Comment: A waste of women -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Comment: A waste of women

Zaair Hussain

When we herd women away from their passions and their talents and the true, full measure of their potential towards a marriage, any marriage, we are beggaring ourselves as a society, one broken dream, one abandoned gift, one wasted woman at a time The problems of Pakistani
women are a monstrous diamond, with a thousand sharp facets and an incredible density.

This article is not about those unfortunate souls who are denied education or even basic subsistence. It is about those women who are trapped not by the solid walls of circumstance but by the idea of walls, made solid only by our collective will.

Great potential is locked within the terrain of our polity, and the surface gives no clue as to its hidden wealth. It can exist in any degree, in any person. Like any natural resource, it can be tapped for our enrichment or wasted, left to rot within the ground.

Our women are too often wasted, their energies exhausted in warding off or succumbing to fearsome spectres that take the form of marriage.

Joined with a light heart and a thoughtful head, marriage can be a boundless source of joy and strength. But a marriage arranged by a thousand small pushes can be just as crushing as one arranged by a shove. A spectre, even if its visage is modelled after something beautiful, is a frightening thing. Charles Dickens had Christmas. Our women have marriage, and too many are haunted forever.

Around age 16, when a child is upon the cusp of personhood and stands at the first juncture of ambitions and possibilities, the pressure to become marriageable opens beneath her feet, all around her. Inside the home, a blitzkrieg of lessons on cooking, cleaning and entertaining commences with feverish urgency upon girls who may otherwise have focused their energies on physics, on art, on financial analysis, on a host of skills that would have expanded our economy or our culture.

Outside the home, a terrible new dawn brings to their lives four words that would be ordinary, save for their vicious composition: what would people think? These words have caged our women in an eternal panopticon – a prison wherein the prisoners are constantly watched, but cannot see the watchers. All society becomes their judge, their jury a faceless crowd. Critical eyes in every corner become a twisted mirror, throwing up mangled reflections. Tragically, most women will find fault in themselves, never wondering whether it is not the mirror that is grotesque.

Living like this, a soul judged guilty till proven innocent, on trial before a world of judgmental strangers…this idea literally renders me short of breath.

As the girl becomes a woman, proposals start to fall from the sky. For many girls, they are like hail from dark clouds. For many parents, they are like blessed rain upon a parched ground that would be barren without. Both groups accept it as an immutable part of nature.

The inexhaustible energy and near-mystical creativity of young adulthood is bound and blinkered, all ambition and creativity treated as a distraction. Parents become anxious, then worried, then terrified of their daughter expiring like products on a shelf, worried sick over marriage prospects, however fine her other prospects may be. What is this dread and blinding fear in the night that convinces loving parents beyond reason that a girl cannot be settled, be content, become a woman without a man? I do not know, and I shudder to imagine.

What I know is this: when we herd women away from their passions and their talents and the true, full measure of their potential towards a marriage, any marriage, we are beggaring ourselves as a society, one broken dream, one abandoned gift, one wasted woman at a time.

What of the women who succumb, who enter a marriage with their consent but not their desire? Some are lucky. Others less so. Rights that should be presumptive are doled out like indulgences by the husband and his family. Any unhappiness, any discontent in the marriage – (whether hers or his) is laid stick by stick at the feet of the woman – like a funeral pyre for freedom, until she feeds more of herself, all of herself, to smouldering embers that will never become a flame. What then, is left for herself? What then, is left for the country?

Too many unhappy wives in Pakistan must suffer the phrase, “at least you have a husband”, until their ears ring. Over two decades after the election of our first female prime minister, are women still so devalued that their personhood can be consummated only by men, by even the least of men?

A miserable wife drowns in her own sea of troubles, not because she cannot swim to shore, but because she is told she must not. Taboos against separation are so strict, the worth of a woman’s happiness and productivity such cheap currency, that she is told she must abide by the decision and vows she was pressured into, come flood or hellfire. ‘Tis nobler in our minds to let women suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

Pakistan is saturated with these stories of individual tragedy, of women growing gray and bitter in suffocating marriages as their dreams turn to ash and happiness becomes an empty word for an amputated feeling. But this is a story about loss not personal, but national.

We are not a rich country. We have too many empty stomachs, undiscovered talents, untutored minds and bitter hearts. We are not to blame for all of that. But to deliberately, consistently handicap literally half our population is more than just a staggeringly excessive indulgence of misguided patriarchal bents. A body politic that binds half of its limbs till they atrophy is a cripple by its own hand. The oppression of women is a daily act of self-mutilation.

We need them. We need the heartrending poets, the brilliant economists, the professors par excellence who never were, whose will abounded but whose way was barred, whose minds and flesh were able but whose spirit was caged, who put aside their gleaming ambitions to watch them tarnish every day on that awful shelf of forgotten and discarded things.

We are withering their spirits to satiate a fear long rendered groundless but no less toxic. We are feeding an archaic mindset that, in turn, will only beggar us of talent.

No cage is so gorgeously gilded that it can hide its function. Freedom is the only soil in which productivity and creativity can flourish.

Zaair Hussain is a Lahore-based freelance writer. He can be reached at
Source: Daily Times