Treat her like a lady, not a baby-making machine

Published: April 28, 2012

Sultana has eight children. When she gets run-down, she screams and hits her children and calls them ‘unwanted’. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

Kaneez* has five young children with a small age difference between them. She works full-time as a domestic maid and takes short, rushed breaks in order to nurse her youngest child, a five-month-old infant. If her break becomes longer than the expected five minutes, she is severely rebuked by her employer. 

Life is hard for Kaneez. Not only does her husband expect her to make ends meet, but also wants her to keep adding more children to the brood. Her children fight all the time, demand clothes and toys when she takes them grocery shopping and throw tantrums when their wishes are not fulfilled.

The over-worked mother says that her health is deteriorating by the day. She realises that she may be suffering from a number of complications, but does not have time to get herself checked by a doctor.

According to Kaneez, it was her husband’s aunt who kept making snide remarks about other relatives having more male progeny than her that made her want to have more babies. So Kaneez ended up having more children than she wanted as a retort to the aunt. Now, as those who provoked her go about their daily business, life for Kaneez just keeps getting tougher. When thoroughly exhausted, she releases her stress by physically abusing her children.

There is no doubt that children are God’s blessing. But in many societies, including ours, most women are forced to have one child after an another. They do not have the freedom to choose how many children they have nor do they get to decide the age difference between them.

Faiza* is 35 and has six children. She also works full time as a domestic servant. When she returns home, she must perform all the household duties. After six children, Faiza thought her family was complete, and she had a tubal ligation surgery in order to prevent any more pregnancies. But, when her husband and mother-in-law learned about this, they were furious. Faiza shares her sorrow saying:

I have given them six children out of which two are male. I am also the major breadwinner of the family. What else do they want?

Another sad case is Asifa*, who at the very young age of 20, has five children and is expecting yet again. She does all the housework and her young boys keep her on her toes all day long. She has no time for herself and often gets tired and angry. Asifa was also forced to conceive repeatedly on one pretext or the other.

Sultana* has eight children. When she gets run-down, she screams and hits her children and tells them they are ‘unwanted’. She has left most of her young daughters as live-in servants at bungalows in different parts of the city. She does care about her children, but she doesn’t have the time or energy to inquire about their well-being on a frequent basis. Recently, one of her daughters got pregnant out of wedlock.

“What can I do? I work full time and look after four young children after work hours. How can I keep track of what’s going on in their lives?,” says a perplexed Sultana.

“My husband said he would leave me if I didn’t have more children,” she added

According to her, he was provoked by his relatives to give her this threat. Even today, women are desperate to safeguard their marriages. This is because a divorced woman is looked down upon and her character is misjudged. Scared of such consequences, even if women can financially support themselves without a husband, they stay in the marriage.

Another way of psychologically blackmailing women to have more children is by accusing them of having a low character, having liaisons outside of marriage or not loving their husbands.

Sadaf*, a young professional,  recently got married into an educated family. When she told her husband that she wanted to work a little more (before having a child) because she had time (referring to her biological clock), her in-laws accused her of having a secret boyfriend. So this behaviour is not only limited to the lower class.

Many women I have spoken to explained that their relatives compel them to have more children because they love kids and and want to be surrounded by them. They do this because they feel it is a means of keeping women “under control”; to keep them so burdened with responsibilities that they have no time to think about their own desires.

Family planning is a matter that should remain between the husband and wife. Unfortunately, most men in our poverty ridden society have a rigid mindset. Many men living in rural Pakistan have not received any guidance and are egged on by uncaring relatives to have unrealistic expectations from their partners.

If anyone is to argue that it is recommended in our religion to have more children, I would like to say that our religion also says that men should provide for the family. When it comes to the second obligation, why do such men turn a deaf ear?

A woman has a natural instinct to care for each of her children. But when she is abused, this instinct becomes ugly. Juggling work with the upbringing of several young children, a woman not only becomes frustrated but ends up neglecting her own kids. This could lead to serious issues, like the case with Sultana’s pregnant daughter.

Why should children be subject to neglect, physical and mental abuse?

Our men and women need to be educated. Women need to be understood and treated like human beings instead of machines. Children need to be seen as individuals that need exclusive affection and care. ‘Caring and well-meaning’ relatives must stop interfering beyond a certain point.

I think women should have the choice. I hope the majority will agree.

*Names have been changed to protect identities

Read more by Ayesha here.


