Treat her like a lady, not a baby-making machine
In many societies, including ours, most women are forced to have one child after an another.
Kaneez* has five young children with a small age difference between them. She works full-time as a domestic maid and takes short, rushed breaks in order to nurse her youngest child, a five-month-old infant. If her break becomes longer than the expected five minutes, she is severely rebuked by her employer.
Life is hard for Kaneez. Not only does her husband expect her to make ends meet, but also wants her to keep adding more children to the brood. Her children fight all the time, demand clothes and toys when she takes them grocery shopping and throw tantrums when their wishes are not fulfilled.
The over-worked mother says that her health is deteriorating by the day. She realises that she may be suffering from a number of complications, but does not have time to get herself checked by a doctor.
According to Kaneez, it was her husband’s aunt who kept making snide remarks about other relatives having more male progeny than her that made her want to have more babies. So Kaneez ended up having more children than she wanted as a retort to the aunt. Now, as those who provoked her go about their daily business, life for Kaneez just keeps getting tougher. When thoroughly exhausted, she releases her stress by physically abusing her children.
There is no doubt that children are God's blessing. But in many societies, including ours, most women are forced to have one child after an another. They do not have the freedom to choose how many children they have nor do they get to decide the age difference between them.
Faiza* is 35 and has six children. She also works full time as a domestic servant. When she returns home, she must perform all the household duties. After six children, Faiza thought her family was complete, and she had a tubal ligation surgery in order to prevent any more pregnancies. But, when her husband and mother-in-law learned about this, they were furious. Faiza shares her sorrow saying:
I have given them six children out of which two are male. I am also the major breadwinner of the family. What else do they want?
Another sad case is Asifa*, who at the very young age of 20, has five children and is expecting yet again. She does all the housework and her young boys keep her on her toes all day long. She has no time for herself and often gets tired and angry. Asifa was also forced to conceive repeatedly on one pretext or the other.
Sultana* has eight children. When she gets run-down, she screams and hits her children and tells them they are ‘unwanted’. She has left most of her young daughters as live-in servants at bungalows in different parts of the city. She does care about her children, but she doesn't have the time or energy to inquire about their well-being on a frequent basis. Recently, one of her daughters got pregnant out of wedlock.
"What can I do? I work full time and look after four young children after work hours. How can I keep track of what’s going on in their lives?,” says a perplexed Sultana.
“My husband said he would leave me if I didn’t have more children,” she added
According to her, he was provoked by his relatives to give her this threat. Even today, women are desperate to safeguard their marriages. This is because a divorced woman is looked down upon and her character is misjudged. Scared of such consequences, even if women can financially support themselves without a husband, they stay in the marriage.
Another way of psychologically blackmailing women to have more children is by accusing them of having a low character, having liaisons outside of marriage or not loving their husbands.
Sadaf*, a young professional, recently got married into an educated family. When she told her husband that she wanted to work a little more (before having a child) because she had time (referring to her biological clock), her in-laws accused her of having a secret boyfriend. So this behaviour is not only limited to the lower class.
Many women I have spoken to explained that their relatives compel them to have more children because they love kids and and want to be surrounded by them. They do this because they feel it is a means of keeping women "under control"; to keep them so burdened with responsibilities that they have no time to think about their own desires.
Family planning is a matter that should remain between the husband and wife. Unfortunately, most men in our poverty ridden society have a rigid mindset. Many men living in rural Pakistan have not received any guidance and are egged on by uncaring relatives to have unrealistic expectations from their partners.
If anyone is to argue that it is recommended in our religion to have more children, I would like to say that our religion also says that men should provide for the family. When it comes to the second obligation, why do such men turn a deaf ear?
A woman has a natural instinct to care for each of her children. But when she is abused, this instinct becomes ugly. Juggling work with the upbringing of several young children, a woman not only becomes frustrated but ends up neglecting her own kids. This could lead to serious issues, like the case with Sultana's pregnant daughter.
Why should children be subject to neglect, physical and mental abuse?
Our men and women need to be educated. Women need to be understood and treated like human beings instead of machines. Children need to be seen as individuals that need exclusive affection and care. 'Caring and well-meaning' relatives must stop interfering beyond a certain point.
I think women should have the choice. I hope the majority will agree.
*Names have been changed to protect identities
Read more by Ayesha here.