Women: It’s Time To Become A Somebody, And Not Just A Body

Women: It’s Time To Become A Somebody, And Not Just A Body
My best friend at school, Ayesha, was the eldest among four siblings. Out of the four, she was the only daughter. We were inseparable in school. We spent most of our weekday evenings chatting on the phone, and weekends at each other's homes. What struck me as rather odd was that her three younger brothers had a say as to when she should come back home from her friends’ place, when she should hang up the phone and study and other trivial matters. Her mother also gladly went along with her brothers' opinions, which carried more weight than hers. This was the first time I got exposed to a mother choosing favourites among her children. I didn't think much of it, and we made the most of our carefree school days.

We were together during our A-levels as well. It’s that vulnerable age of ‘first love.’ At a prestigious private school in Karachi where we were enrolled, the teachers were rather concerned with calling the parents of a girl and warning them of their daughter’s ‘lecherous/lewd’ behaviour, if they spotted a ‘couple.’ However, parents of the boy students were never bothered by the concerned teachers.

Girls were taken aside and given unsolicited advice that it was too early an age to be in committed relationships. The boys of our class were given none. In fact, their social ranking and status was enhanced by how many girlfriends they had in the final years of school. We had teachers moral policing girls on how ‘decently’ we sat on the pavement, how ‘decently’ we were attired at the Annual Balls (held in the month of May) and took great measures in preventing our young and nubile flesh from leading the young male teachers astray. Again, I noticed that whilst growing up, even the teachers made a distinction in the way they dealt with the two genders.
Will it be a luxury if there are separate washrooms available for female field workers? When will it be not okay for a father, brother or husband to admonish the female in the house if the food they serve is not warm?

Fast forward a few years, we both graduated from college and started our careers. We were now in the phase of choosing life partners for ourselves. While Ayesha's brothers were still at college (at her parents' expense) and Ayesha was self-sufficient and earning, her choice of a life partner was screened and evaluated by all three brothers. This didn't go down too well with either of us. We were independent, educated, earning adults but yet our life decisions were policed by males of the family regardless of their age. She persevered and married the love of her life after a brief struggle, and overcoming resistance from her parents and siblings.

It didn't take us long to figure out that even in our mid- twenties, our in-laws now had a say about what we chose to wear at family gatherings, publicly asked us questions relentlessly about when we would start a family and, in Ayesha’s case, condoled with her at the birth of her first child who was a girl. A healthy and beautiful girl. But that didn’t matter. She lamented frequently about being a female in our culture and coping with all the undue pressures relating to our bodies, lives and our choices.

At my workplace, a Karachi-based European institution in the financial sector, I noticed that males dominated the floor in more ways than one. They were loud and thought themselves as being rather macho if they cussed (in Urdu) in the company of women co-workers. What was peculiar about those Urdu abuse words was that they related to female body parts in one way or the other. Much to my dismay, my Urdu vocabulary of swear words was greatly enriched in the first six months of my initial working life.

Little did the naïve us realise back then that we were growing up (pre-social media days) in an overtly patriarchal set up. Young girls and women were seen as objects rather than individuals with a mind of their own. They were a constant source of distraction to the boys/men around them if they did not carry themselves (read their bodies) in a certain ‘acceptable’ manner. Boys were boys and men will be men, was implied indirectly. Fathers and brothers were our first moral guardians, husbands then took over and later, the sons. As our keepers. Our identity was deeply hinged on the men at different stages in our life.

As I write this, I realise that most of my friends and family members would think of me as a rather thankless person. In their view, I have and continue to lead a privileged life, received a privileged education and married a person of my choice. Also, I get to contribute to the society by being a member of the workforce – so what rights am I missing out on?

Perhaps, it is my privilege in society which will help me raise a voice for the not-so-privileged? Perhaps. I want to see a future where women are not burned alive if they do not get a good enough dowry, to see women as equitable members of the workforce, where they are not marginalised economically on the basis of their gender. Is it too much to ask for a society that does not view a female as a baby-making machine till she produces a ‘coveted’ son?

Will it be a luxury if there are separate washrooms available for female field workers? When will it be not okay for a father, brother or husband to admonish the female in the house if the food they serve is not warm? When will the society view its female members as equally human (Insaan) rather than someone to whom honour (Izzat) is attached? I do not want to lie that I am fasting (when on my period) in Ramzan, and heck while we are on the subject, maybe I do not want to be asked this question at all.

I do not want to see a salesman get embarrassed or squeamish each time I buy sanitary napkins at a store. I want to be able to walk in a park without being catcalled and where a delivery rider doesn’t use my number to send lewd texts at 2am. The list goes on. Hopefully a time will come when we will not be needing an Aurat March, slogans and placards to get these basic rights in place. It will become second nature to respect females.