I am not an emotional person and neither do I like sharing my emotions with others. However, there are times when self reflection means that you need to figure out what shapes you to be the person you are. Watching an ad recently that highlighted the way environment and society shapes what throwing like a girl really means to a child was eye opening and a stark reminder of how far we have come yet how far behind we are still.
Growing up in a place like Pakistan meant witnessing the so called supremacy of the patriarchy at every step. Pakistan is a very male privileged society and though your family may or may not follow the inherent disparity of the sexes, all around you outside your immediate family, you are bombarded with examples of it.
Navigating around that privilege sometimes leads to resentment and hopelessness. I remember as a kid wondering why I was not allowed to go to certain places alone when my brother was. Moreover, at that age, being an assertive female and having to constantly bite your tongue was very difficult for me.
Most females in my family growing up were house wives - either by choice or because it was not the norm. I have seen my grandmother and mother, my aunts and my friends' moms as homemakers when I know they could have excelled at any choice of career. Some didn’t have the support they needed to actually start a job, some had support that was withdrawn when things got difficult or 'people talked.' Others, like my mom, married into a conservative household and left her job because she knew it would not be encouraged. Besides teachers or doctors, there was a dearth of women in any major field in Pakistan and still is.
Superficially, since no one was actually 'forced' to stay at home but rather gently discouraged, the consequences of this were hard to measure at first. But slowly as the females in my family aged, and their children left for work or studies, the repercussions emerged. Some became disgruntled with their life, others felt like their creativity was suppressed. My grandmother used to tell me quite often how she really wanted to be an artist as she was quite creative but since no woman in her family worked, she would use daily tasks as outlets for her creativity. She would draw murals on the walls in her house as wall decoration and throw parties in her garden set with fairy lights and real clusters of grapes hanging from the trees. Her sewing and knitting were extraordinary and her quilting museum worthy.
My mom, on the other hand, went from a business owner to a house wife. The loss of power and authority over her household income and in general switching from a life straddling both career and home to just home was very hard for her. She internalized her struggle and became extraordinarily involved in her kids' lives. Even now, with her kids grown up and divided between two ends of the globe, she keeps up with our lives as if we were still living with her. Her quick thinking, attention to detail, and practical experience went to raising kids and looking after her husband which seemed like an injustice to her personality and all that she had to offer. Moreover, because of circumstances, she could never really cultivate an outlet for her passion so the world lost out on her potential and she lost out on the sense of validation and worth she was used to as being a business owner.
As a by product of such a society, it is easy to see my passion for women's empowerment and my belief that women can achieve any goal they set out to do. Be it home or professionally, they are the masters of their own fate and should be encouraged to reach for the stars. Luckily, Pakistan has evolved somewhat and women are emerging as key players in all areas of life outside the boundaries of home. It makes me feel proud to see a country like Pakistan have women workers. However, as it is with females all around the world, I hope that we make it easier and safer for them to continue in this path. As a mother of both a boy and girl, I would hope and pray that my daughter would have the strength and drive to reach for the stars and my son would be there to catch her if she falls.