Afghans usually live in extended families headed by an elder male, who together with other males has formal authority over the family. People usually marry within their own ancestral group, and tend to marry in their late teens. Since marriage affects economic, political and social standing, it is a public decision of two families. After a marriage contract has been signed, elaborate rituals and customs mark the formal engagement celebration and marriage ceremony.

Afghan houses traditionally consist of a series of rooms surrounding a private, rectangular courtyard where women play with their children, cook and socialize. Married sons share the same compound with their parents, though often have separate quarters for their families. Houses may also contain a special room for men to entertain male friends. In cities, some Afghans live in apartment buildings. Nomadic Afghans live in tents.

Traditional Afghan society segregates men and women and imposes special regulations for women’s conduct. Husbands traditionally had the power to decide when women could leave the house, and many women spent their adult lives in purdah (seclusion), seeing only men from their family. The introduction of universal suffrage in 1965 dramatically changed women’s position: while they still maintained their traditional responsibilities at home, many women, particularly in cities, moved into the workforce and established careers in the professions. Both the Mujahidin and Taliban governments instituted repressive measures against women, including prohibitions against women’s education and employment. However, with the Taliban’s loss of power, women have been regaining their old freedoms.

Afghanistan contains many ethnic groups, the largest of which is the Pashtun, which comprises 40% of the population. Other groups include the Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek, as well as smaller minorities of Kirgi, Aimaq, Nuristani and Baluchi. Recent wars in Afghanistan have severely disrupted family life. Approximately one-third of the population has fled to neighbouring countries or attempted to emigrate.

Afghans tend to settle along ethnic lines, and most live in rural areas. Some people are semi-nomadic. Both men and women traditionally wear long cotton skirts over baggy pants. Men also wear turbans, which may indicate tribal identity by the way they are tied. Some women wear the burq’a (also called the chaderi in Afghanistan), a body veil that conceals them except for a grated section at the eyes.

  Did you know?
Afghans traditionally celebrate the birth of a child on its sixth day. On this day the baby is given a name, and guests visit with gifts.

  Did you know?
Some Afghans participate in celebrations of International Women’s Day on March 8.