Are patriarchal values the same as family values?

February 20, 2024

Within the framework of the Promotion of Dialogue and Joint Actions to Combat Hate Speech project, conducted by UNDP in collaboration with the NGO SOS Helpline for women and children victims of violence Podgorica, local dialogues emerge as a series of conversations revolving around combating gender-based hate speech, sexism, and misogyny. Participants, coming from diverse backgrounds across Montenegro, contribute varying ages, life experiences, and professions, fostering profound insights and recommendations, shedding light on the causes and repercussions of the increasingly disconcerting gender inequality manifestations. The wealth of perspectives and recommendations garnered from these dialogues is meticulously documented across multiple mediums, including an article series. The first in a series of articles delves into the patriarchal value system and the family's profound role as the breeding ground for beliefs, attitudes, perceptions, and behaviour patterns. 

“Sexism represents an inappropriate, inhuman, and primitive behaviour that diminishes women and the female gender as a result of a lack of culture and entrenched conservatism. It’s sheer insolence – as a society we have become insolent, allowing unchecked discourse.”

This definition of sexism and gender-based hate speech, as outlined by citizens during local dialogues, is insightful. 

They identified sexism as encompassing any behaviour, speech, or practice rooted in the notion of someone's inferiority or reduced worth due to their sex. Sexist hate speech not only perpetuates this idea but also actively fuels, endorses, disseminates, or rationalizes violence, animosity, and prejudice against women based on their gender.

Moreover, citizens noted a concerning trend – the normalization of speech that fosters hatred and degradation of others.


The prevalence of hate speech, particularly gender-based hate speech, sexism, and misogyny, has sadly become a regular occurrence, predominantly observed in online spaces, targeting women actively engaged in social and political spheres. Violence and hate speech against women in political life  primarily manifest on social networks (34.9%), followed by election campaigns (31.4%), the media (17.4%), parliament (9.3%), and political parties (7%). Social networks have emerged as the epicentre for severe violence against female politicians, which predominantly takes the form of psychological violence, characterized by sexist and misogynistic remarks, demeaning images, intimidation tactics, and explicit threats. Instead of fostering constructive debates of public interest, these platforms have transformed into arenas for content and comments designed to  diminish and insult women, cultivating an atmosphere that is exclusively hostile and intolerant. Alarmingly, 42% of young people perceive hate speech as an acceptable part of freedom of speech. This perception persists despite the recognition that hate speech stands as one of the primary forms of violence or discrimination experienced by the younger generation.

Are patriarchal values the same as family values?

“When dad buys fast food - he's great, when mom buys it – she’s a bad housewife.”

The term “patriarchy” stands as a cornerstone in discussions surrounding gender equality. It represents a system entrenched in beliefs, behaviours, and practices that uphold the subservient status of women while elevating men to superior positions. This system revolves around the perception of the male figure as the central figure within the family, entrusted with making all pivotal decisions in social spheres, while relegating women to domestic roles, expected to prioritize caregiving duties, including tending to children, managing household chores, and caring for elderly or ill family members.

The recent UNDP Gender and Social Norms Index shows that nearly 2 billion individuals globally endorse the notion that a man holds the right to physically harm his wife. Moreover, within Montenegro, more than 60% of young people  reject the idea of gender equality in housework sharing. Additionally, approximately 60% of citizens harbour the belief that, for the benefit of children, it is preferable for men to work while women dedicate themselves solely to family responsibilities. Every other person in Montenegro holds the fear that success in their career will equate to neglecting their family. 

Participants in local dialogues have arrived at a crucial realization: our attitudes and value systems significantly shape our behaviours, decisions, and choices. When these attitudes align with patriarchal norms, they foster an environment ripe for discrimination, gender-based hate speech, sexism, and violence. Their conclusion underscores that patriarchal beliefs begin to be created in the family where children observe and internalize gender roles and behaviours which are perpetuated later in life.

The patriarchal system enforces rigid standards for both male and female children, disallowing any deviation from these predetermined rules. 

“As children grow, distinct standards apply to females and males, shaping their future expectations in adulthood. Despite our perceived emancipation and education, ingrained reactions persist, revealing the enduring influence of childhood conditioning.”

The division of household chores, communication and relationship between partners, and the differing expectations for male and female children serve as a blueprint. This blueprint not only shapes the values and behaviours of children as they mature but also dictates their opportunities to fulfil their potential and pursue the life they deserve.

They identify a crucial issue within families – the division of roles, where “men perceive a woman's expectation for shared household responsibilities as a threat to their masculinity”.

The underlying causes of this phenomenon stem from power imbalances and entrenched gender norms that dictate predetermined roles for women and men, which are certainly to the detriment of women.

“It baffles me when I hear ‘I looked after YOUR child today’, as if the child isn’t theirs and he anticipates a reward, a medal for his efforts. Or when partners are out in coffee shops with a child, you often hear – ‘YOUR child is crying’. It’s their shared child; there’s no place for ‘YOUR child’ in this scenario.”

The data starkly illustrates the ramifications of these detrimental norms—women face barriers in accessing their economic and social rights, participating in the public sphere, and achieving their full potential and aspirations. In 2018, 606 million working-age women reported their inability to seek employment and progress in their careers due to unpaid care and domestic work responsibilities. Simultaneously, 41 million men cited similar constraints preventing their participation in employment for the same reasons. 

