A daughter's burden

"When I insist on working, my parents tell me that there are already no suitors willing to marry me."

Komal Ali July 14, 2011
Over the past decades so much has changed in this world from the foreign relations of Pakistan to the allies of the United States, however one unfortunate thing is still the same, and will perhaps stay this way forever.

No, I am not referring to Ms Meera’s age. The point in consideration here is the mindset of most Pakistani parents.

I belong to a moderate upper middle-class family in Pakistan but I have had to sacrifice a lot of opportunities because of my parents, mostly my dad. However, I feel my sacrifices were small compared to many others. I have seen my friends give up their dreams because their parents said they were not 'allowed' to pursue them.

My friend Sidra* was a maths whiz, but had to give up her dream of becoming a chartered accountant because her parents insisted she follow the family norm of ‘medical for females’. She said goodbye to her love for maths and completed a Bachelors of Dental Surgery.

It is shameful that parents believe they have the power to control the life of their kids to the extent that they decide the course of their career all on their own with complete disregard to what their children want. No wonder career disorientation is so common among students in Pakistan.

This domination isn’t limited to careers; most parents even decide friends for their children.

Nineteen-year-old Saleha* told me about how she had to break ties with her best friend because her parents decided she was not suitable company.
“We were really close since sixth grade. We went to the same college too, but when my parents found out that when she got engaged to this guy she had been in love with him, I was told to immediately end the friendship. Her inquiring eyes really intimidated and embarrassed me, but I had to abide by my parents’ decision.”

Imagine the humiliation Saleha must have felt. She would have had to come up with justifications about her disappearance from her best friend’s life!

In some cases other family members also partake in a roundtable conference on girls' personal lives. Twenty-six-year-old Rabia*, a graduate from a business school in Karachi says that she isn’t allowed to work at a bank or a multinational company despite her qualification and skills.

I was shocked when Rabia revealed why:
“I have been in a state of continuous depression because my parents have permitted me to opt for only teaching  Also, it's not like I can teach anywhere I want. I am restricted to teaching at one school near my house. Every time I demand to work elsewhere, my parents tell me that there are already no suitors for me and if I insist on working at banks etcetera, eventually I will end up leading a miserable life as an unmarried woman.”

Not only have Rabia’s parents put restrictions on her work opportunities and social circle, but they have also induced depressing thoughts in her head about her marital status.

The promotion of this absurd notion, that women can’t get married to decent men if they work, is prevalent in our society. However, not many of us are doing anything to eradicate such ridiculous beliefs. Instead most marriage bureaus and families breed such beliefs, perpetually dwell on their importance, and make life miserable for women.

Sixteen-year-old Fatmah* says that her parents have always been very bossy and intimidating. When she was offered a summer internship at a national newspaper, her parents told her that she couldn't participate. Fatmah, who wants to be a journalist, says this was a blow.

With disappointment visible in her eyes, Fatmah told me:
“The refusal from my dad’s side was sort of expected, but it still really hurt me. I don’t understand why my parents don't think its okay to let me go out of the house to do something productive. My days are mostly spent at a cousin’s house or listening to family gossip because I am not allowed to hang out with friends. I feel like crying when I think about how great it would have been at the internship and how much I could have learned.

Fatmah’s parents just let her talent go to waste. There are only a handful of Pakistani students who get to intern at national newspapers when only 16-year-old, but Fatmah’s parents preferred to disregard her achievement and told her to stay at home, shattering her dreams into little pieces.

While there are many parents who have now learnt the advantages of giving some power of decision making to their kids, there are many others who are still bent on preserving conventional beliefs that give their decisions priority over their child's.

Amna a 20-year-old confided:
"Whenever I turn to my parents to solve such predicaments for me, they snap on me without providing any legitimate reasons for their decisions. If I try to convince them or argue back, I am told to shut up."

Though parents want the best for their kids, I strongly feel that some parents in my part of the world are depriving their kids of a lot of happiness solely because they care way too much about the mindset our society has bred over the ages.

*All names have been changed
Komal Ali Born and raised in Pakistan, Komal Ali is an International Relations major and Law and Public Policy nexus minor at Mount Holyoke College. She is currently doing a Pre-Law certificate at University of Amsterdam. She tweets at @komalali92 (https://twitter.com/Komalali92)
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Awais | 12 years ago | Reply Do you know why parents do so ? If u r a girl step out of the house and face this "Muslim Society" ! Abduction, Rape, Sexual Harassment at work places are not in-familiar terms to this society. When a girl even goes to bazaar or even goes out for a walk, men examine them like some "X-Ray or Ultra-Sound Machine". This is a hard and very bitter fact that Pakistan society is "sex-crazy". What every parent want is to save their daughters from all this hell, because, on the other hand, Honor (in any sense) is related to "women of the family" (whether it is right or wrong, but it is fact). Everyone wants to have a girl involved amorously and sexually with him, but no one wants his own sister or daughter to have same relation with anyone. So, this is a "mentally sick society". This is not "Islamic Society", it is a "modern form of an old barbarian tribal society". But on the other hand, just look at those societies who have adapted this path where women (and men too) follow their careers and don't care about making families. In Australia, people respect a family a lot, but why? Just because liberal kind of social set up there has destroyed their family setup. In our society, man is responsible for fending for his family, so pursue a career and women are responsible for keeping a family. In other words, in Asian (specially PK) society, the career / duty of women is "keeping a family", and the career / duty of men is to provide for the family. And, let me tell you more that for a girl there is an age for bearing a baby. After that age, many medical complexities appear. So, any girl has to choose between the two : Career or Family. But also remember, family (children) are not something that is just a matter of two days. It takes at least 20 years for both man and woman to bring up a single child. Just think of your parents. Have they not sacrificed their ambitions, goals, careers, and even lives for you ? Had they followed their careers, your personalities would have been ruined (for example, see the psyche of children whose parents neglected them in the early age, specially in those countries from where the liberal idea of pursuit of a career for women has come from). So, on one hand restricting daughter and ruining their careers is wrong, but on the other hand it is right if looked in to a perspective of "family".
Hsanain | 12 years ago | Reply @ Komal, nicely written, I agree with the fact that parents in Pakistan still lives in 19th Century (not in 20th Century). Recently one of my friend from India revealed something with me about his experiance in Pakistan. I knew what he was saying but as being a Pakistani it was hard for me to digest that all. "Pakistanis have courage to perform no doubt about that, they have essential will power to do anything they want but when it comes to knowledge they dont know much. Most of all they have ego bigger than their height." Thats the problem with our ealders, they have huge ego. But they are forgetting one thing, who they wanna show their ego. we are their kids not enemies. Anyhow we need change in thinking in Pakistan. Most of all we need awareness which I believe will not happen for next 199 years, because our system will never change and thinkers and do'ers will keep going out of country (in search of a peacefull place).
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