Being Woman in Pakistan

Posted on May 26, 2007
Filed Under >Aisha Sarwari, Society, Women
166 Comments
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Guest Post by Aisha Sarwari

“This is why I am not in favor of working women.” Said the Colonel and security in-charge of one of Lahore’s largest office blocks. “Excuse me?” I said.

Before I could unleash my monologue on the tirade of women’s mobility, I am interrupted by the drama unfolding in the Colonel’s office where two security guards, a police man, a fellow plaza worker and the culprit who “teased” me shift uncomfortably in their chairs.

A few moments ago, I was walking up the stairs from the parking lot, late for a board meeting, shoving my car keys in my ancient purse, while two men who appeared to have camaraderie with each other were coming down. As they passed me, the uglier guy with glasses greeted me with strange familiarity and boldness.

I was used to the whistling, the smirks, the humming of latest Bollywood songs or even a religious proclamation of how great God is. But this sort of thing, however, had me stop and take notice. I asked for a clarification from him, and he went on to make generally trivial chit-chat about his friend giving me a call later.

Understanding full well that chauvinists thrive on women’s passivity, I learned to give in to my indignity and forgo the fight of telling random men off. Sometimes even when I want to fight back, their timing is too perfect and their precision that of a seasoned actor on Broadaway. Before I can feel the stab of inferiority and their power to communicate a stark message, they are gone, under the folds of a society that is so sickly South Asian. Everyday it is a battle, but I trivialize the over-sexualization of a partially segregated society whose religion rests on a mother/whore dichotomy. It’s nothing, I say, not worth it. But the truth is its very bloody and it wounds me each time and it leaves its mark every time it happens.

So this time, I fought back. I called for two guards who were directing traffic in the underground basement. New at their job, they refused to budge because they didn’t have “orders” to move from the spot that both of them were designated on to stand. I couldn’t believe it. This was no time for bureaucracy. Exasperated, but still somewhat in control, I let the guys flea, but I went to give the wannabe pedestal guards a piece of my mind. I could hear myself becoming a whiny powerless nagging woman. I hated it, but what could I do? I had to ask them why the hell they didn’t come when I called them, a total idiot just got away.

By then enough men, old men, young men, men with family values, men who believe women need protection and those who just wanted to watch a show from the other side had gathered to catch the “honor-less” folk. They asked me to identify the person. I found myself increasingly being part of a large Victorian drama — Damsels in Distress. I hated this too.

So due to cleaver James Bond action the men caught one of the guys who tried to get away. There was some motorbike skidding involved. Eventually the guy removes his helmet. I ask him if he was the person whose friend was attempting to be entertaining. He said yes and I proceeded to ask him why he was laughing about it and didn’t tell his friend to take a break. At which he became a local Punjabi Sultan Rahi and stopped short of beating his baboon chest, mouth foaming action and all. He asked me who the hell I was to tell him anything, that I should shut up and know my place. I went ahead and told him to talk in English after he learned the language, and also that I was now going to make him regret what he just did.

Thanks to his daring proximity the thought of slapping him did come to mind, but why should I lie, I was scared of him. Taken by the nerve to be so aggressive toward me in front of a crowd of armed guards, I didn’t want to test which of the genders has a knack for violence, it was a well discovered territory for all women.

I took a deep breath and called for Mr. Pathan, the chief security guard who in the true sense of the word was a guard. He arrived on the scene with his 3 inch by 6 inch mustache folded towards the edges in a circle loop. Once he arrived, he grabbed the lad with his neck asked the rest of his supervisors to take care of the bike while he walked briskly toward the Colonel’s office, asked the girl to follow. Once he discovered the girl was me (He thinks I am Syed), he broke into a fit of ass-whopping of the lad, where he asserted who exactly possessed the lion’s mane and where he was in the food chain. This was his territory and there was some order here. The kicking, shoving and slaps continued two floors up via the car slopes and into the office.

I greeted the colonel who was kind enough to keep a reserved parking space for me for the past few months, “because I was a woman” after a couple of vandalism incidents with my car. We sat down and I narrated what happened. The fellow plaza worker talked about what he saw. When I gave my version, I knew I could never explain the concept of “perceived threat” and how much that can terrify a person. It is the unsaid rule that if you dare to report, or take action it’ll be marked as a protest against the status quo and there will be retaliation, and the last word won’t be yours.

The Colonel said that it is hard for these guys to differentiate between the “type” of women they see. Some women hold men’s hand in the parking lot. What he meant to say was, this was a simple case of miscalculation. You lady, are a married woman, with kids, I know your boss, your husband and so via the men associated with you, you deserve respect and I’ll punish these men accordingly.

Already the guy, thanks to Mr. Pathan’s mighty blows was a lamb, apologizing profusely after he heard the police man suggest jail, where he’d eventually call in his friend and settle the score. I asked him to define what he was sorry for, and it was quiet clear he was sorry about landing in the crap that he found himself in, not for the harm caused to me. The fellow plaza office worker, though harsh with the guy, was ultimately asking me to forgive and let him go. Men, after all have to protect other men, it was harmless, understandably a misjudgment that should not get you in so much trouble for. You can get into trouble for theft, murder and burglary but this is just a woman.

The Colonel asked me. What do you want to do?

Men oppress women because that’s how it is. Its more natural for a woman to clean shoes apparently than it is for a man, that is in women’s nature, the cooking, cleaning and the menial tasks the surround child rearing, as well as the overwhelmingly huge ones that need emotional strength of an elephant, business intelligence of a working woman and those that require spiritual stability and nurturing forgiveness. All this time, no one asked us what we want to do.

