9 things Pakistani women don't need to be afraid of anymore
For women in an unequal society living life can sometimes feel like an exercise in navigating fear.
After all, many of the messages women receive in life are proscriptive: we're told 'don't go to the bazaar alone', 'stop laughing so loud', 'don't stay out so late', 'stop being pushy in an argument'. It's easy to buy into these messages and so, to unconsciously pattern your behavior on what the world around you thinks is an 'appropriate' representation of womanhood.
However, in the past year alone, there's evidence that our efforts to let go of some of our fears and apprehensions might be paying off. It's not going to be easy -- but it will be worth it.
Here's a list of nine things you don't need to be afraid of anymore.
1) Don't be afraid to speak up about domestic abuse
We’ve heard of too many incidents of domestic violence – after it’s too late. And we often don’t know of many other incidents of abuse that occur around us at all.
The Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Bill might help upturn this culture of silence. It provides, for the first time in the history of the country, comprehensive protection to women against a range of crimes including abatement of an offence, domestic, emotional, psychological and economic abuse, stalking and cyber crime.
Nothing will change overnight, but legislation is definitely a milestone in the road towards ending domestic violence.
2) Don't be afraid to reclaim public spaces
One of Karachi’s biggest shopping malls is inaugurating a women-only parking lot today.
One can think of all the obvious reasons for this move: ‘women’s safety’, misplaced chivalry, or simply customer convenience. But the well-intentioned initiative fails on one very important count, that is, it is only reinforcing the segregation between men and women in Pakistani society.
We already don’t see many women mill about in parks, walk the streets post-sundown or get their chai paratha fix at the neighbourhood hotel – and we’d like to see that change.
That’s not going to happen when women are being sent the message that it’s safer and more convenient if you park away from the rest of humanity.
The good news is that initiatives like Girls at Dhabas are gaining momentum and playing a small but significant role in breaking the male hegemony on public spaces. From street cricket matches to naps in public parks, the movement is steadily trying to encourage women to venture out into public spaces outside of the stipulated times (daylight hours) and places (to your school or workplace or supermarket and back).
It’s a pity that we have to say this, but ladies, please feel free to exist.
Exist out on the road, in your car, in the superstore, tailor shop and salon, and at the mechanic, plumber and electrician ki dukaan, and everywhere in between that we feel compelled to take a male chaperone. The streets and public spaces are just as much ours as anyone else’s.
3) Don't be afraid to ask for a promotion/raise
In 2014, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella suggested that women shouldn't ask for a raise and instead "trust the system" to "give [them] the right raises". The backlash resulted in an immediate retraction and a concession that "If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask."
Thanks, Nadella. We'll do just that.
4) Don't be afraid to ask for help around the house
Today's women are independent, today's women are working. Today's women are also working double shifts as they come home to cook dinner, do laundry and bathe the baby.
A recently released detergent ad in India posed this very valid question: why is laundry only a mother's job? Seems like the only sweeping men do is sweeping this issue under the carpet. Clearly, we've conformed to traditional gender roles for so long that they've become the norm and haven't evolved with the times.
When a man offers to help out around the house, which, let's be honest, doesn't happen much, he expects immense gratitude — and he gets it. However, when women asks for help with domestic chores, they get slapped with pejorative terms like nag.
But you have to push back, now is as good a time as any. As the average age of marriage rises, men are now living on their own for longer, which means they're building the necessary skills to manage a house. There is no shame in asking for help with a responsibility that is NOT only yours, that you are not biologically inclined towards, no matter what you've been told. The lofty idea of an egalitarian division of labour in the house is now more attainable than ever.
5) Don't be afraid to own your unique beauty
Amna Ilyas perfected the art of owning her sometimes-criticised look when she accepted an award for Best Female Model at last year's Lux Style Awards. She said: "There were people who criticised me by saying, 'Yeh tou kaali hai (she's too dark)'. So for everyone who thought I am not beautiful just because I am dark... this award is an answer to that!"