They believe that the upbringing of children, especially boys, significantly shapes their self-perception, potential, and their attitudes and actions toward individuals of the opposite gender. Girls taught to be reserved and compliant may hesitate to report partner violence in adulthood, feeling reluctant to voice their concerns. Conversely, boys raised with a sense of entitlement receive an inheritance as a given. This inheritance, rightfully belonging to both genders, is framed as something women "take from their brother," thus stripping women of their rightful property rights—impacting their financial independence and security. Children who witness celebratory gunshots at a son's birth and see that female children are unwanted except for the role of giving birth to men, grow up internalizing these gender biases, shaping individuals who may not even allow the birth of a girl child. 

“It’s intriguing how, from a young age, girls are taught to tolerate boys’ rude behaviour: 'Boys will be boys,' 'They're just immature,' 'Stay serious and quiet, they'll understand soon'.”

It is also intriguing to note that some of the rights women have gained are, in practice, utilized not solely for personal advancement and empowerment but rather to reinforce the traditional patriarchal role of women—specifically, in managing household and family responsibilities. For instance, while many women now drive cars, this advancement often serves to fulfil obligations related to childcare and household duties rather than primarily empowering women in broader societal contexts. 

“Women should drive “a small car for local errands”. The perception remains that a woman primarily serves as a housewife, requiring a vehicle for tasks like taking children to appointments, kindergarten, or the market. Ease of parking and minimal fuel consumption. The smaller the car, the more it aligns with the ideal of a prudent, cost-conscious housewife.”
the participants highlighted typical narratives surrounding this phenomenon.

Not-so-obvious expressions of sexism within the family context carry significant weight. The phrase "She's someone's daughter or sister" is frequently heard, often accompanied by a protective reaction when sexist or insulting remarks are directed at a woman. Paradoxically, this statement itself holds a sexist undertone. It reduces a woman's identity solely to her familial roles – daughter or sister – dictated by her connection to a man, whether father or brother, side-lining her individual identity.

The participants in the dialogue highlighted expressions like "They call a daughter a son as a form of endearment" or "An only child and has three sisters" as examples of sexism. While some might perceive calling a daughter a son as an expression of affection, it actually reflects a subtle form of latent sexism. This seemingly benign gesture communicates rigid and discriminatory attitudes. In this context, it implies that the ultimate display of love and respect for a female child lies in attributing traits typically associated with a male child.

Shedding light on these particular traps and similar narratives is crucial. They often serve as apparent evidence of respect and protection for women in Montenegro, yet underneath this facade lies a dehumanizing reality. Women are not seen as individuals in their own right but rather defined by the attribution of male characteristics or by the roles they hold in relation to men within the family. It is within these roles or attributed traits that their significance and value are recognized.

The participants in the dialogue highlighted a significant insight: patriarchy fosters an environment of unquestioning respect for authority. Consequently, “children internalize these behavioural models and lack the freedom to engage in open dialogue with parents and other authorities”. This significantly hampers the development of critical thinking, inhibits questioning of established social norms and phenomena, and ultimately obstructs progressive and constructive social changes.

Are these the family values that we create and uphold?

The participants of the dialogue urge us all to re-evaluate our beliefs and foster mutual respect within partnership relationships, distribute family responsibilities equitably and raise children in an environment that embodies equality. To support this mission, they suggest implementing family support services – “much like the programmes available for pregnant women, there can be programmes assisting families, spouses, and child-rearing."

The participants highlight the prevailing shame associated with seeking professional support, particularly emphasizing the imperative need to dismantle such societal prejudices. They stress the importance of ongoing education for girls, boys, women, and men, particularly authority figures across private and public spheres – be it within families, schools, media, or public opinion influencers. They emphasize that this collective responsibility requires nurturing a culture that actively responds to and opposes harmful phenomena, because societal influences often hinder our willingness to speak out against damaging behaviours, norms, and speech. 

Their emphasis lies in the creation of a public opinion that upholds and respects human rights, particularly through media platforms. The media should prevent the promotion of sexism as a contemporary or "macho" approach. Instead, the media should actively endorse positive content and advocate for gender-equal perspectives in thinking and behaviour. Additionally, they propose targeted education on gender equality, sexism, and misogyny, including preventive programmes directed particularly towards smaller communities where entrenched notions of the "male myth" and “male dominance” persist.

“Is the normal value system one in which a man has more rights than a woman? That is not an extreme for you, and when we fight for women's rights, then we go to the extreme.”

Tolerating and normalizing sexism paves the way for hate speech and gender-based violence, systematically excludes girls and women from public spaces, deterring them from reaching their full potential and making meaningful contributions to societal progress. Re-examining and transforming discriminatory beliefs that incite violence and strip away rights and opportunities is the sole path toward forging a society that offers equal opportunities to all, irrespective of gender.

"Promotion of dialogue and joint actions to combat hate speech" project is funded by UNDP Funding Window for Governance, Peacebuilding, Crisis and Resilience, with contributions of Sweden and Luxembourg. The project is implemented by UNDP in cooperation with the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights, the Ministry of Justice and Institution of protector of human rights.