Warning: This is a rant.
Not only English newspapers generally carry more news stories on and about women, their stories are generally more nuanced and gender sensitive in comparison with Urdu and vernacular press. This story that I am going to discuss was published in Express Tribune and it does not pass judgment on the women it discussed but I strongly believed that in this case, the story could have done it with a bit of analysis on the socio economic mores of the society.
The story narrates the tale of two women, Humera and Suraya. They both lost their husbands to the civil unrest and target killings in Karachi. It has been two years since Humera’s husband passed away but she is still not working and expects other people to financially help her run her house. It must be noted that Humera is a middle aged woman and has 9 children – some of them are adults and one of her daughters is married – yet she does not leave her home because she fears that people will question her character if she leaves her house. The woman lives in Kati Pahari, a colony of working class people in Karachi adjacent to North Nazimabad which is a middle class area and if only Humera and her adult daughter go to North Nazimabad and work as domestic servants, they can jointly earn anything between Rs 12,000 to Rs 18,000 a month.
Suraya also lost her husband four years ago and but unlike Humera, she is financially independent. Not only is she working and supporting her two daughters, she is also paying off her husband’s debt and living a life of dignity.
There is a woman who had nine children – if people like her or her husband are approached for family planning, they generally deny any such services and say that children are God’s gift and they bring their own food with them. However now that she cannot feed them, she expects other people – who go out of their homes and work hard to earn money – to feed them while she just stays at home because she fears her virtue would be tarnished! Hello, you have nine – NINE – children and you still care about what other people have to say about your virtue? What is more important for you as a mother, your virtue or your children’s food? There is also a sense of entitlement that now she is a widow, other people should help her. She says that she constantly thinks about ways to feed her children but she has never thought about doing an honest day’s work to many some money. Here is a woman who is refusing to act like an adult and take responsibility. If there is any place in Pakistan where people can break taboos and do things differently, it is Karachi and if someone refuses to do that, they do not deserve any sympathy. Had that woman been living in Badin, Sadiqabad or Akora Khattak, her excuse had been valid because there are no opportunities to work for anyone in those areas but this is nothing but an empty excuse in a city like Karachi.
I read the story and then I read it again. For starters the writer squandered the opportunity to draw comparison between people who work hard and the others who prefer to live their lives as parasites and society’s reaction to both parasites and the hard working people. Suraya – the other widow – should have been written as an exemplary character who defied the odds and is living a better life because of three major factors/decisions that made her life better – one, she was educated by her parents, two, she had just two kids instead of nine, three, she chose to work and live independently instead of relying on others. As it was a feature, not a story breaking news, the writer had an opportunity to dig deeper and touch upon the malaise that is holding our society back. I know reporters are supposed to be neutral but this country is going to the dogs, our birth rate is the highest in the region and we are a water insecure country – no water after 2030 for Pakistanis – it’s about time everyone should go militant on issues of family planning and innovative ways of farming.
I know that this is a fairly politically incorrect piece of writing and not a cohesive one at that but I had to get it off my chest. I judged a widow for being lazy; having too many children and called her a parasite, but it is about time we call a spade a spade and appreciate those who want to be productive members of the society.Women staying at home is a very urban phenomenon, its about time we learn from our rural sisters who have always worked outside their homes and contributed to the economy – even when it is not officially acknowledged.
Response to a comment
This is in response to Anon commenter who apparently is a regular reader but chose to not disclose his/her name. I wonder why?
I have absolutely no idea if this particular woman chose to have 9 children but she chose not to work and is asking for alms to support them, that, in my opinion is criminal behavior for a mother.
You second point is that Pakistani wives do not have the luxury of choice to say no to their husband whether they want to have sex or multiple number of children and that I have unlearned/erased everything I know about gender inequality, traditions and male dominance.
I would like to point out that accidents and tragedies provide everyone with fascinating opportunity of choice – of either becoming a victim or becoming a person who fight and defy odds. The woman may not have had a choice when her husband was alive but she had the choice of either becoming a victim (Hai Allah mein bechari bewa meray itnay bachay meri madad karo) or a fighter (Screw traditions, I am gonna get out of the home and try and carve a better life for my kids). Unfortunately she chose to play the victim card and for that, I will judge her.
Your third point was that it is easier to leave two kids at home instead of 9. I find it kinda baseless, I mean this woman is middle aged and has married off one daughter. I am sure at least three of her children would be adults who can either work or look after the younger ones. The argument that she cannot leave them at home does not hold true here.
In addition, I would like to point out that this is not about just a case but how we tend to side with the person who plays the victim instead of the one who fights things out. If anything we need to support those who decide to take charge because we can do with more doers and less parasites.
I would also like to say that media generally portrays the stories of victimhood which perpetuates the stereotype of bechari aurat and from what I have learned about gender, social structures, feminism, we do not need that, we need stories (I have written about Nazirapreviously) that break the shackles and glass ceilings.