The fact that women are increasingly joining the workforce is a source of satisfaction for many who have been advocating women empowerment for long. There is no denying that the trends in the society have changed considerably in the favour of women. Today women are not only accepted in as diverse fields as military or sports, but their achievements are also being celebrated. The last decade alone has seen the first women fighter pilot as well as a girls’ soccer team, both of which would have seemed a bit farfetched propositions in not so distant past. While all this is extremely attractive one must also take stock of the continued and persistent challenges that are still faced by many of our sisters and daughters as they try to play their rightful role in the growth and development of our country.
Arguably the biggest challenge with regard to women empowerment in our country is the longitudinal distribution of opportunities. The openings are not evenly divided. There are issues with localities, family setups, class and downright utter discrimination that prevent most of the women from realising their true potential. And even those who, by some stroke of good fortune, get these chances find out later that their family, as well as the society, has invariably attached some conditions to their working.
The definition of proper behaviour haunts every woman alike, whether she is a housewife or an economically independent individual. It is shocking but true. We are still far from realising that all efforts towards empowering women will remain futile if we do not change our attitudes towards the ‘roles’ that we think women ought to play within their homes and outside.
To ensure that women get the fair chance to excel we will also have to fight the perception that is still very much prevalent in our society that women who work are doing it at the cost of their God-given and socially-endorsed duty to serve their families. We need to help the domestically challenged working woman.
Although we have accepted that women need to get professional degrees we still have to make our collective mind to give them equal support to pursue their carriers like men. Take the example of the female graduates of our medical colleges. We all know that getting into one of the government sponsored medical colleges requires a lot of effort and only the brightest and the most hardworking of our students get admitted into them, majority of whom are obviously girls. Imagine for a moment the standards of a society that a few years later judges these remarkably accomplished ladies by the roundness of their Rotes. And this is not a rhetorical exposition; the percentage of lady doctors opting not to practice is alarming. Sadly, it is true for other professions as well.
The primary reason why most of the girls opt for medicine instead of engineering as a profession is some archaic calculus in the mind of their families that starts to factor in the duties and responsibilities of the life after marriage. There are no prizes for guessing the future of a country that plans the career paths of half of its workforce with such a clear bias.
This mindset also mutilates the idea of positive discrimination. Women are allowed to work but some jobs are not deemed suitable for them. Some may argue that this is out of respect or courtesy but most of the times it is because of the reason that women are not considered competent enough. When a certain food inspector in Lahore started sealing restaurants left right and centre because of the poor hygiene of their staff and the general state of uncleanliness, much of the wonder and surprise came not because of the unprecedented display of proactive-ness from a civil servant but because that civil servant happened to be a lady. It’s a pity that the country that chose a woman twice at its chief executive still thinks that outdoor jobs are something that a lady ought not to do.
Giving time to family is important and it must always come first but women alone should not be made scapegoat all the time. I am in no way suggesting that we need to change our family structure but a little accommodation for the women who are trying to focus on their careers will go a long way in leveling the playing field in their favour.
Women do not always need positive discrimination; at times only fair and equal treatment would do. Having said this I still believe that we are headed in the right direction. At least we are making our girls doctors, engineers and lawyers. I am sure that the time will also come when we would start seeing them as doctors, engineers and lawyers first instead of duty-bound housekeepers assigned only to look after the daily chores within their homes and raise children.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 2nd, 2017.
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