There are some conversations one never forgets. This is one such conversation I had about a week ago.
Me: So what does your fiancée do?
Person X: Nothing.
Me: What will she do after you guys get married?
Person X: She will be at home with my mother, of course.
Me: Well, you work crazy hours and often the weekend also, so how will she keep herself busy? Why don’t you encourage her to get a job or something?
Person X: I am not a beyghairat! Our women do not work. I would never allow it!
The word beyghairat stuck in my head. I gave my friend Ejaz Haider, a famous journalist and television anchor, a call and asked him to explain the word to me in English. This is what he said: “Beyghairat has a particular meaning that no word in English can really capture. The closest that comes to it is ‘dishonourable’. But in reality, beyghairat is a combination of dishonourable, debased and contemptible.”
Between Person X’s statement and Ejaz’s definition, I was angry at many levels. First, I was angry at the idea that the husband is dishonoured by his wife working. Second, I was angry at the assumption that a married woman is a piece of property with no will of her own. Lastly, I was angry at the thought that the husband gets to ‘allow’ or ‘disallow’ what his wife gets to do, as if she was a disobedient child.
What century are we living in? Are we really supposed to tell half our country not to work so as not to hurt their husbands’ egos?
Pakistan is not an easy country to live in, no matter which part of the economic spectrum you occupy. Given how expensive life has become, more and more families are becoming dual-income households. How are we expected to progress as a nation if women are treated like pets that need permission to even use the bathroom?
By all means, a woman should stay home; but only and only if she wants to. I have many friends that are homemakers by choice and they love it. I have the utmost respect for the fact that they chose their family over a career. My problem is only with those who say that women cannot have careers.
From any perspective, how is it okay for someone to treat another person with such disrespect and disregard? So far as I can see, Person X’s phobia stems from an insecurity that if his wife-to-be is empowered and financially strong, she might just realise just how low of a man her husband is.
Another reason typically given by desi men is that “we trust our wives but we don’t trust the people out there. We know how other men look at working women.” What they mean is that if women leave the house to work, they may then leave the house for another man.
Frankly, I don’t care what men worry about; putting women in a gilded cage is never the answer. We have to move beyond the stage where a man’s honour depends upon whether his life partner works or not. Women have ghairat too. And that ghairat depends upon how they live their lives, not on how they reflect their husbands’ lives.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 26th, 2014.