Ayesha Pervez

Ayesha Pervez

Currently pursuing TESL in Canada, Ayesha Pervez is an English Literature graduate from the University of Karachi who has completed courses in short-fiction and journalism from Harvard University.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Zara Mazhar

    Brilliant article! Thank you.Recommend

  • Rehan

    There is no need to blame men here. It’s often other women (mother-in-laws, aunts, etc.) who are the cause of this kind of misery for their gender.
    Regards,
    RehanRecommend

  • kaalchakra

    If a husband wants more children, a woman must do whatever she can to produce them. Please do not deny a husband’s basic right.Recommend

  • Awais

    So what would be the first step to educating a man who has probably seen his mother or sister treated like this most of his life? Recommend

  • iftikhar hussain

    nice and beautiful articles thanksRecommend

  • Ashraf Ahmed

    @Rehan:

    It seems you are trying defend your creed! She highlighted one of the many issues of our society that needs to be addressed with sincerity. Recommend

  • MAHTAB MALIK

    although REHAn is Right but here the main thing is that
    when PEOPLE gets married that not just because to give births to the Children…….but that mean to UNDERSTAND ,CAre , RESPECT, each other in couple ……..but here in our society No one even think like this.
    every one has a mindset that MARRIAGE means to give birth to as many children as they can in a very short time ;;;;

    REGARDS:
    MAHTABRecommend

  • Azam Owais

    There is need of extreme thought that given birth more than babies that some one can afford is really an offense. Some one has to think that how can he full their basic needs like basic education, good food basic living and moral values, and when the child grow up with the lackness of these ultimalty he become a burden to a society. And most of the responsibity lied at men end from because most of the men in our society like this, instead looking for some precautions. And Mrs. writer yes I also think women should have the choice and I hope the majority will agree BUT most of our society educated women also have to see that if there husband is ready to provide all the basic necessities to children than what is the issue of having more kids beside than reason of her figure :P.Recommend

  • Ashar

    Please do not ask them to treat them like a lady. Because when he will do it , the children will be less in numbers. And when the children will be less then how the notorious Katchi Abadis will flourish, and when the Katchi Abadis will be de-populated as a result of improved human behaviour then how our beloved leaders will grab seats in the assemblies.
    There is no doubt about it that Katchi Abadis plays a decisive role in the elections in Pakistan. because of the concentration of population there. And it is also known to all of us the the vote casting rate of planned areas is far less than the Katchi Abadis. so dear writer bear with us.Recommend

  • Zainab Imam

    Also, in response to the “religion” argument, our Prophet (pbuh) had only ONE daughter.

    Just sayin’.Recommend

  • http://thedabbabrigade.wordpress.com RiffyR

    It’s not about blaming men here but to sort of make them aware of what is expected of them, when familial pressure gets absurd. True, the mother in laws and the aunts are the ones pressurizing here but it doesn’t really irk the wife so much until the husband bows under the familial pressure and threatens to leave the family, so on and so forth. Recommend

  • Fahad Raza

    Blame is on Men and women both. Husbands and in laws. Now the rural mentality is that a wife is the key to enhance the family tree, more the babies more grows he family tree and sons are the utmost desire its not only here in Pakistan, the whole south Asia. We put monumental pressure on wives for kids and without delay. Now this can be fought. Education of women is the only key. Recommend

  • raw is war

    @ Ayesha Pervez

    Treat her like a lady, not a baby-making machine

    fat chance of that happening in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Shahbaz lodhi

    Nicely put all the material, Divulges the condition of maid ” Massi ” in our society so many stories around us but to comments or post a few lines not enough to resolve their problems.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Wonderful topic and brilliantly written. All the examples made your point stand out.Recommend

  • Muhammad Rizwan

    In a patriarchal society like ours it’s the mothers,grandmothers and sisters-in-law who pressurise the couple to have more sons.Ours is a society where women inherently hate their gender and despise their children having daughters.
    Men deserve a lot of blame but why give the misogynistic Ammi jan a free pass? It is Ammi jan’s sick obsession with having a grandson that is a cause of misery in a lot of households.It is time that daughter and grand daughter hating aunties are condemned loudly and clearly.Recommend

  • Zainab Khan

    First stop treating husbands as money making machines.Those women screaming for their rights should start earning for themselves first.Screaming for more rights while freeloading off your husband isn’t ethical in any sense. Those women treating their boyfriends/husbands as walking/talking ATM’s have no right to demand special treatment from men.Those women who have careers,who work and bear their own expenses have a right to demand better treatment.Recommend

  • What the…?