In a world of Kim Kardashian-inspired makeup tutorials and perfectly contoured cheekbones, it's important to remember that beauty isn't only skin-deep and that there's more than one way to be beautiful. When you're feeling insecure about the way you look we recommend you take a break from social media. Go outside and take a walk, meet your friends, anything that'll stop you worrying about your reflection, because you're more than that.
6) Don't be afraid to pursue traditionally male professions
It's no secret that fields like physics, mathematics, technology and more are considered male domains -- not only in Pakistan, but all over the world. While precise figures aren't available for Pakistan, it's telling that in the United States in 2011 women made up only 26 percent of the science workforce even though they comprised over half of the national workforce.
A complex set of factors work together to cause this skew: for example, from a young age many girls receive and internalise the message that 'science is for boys.' Fewer girls studying science and technology in schoolrooms means fewer role models for incoming students, which is discouraging.
But there are signs that things are changing, and one of the best indicators of this for Pakistanis was news that Nergis Mavalvala, a Pakistani-American scientist, was among the group of researchers who detected gravitational waves hypothesised by physicist Albert Einstein. earlier this year.
Mavalvala is Associate Department Head of Physics at MIT, and she says: "I grew up in a family where stereotypical gender roles were not really observed. So I grew up thinking women can, must and should do anything and everything. That is very important for me.”
So, to all the young women reading this: you can be a physicist or a cardiologist or a coder or an engineer. Seek out mentors who support you and make sure to tell your family what your ambitions are. The sky's the limit!
7) Don't be afraid to be considered girly
We get it — as a woman sometimes you feel like you just can't win, like when the very people who tell you to be 'less aggressive' in the workplace criticise you for being too feminine when you rock that lengha-choli at your best friend's wedding.
You know what? Shake it off. You're a real, complex human being with multiple sides to your personality. You can demand respect and results in your everyday life even as you nurse a penchant for hot-pink handbags. You do you.
And in case you need someone to show you the way? Check out Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan's current envoy to the UN. She might be hobnobbing with ambassadors and heads of state, but she doesn't shy away from sporting a flamboyant sequined Pakistan-flag handbag if the mood strikes her.
8) Don't be afraid to chase your dreams
If Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy doesn't inspire you to chase your dreams, we don't know what will.
Not only did her movie, A Girl in the River spark the attention of PM Nawaz Sharif, who has promised legislative reform of the law concerning honour killings but she has also won not one but two Oscars — that's one more than Leonardo DiCaprio has!
We often feel that being a mother and a wife means we can't pursue our ambitions. It's time to bust that myth: dreaming and realism can coexist. There's nothing impractical about working towards your goals and if anything, it's a testament to your womanhood, whether that means making movies, opening up an animal shelter or doing whatever your heart desires.
Women, like Obaid-Chinoy, are an inspiration to all the ladies who need that extra shove to go after what they want, to be brave, to do things that society says they can't or shouldn't. Just don't let regret take the place of your dreams.
9) Don't be afraid to call out harassers
Last year Bill Cosby was accused of sexually assaulting scores of women. It's interesting to note that in cases like these, when one woman speaks out, several others come forward and make similar claims.
Why don’t we see acts of courage like this happen all the time?
It has a lot to do with how we're brought up; we're told to be wary, to watch our backs, to watch out for harassers and abusers. And if the predator somehow does get to us, we just freeze, accept it and contemplate why it happened to us so that it doesn’t happen again.
This has to stop. Most women in Pakistan experience street harassment daily. If a guy stares or whistles at you while you walk down the street, don't just concede and think you'll wear a looser top next time; call him out on it and if, and when you can, getting an authority or group of like-minded bystanders involved is the best way to go. It can be daunting but it is necessary to nip this culture.
Remember, catcalling is not a compliment or a joke and it sure shouldn't be treated like one.