“We are Equal”! Gender Constructions in a Group of Middle-Class South African Muslim Couples

  • Elmien Lesch
  • Mariam Parker
Original Article


This study, situated within a social constructionist theoretical framework, explored how a group of South African, middle-class, Indian and Malay Muslim, married couples constructed gender in their relationships. Most of the studies that have been conducted on gender in Muslim marriages focus exclusively on women’s issues and included only female participants. Similarly, the few gender studies available on South African Muslims highlight the experiences or rights of women and relied on female participants. None of these studies incorporated dyadic, or couple data. We adopted a feminist social constructionist framework to explore how eight South African Muslim couples between the ages of 23 and 36 co-constructed and negotiated gender in the daily practices of their relationship. We conducted 12 (totalling nearly 24 h) joint interviews and used a thematic analysis method to analyse the data. We found that the couples constructed men and women as essentially different and complementary, and that they strongly proclaimed their relationships as equitable. Participants’ felt sense of equality seemed to be grounded in perceptions of their gendered roles as chosen, negotiable, and appreciated rather than enforced, compulsory and taken for granted. We conclude that participants’ gender ideas and practices enabled them to feel, claim and/or negotiate agentic positions in their relationships with their partners, but some of their ideas and practices may limit agency and scope of experiences.


Gender constructions Muslim couples Gender complementarity South Africa Marriage 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This study has been approved by the appropriate institutional ethics committee and have been performed in accordance with the ethical standards as laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Psychology DepartmentStellenbosch UniversityMatieland, StellenboschSouth Africa

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