    @rehan
    So basically u mean that the men in our society do not possess the ability to think for themselves. Either that or they choose to go for anything that suits their needs. Recommend

  • A

    I agree with Rehan, it always the other women i.e the mother, aunt, etc who makes life difficult for the wife. Men are just caught in the middle, side with the mom and you dont care abt your wife and side with the wide and you are a joru ka ghulam!!.
    It is very true that a woman’s worst enemy is always another women. Especially the mother-in-laws always forget that they too were once someone’s bahu. Instead of treated the bahus nicely , after all they are also someones daughter, they treat them like they are not human beings. They forget it is Allahs will whether it is a boy or girl, etc.Recommend

  • sumeet

    this article reminded me of movie bol and how zainab(the female character) brilliantly argued and told her father how they are misguided by this false religious interpretation.its time to change the way u look at things,because this world has changed a lot since 1400 years,but still some people are stuck in stone age.nice article.keep it up.Recommend

  • Pollack

    A very relevant article. Babies have mouths which have to be fed. Don’t create babies if you can’t afford to feed them or take care of them. Doing so is simply child abuse in my opinion.Recommend

  • Azeem Anwer

    @Zainab Imam:
    Your comment speaks volumes about your knowledge on Seerat-un-Nabi.Recommend

  • geeko

    It’s all social, not sexual : the man who happens to treats his wife as a “baby-making machine” is probably from the proletariat or rural zones where the violence is internalized ; he’s himself treated as a “money making machine” by his environment (proletariat, family pressure, …), and all his social relationships are mechanized/desensitized.
    In the same way, far from being an advocate of misogyny, if he works as a servant in some governor’s house, he’ll treat the women there as ladies, because of the relation that these women have with his income.
    Even the “male progeny” fetish is totally rural, if you go to a middle/upper-class family from Lahore (as an example), you’ll never hear a father say that he wants boys over girls, because he doesn’t need a potential labour force. In fact, I really doubt that someone in this situation can even dare proffering such insanities openly.
    Personally, my own uncle just joked about it, “oh I want a boy now” as he had two daughters and my father literally scolded him, and we’re far from being a “middle-class Lahori khandaan”.

    The core problem remains women empowerment : the day they’ll be economically self-sufficient and wouldn’t depend on a man, they’ll talk – and fight – about their rights themselves, and it’s the best kind of “natural” family planning because it makes sense that you can’t produce plethora of babies while having a career. That’s how the fertility rate dropped in Muslim countries (even if the region, from a Marxist framework, remains secondary) like Tunisia (“liberal”) or Iran (“conservative”), as the local powers gave women the chance to be themselves.

    So, man up ladies, and fight for what you truly deserve …
    … without seeing men as all-evil. =PRecommend

  • http://uptonogood.tumblr.com/ Red

    @Zainab

    Are you kidding me? The writer gave examples of women who work full time AND take care of the house and still get treated like . I have interviewed female primary bread earners who are treated extremely badly by their husbands and in-laws. Even if a woman does not work outside the home, she is still taking care of a dozen other activities, all of which contribute to the ECONOMIC working of the household. This can be as simple as shopping for groceries. All of which, btw, is besides the point because contrary to what you believe, working in any capacity is NOT a prerequisite to being treated like a human being, never has been and never will be. Being a human being is the only condition you need to be treated as such. It means you have human rights (not contingent on anything in case I haven’t been clear enough) – one of those rights is the right to bodily integrity and being able to choose for yourself if, when, and how, to have children. I suggest you go through a few human rights treaties because you leave any more damaging comments. Recommend

  • Pollack

    @kaalchakra:
    “Please do not deny a husband’s basic right.”

    Making a baby is a team effort between husband and wife. If one person in the team doesn’t want it, the effort may give a baby but also bad consequences. By the way, rights come with basic responsibilities. And the baby also has rights. The most basic right of being take care. If the husband can’t afford to give the baby that right, he should not be forcing his wife to make babies.Recommend

  • Ebrahim

    A very well written article. Ayesha makes the point effectively when she says that a woman should be treated and respected as a human being instead of being looked down as an instrument for pleasure and reproduction. Unfortunately, in our male-dominated society, myths and prejudice often define the role of a women in society which at times is outright derogatory. Education is indeed the key and the onus is on each one of us ensure equality. Recommend

  • Anaa

    My sister got married in an educated family. The very first time she menstruated after her marriage, her mother in law gave her a dissapproving look and said, dont do family planning. Stupid WomanRecommend

  • Big Rizvi

    Alright, I shall treat them like ladies and not baby making machines, just as long as they don’t treat us men like sex-straved, brainless, war-fighting drones.Recommend

  • Aijaz Jamali

    Need of hour is to create awareness. Not to blame any one, either wife or husband or relatives. This awareness will come through education that too in real sense and up to comprehending level. Little knowledge itself is danerous.Recommend