Colonel Saab, I want him and his friend to know, that sometimes you can pick on the wrong woman, a pissed off one. Can you do that please? I asked him.

He placed his cigar on the ashtray and sighed.

Artwork by Abro.

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166 responses to “Being Woman in Pakistan”

  1. Ali says:

    It is understandable that Pakistani men are chauvinists, but it will change only if whole nation becomes educated and civilised(I doubt that), and yeah one last thing, has anyone read comments of Nouman? Don’t know about you guys but I found them extremely funny

  2. Mocha says:

    Doing grunt work in office for a faceless corporation: Career oriented work.

    Taking care of house and your own kids: Menial work.

    What a joke, just look at relationships in west. Multiple partners, cheating, abandonment, single parents, STDs, violent kids, deteriorating family life, 24/7 work day, heavily indebted (house mortgage, college loan, credit card debt, no savings), kids raised by day cares to name a few.

  3. nauman says:

    I just want to say that Allah has told us in Quraan” woman should hide her beauty”.For men in Quraan Allah says that men should keep theire eyes down.When ever and where ever we follow our own Allah’s orders we will never ever face any kind of problem.Koi tau wajah thee jo Allah ne aurat ko pardai ka hukm dia.Agar libaas aurat k jism k khadd o khaal ko numayan kar raha hai tau wo mard hazrat jo apni nigahain neechi nahi rakhtai wo tau phir buhat kuch karain gai.Magar wo jo Allah se dartai hain aur nigahain neechi rakhtai hain un ko koi cheez bhee behoodgi pe nahi amada kar saktee.Behehal aurat agar chahai tau burai se burai aadmi se bhee apni izzat karwa saktee hai.

  4. Aisha says:

    Walikeum Salaam AishaUK:

    There is a saying that all 5 fingers are different as is the case with husbands as well. I am sorry to hear that your shohar is giving you so many problems. Sister, you are not his property and he will only treat you as such if you permit him too.

    Now, with that said…yes some/most Pakistanis believe that Pakistani Culture is Islamic. However, you are not forced to have the same state of mind or follow in Haraam practices…any “true” Muslim knows that the that Allah is the creator of the Quran and it supersedes all cultural practices. Whether people choose to abide by the Quran or not is up to them but they should fear judgement day. Cultural practices are often times anything but Islamic but still many people choose to follow culture instead of speaking up. Follow only Allah (SWT). As wives, we are not required to obey our husbands if they tell us to do haraam or unislamic things.

    My advice sister is to be patient with your husband. Do not lose your own identity but remember what it is to be a good Muslim and a good Muslim wife. I don’t know if you are praying 5 times a day or not but I can assure you that it can give you a sense of peace in your life and marriage. We are to love Allah (SWT) more than we love ourselves … and only then can we truly love our spouse and they love us. In life we must undergo many tests in order to increase our Imaan.

    If you are sunni then I would like to suggest that in addition to reading the Quran, take some time to study the Al Hadiths. Most born Sunni Muslims aren’t even familiar with them and while you can’t change your husband you can at least help to educate him Islamically. http://www.islamqa.com

    There are many “women only” Islamic groups on msn.com as well that you could join for support, ummrah with other Muslim women/wives and to increase your Islamic knowlede & Imaan, insha’allah. Ameen

  5. AishaUK says:

    Salaam ‘alaykum! I am a convert Muslim from Poland. As a Western Muslim, I would like to say that I really appreciate few things about my culture: rights of women, human rights, freedom of thought, freedom of choice and tolerance even if it is not so common in practise… I was 15 year old when I decided to be a Muslim because I believed it is true before I learned about it and I am happy to be a Muslim, as I learned later how many rights Islam gave to women and how shariah protects my rights… Unfortunately, I fell in love with a Pakistani and I got married… Then I learned about how the culture is considered religion – and I know very well how difficult is life for Pakistani wife…! Being a slave, belonging to a husband just as an item, not a human being – with everything I have; me and my belongings are considered my husband’s property! I have no rights, even no right for love, no spiritual or emotional needs, as he thinks, no right to speak, nothing! I cannot call anything mine, which is actually opposite to shariah… I can’t decide about myself at all, even about how I look like(even wearing hijab), even what I eat – he limits my food!, even other aspects of my life are husband’s wish-dominated! I have nothing to say… My life and death are depending strictly on him…! I only have to serve him 24 hours a day 7 days a week, completely and in all matters, his smallest wish must be fulfilled…! Directly! And I have no right to expect anything in return… He thinks that he does a big favour to me if he shows me little bit mercy! He behaves like a king and sultan and treats me like a slave, like his personal property… I love him, anyway. I am not able to leave him only because of bad values of his culture in which women specially wives are nothing and even want to be nothing, I know I can’t simply divorce him, because it would cause too much tension and pain for me, also for him, as he loves me, however he is following his culture, so does not know how to treat me well. I know it is not his fault, I am not able to change him completely. I tried, but I can only change his behaviour, even not fully – but I can’t change his way of thinking anyway… I can only act upon his wishes, I can live this life as he wants me to, I can be his property and I can behave like a Pakistani wife, but I can never agree with this in my mind! NEVER EVER. Inside, I will be always a Westerner, though I am also a Muslim, because I know well what real Islam is and how the Prophet salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam used to treat his wives – and he was the best to his wives…! Thank you.

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