Ms T looks into the routine of the average Pakistani housewife and why she might be scorned for being one.
Finally, everyone is asleep — even Shakir! Dinner was a success and for once, Ammi didn’t pass any negative comments about Aliya’s cooking. Dazed and exhausted, Aliya gets into bed and shuts her mind off for the rest of the night — or at least until Shakir wakes up yet again. And to think her husband feels she just sits on her bum all day! If only he realised the countless chores being a housewife involves and the attention to detail each requires. Maybe then will he learn to appreciate Aliya’s efforts.
Aliya silently laments over her life as Shakir screams at the top of his lungs, refusing to sit still in her arms. It is evening time already, her husband is on his way home and she hasn’t even had a second to squeeze in a quick shower. Once the kids completed their homework, it truned that the home printer was out of ink and Aliya had to rush to the stationary store to have them printed on time. And now with her husband on his way back from work and dinner to be served soon, a shower seems highly unlikely.
Aliya groans as her alarm strikes 6, piercing the eerie morning silence with a ring so shrill, it could probably wake the dead. Reluctantly, she opens her eyes and puts the devilish ringer off lest baby Shakir wakes up yet again. She has had a very long and troublesome night, trying to put him to sleep during what seemed like the worst of his colic fits and all she wants is to sleep for just five minutes more. “But who will send kids to school then?” she wonders, rising from her bed like a war-weary soldier and heading to the bathroom for the first (and last) few minutes of ‘me time’ she will get for the day.
The house is clean, food is ready and Ammi and Abbu have been given their medications and put to bed for their afternoon naps. But the children are about to get back home from school so Aliya has no time to waste, especially now that Shakir is up and needs constant supervision. Rocking the baby on one arm, Aliya lays the table for lunch. The children arrive, have lunch and then sit down to complete their homework with their mother who is frantically trying to make Shakir burp. “Let mama put the baby to sleep and then come right back to help you study!” Aliya says to her other children. “Don’t worry about making any mistakes. Mama will fix everything.”
The kitchen is bustling with activity as Aliya scurries from one corner to the other, hurriedly preparing breakfast once again — the older children have already been fed, dressed and shipped off to school and now it is their father’s turn. Asking the maid to supervise the stove for a bit, Aliya rushes up to tend to the two babies in her life. Thankfully, Shakir is still sound asleep but his daddy is up and about, in search of some ratty old shirt he needs for today’s business meeting. “I’ll get the shirt, you go have your breakfast,” says Aliya, knowing it is better to keep her husband away from the closets she so expertly organised. If only she could hide away in them for just a couple of minutes and shut her eyes, she would feel much better.
It is now time for breakfast number 3 as Aliya’s saas and sussar finally wake up. Unfortunately, their arrival coincides with that of the cleaner’s and now Aliya will not be able to give her parents-in-law company at the breakfast table. “Sorry Ammi, Abbu! The maid will bring your porridge right out,” she informs them as she rushes up to the kids’ room where the cleaner is already at work. “Maasi agayi hai…” she adds, inwardly feeling like one herself. Really, when had life become so mundane?
Aliya’s example is representative of a large proportion of women in Pakistan who toil away the entire day, trying to make life better for their families but are not given due appreciation for it. Islamabad-based housewife Rabia Azeem complains, “Our husbands think we sit idle the whole day when the reality couldn’t be more different! I have seen many husbands who return from work and start pointing out the shortcomings of their wives, asking ‘Akhir tum saaray din karti kiya ho?’”
If you can relate to Aliya, you would agree that it is high time women who choose to stay at home were appreciated for the full-time job of being a housewife, that too without any sick leaves, paid holidays and official timings. It is truly a pity that western society acknowledges the role of a housewife and encourages husbands and children to share the daily household chores, a concept yet to come to Pakistan. “Running a home is difficult with or without children,” says Lahore-based homemaker Maham Rauf. “Our husbands go crazy if they are left alone with babies for a minute but never seem to realise the difficulties of having to do that through the day and night. Men in Pakistan need to understand that housewifery involves being moms, wives, daughters as well as drivers, cooks, cleaners and teachers. It’s a full time job!” she adds, vehemently.
Why does our society admonish women for staying at home and looking after their family? Why do men, and even some women, criticize those who become homemakers for being lazy and unambitious? According to Moazzam Khan, “The society we live in gives more importance to males from an early stage. The son is treated as the ‘ghar ka chiraagh’ who will earn for his family when he is older. The daughter is brought up to be a domestic goddess who can cook, clean and care for her susraal to perfection. But then, people start criticizing them for it. There appears to be two extremes wherein girls are either discouraged from seeking employment or condemned for being staying at home,” he adds.
Twenty-six year old Emaan Haque take Moazzam’s view up a notch by suggesting that “The preferential treatment enjoyed by men makes them feel like they are superior to women, that they do more work and are generally more useful than their female counterparts. Why else would the ‘ghar mein tau bethi ho’ issue arise?”
While husbands are indeed the breadwinners and patriarchs of the household, many of them could never keep house efficiently and must realise the important contribution women make to their lives. They may be the financial department of the house but women lead the functional and support division, making sure everything stays in order. Perhaps we women should ask our husbands to put themselves in our shoes and imagine working for an employer that didn’t appreciate, let alone praise, their hardwork. Wouldn’t they feel overworked and crave recognition for their efforts? Would they not wish to just give up?
What is worse than our husbands’ ignorance is that Pakistani women do not respect the idea of housewifery and so often sell themselves short, embarrassed of attaching the label of a housewife to their name. Many of us would sooner run in the opposite direction than answer to the dreaded ‘Do you work?’ which is most often followed by a rather hesitant ‘No, I am just a housewife.’ According to Emaan, “The word just gives a sort of self-deprecating vibe. Stay-at-home mothers must stop undermining themselves first. Only then will anyone else realise their worth.”
As women and as housewives, we must realise that there is no shame in being a homemaker if that is what we want to be. At the end of the day, we do what we do out of love and not compulsion. As Rubina Waqar, a loving housewife, mother and grandmother from Lahore explains, “As housewives, we take on the responsibility of others’ lives and not just ours. We do it as our duty and out of love for our family. In return, we expect nothing but a little acknowledgement and appreciation and that is nothing to be ashamed of!”
Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, November 10th, 2013.