues. The family does however, follow a matri-lineal tradition – where the man belongs to the woman’s group instead of the other way around. This preference for the woman’s family line extends into inheritance too – with a man’s possessions being left to his sister’s child instead of his own as that would be considered the stronger link to his family.
The tradition of female reverence is so strong that it is actually considered terribly rude for a man to eat in front of a woman who he cannot have sexual relations with, or any of his elders. This tradition of male modesty is in fact so ingrained in the tribe that it is unlikely that any men have questioned it or complained.
Men, when they mature, keep their faces covered entirely – except their eyes – at all times. Owing to the traditional indigo blue robes of the tribe that stain their skin with blue, the men of the tribe have been given the name ‘The Blue Men of the Sahara’.
I suppose one could easily draw a subtle yet other-worldly parallel between this magnificent African tribe and the fantasy world in Y-Flims’ ‘Man’s World’. And jokes aside, the lifestyle of such a tribe really makes you think. Countless women across the world, and across religions, still only know a ghost of true freedom. I say the entirety of ‘modern’ civilization could stand to learn plenty from the Tuareg people.