In the first line of the novel (and once more later in the book: "dear sirs" page 62), the narrator introduces the reader to a male-dominated world by suggesting his audience is masculine;
"It was, gentlemen, after a long absenceseven years, to be exact, during which time I was studying in Europethat I returned to my people."
Despite the subtlety of the word "gentlemen", this, I believe is purposefully done, to immediately show the reader the extent to which village life is dominated entirely by the male. Its subtlety reflects the idea that male dominance has become just a normal part of life, to the point where it can almost be looked over.
The death of Mustafa Sa'eed meant that his widow was placed in the care of the narrator,
"You're the bride's guardian."
This suggests that even as a widow, a woman was not free to do as she pleased, with regards to who she was to wed. The fact that a widow was being dictated to, showed that the village society was more patriarchal than that of the society that existed in England, or the developed world. There were of course exceptions to the rule and this is exemplified by the actions of Bint Majzoub,
"You doubtless run after women because what you've got to offer is no bigger than a finger joint." And "Bint Majzoub sprang to her feet at a bound like a man in his thirties."
The novel gives the impression that once a woman has passed child bearing age, she is no longer seen as a woman, as her one true role within the zealous patriarchal society was...