  • Ali Jahanzeb

    Future is getting even worst b/c these low income families are moving to no income. Allah bless Pakistan. Recommend

  • Sunil Dubey

    Brilliant article, exposing the truth of society.Recommend

  • Umair

    Finally, I read something sensible on ET.Recommend

  • Saima

    @kaalchakra:
    Basic right?? And whats a woman`s basic right?
    And excuse me… “produce”??
    It is men like you who cause such misery for women in this country!
    Women are not child producing machines! Recommend

  • Saima

    It is a very good article. The situation in which most women in Pakistan are in cannot be told enough. But it is a very complex topic and only educating men or creating awareness will not be enough.

    It is a problem of the whole society.. as we all know you marry not only a partner but his whole family. Do not forget all these aunties, relatives who blackmail women. Having kids or not or how many should only be discussed between husband and wife; and only as equal partners.
    Many men in Pakistan do not have the courage… the courage to stand up against their relatives… and the courage to deal with a strong wife!Recommend

  • geeko

    @Saima:
    True, in our society marriage is not a consensual contract between two free individuals, but an alliance – literally – of two families for purely practical reasons (status, economic, …), and the husband himself may be understandable, but women rarely escape the whole complex, hermetic and traditionalist familial network where, in fact, the “urge to have babies” is endorsed by women themselves (saas & aunties brigade Inc.)Recommend

  • kamila

    best article…fully agreedRecommend

  • Nobody

    @kaalchakra:
    Having 845783 babies is NOT a husband’s basic right. you don’t know what its like being pregnant for 9 months and then basically raising all those babies as a single parent, juggling duties of both mom and dad…. Recommend

  • Amit

    More children more income. That’s why big family.Recommend

  • http://- Abid P Khan

    @kaalchakra:
    “If a husband wants more children, a woman must do whatever she can to produce them. Please do not deny a husband’s basic right.”

    Perhaps you are familiar with the idea of human beings being equal. Using religion as an excuse, your logic of reductio ad absurdum turns females into Child-o-mats. Push the right buttons and she is ready for penetration. Apparently, you were born quite a few centuries too late. Recommend

  • kdm

    I think now a days 2 to 3 childeren are enough!Recommend

  • Sane

    @Zainab Imam
    Before your write about Prophet (Peace be upon Him), first read and update your knowledge. Do not write misled and incorrect information. I agree to cynical comments of Azeem Anwer.Recommend

  • Hussain

    Very well written article. !Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli

    raw is war
    india is not diffrent than pakistan u can see by surveying the poor of poors india i bet..
    BUT ITS A SHAME.Recommend

  • Mansoor Javed

    @Saima:

    Women giving comments on the subject are requested to recite soora e noor verse 31 carefully and should read with its different Tafaseer. Recommend

  • AlinaSN

    @kaalchakra:
    Excuse me! Doesn’t a woman have any rights whatsoever? Yes Islam tells women to listen to their husbands but if a man repeatedly tells a woman that he wants one child after another, how is this fair to the woman? Or should we just keep in mind the rights of the man? Allah (SWT) has made us all equals and thus we have equal rights. Husbands have no right to tell their wives to have a billion kids. Especially when it’s on the most useless of grounds of having a male heir. It would be understandable if these people were farmers or worked cottage industries in which they’d need chilren to work, but in urban areas more children only get in the way of working women, be it a doctor or a servant. Recommend

  • Australian Reader

    This blog has attracted 43 reader comments so far, many of them strongly opinionated and defensive, particularly those written by Muslim readers. I have read the other featured article, “Saving Face: A masterpiece documentary” and it has received only 11 reader comments, none of which express the level of emotion and indignation expressed here.

    Why is that? Could it be that acid attacks make the issue of male violence to women undeniably clear? Many of these attacks are the result of female rejection, confirming the very real problem women face world wide – the male need for dominance and control expressed through “rampant violence to women” as stated by Amnesty International:

    “Living free from violence is a human right, yet millions of women and girls suffer disproportionately from violence both in peace and in war, at the hands of the state, in the home and community. Across the globe, women are beaten, raped, mutilated, and killed with impunity.

    Gender-based violence stems from the failure of governments and societies to recognize the human rights of women. It is rooted in a global culture of discrimination which denies women equal rights with men and which legitimizes the appropriation of women’s bodies for individual gratification or political ends. Everyday, all over the world, women face gender-specific persecution including genital mutilation, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, and domestic violence. At least one out of every three women worldwide has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.”

    http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/issues/women-s-rights/violence-against-womenRecommend

  • http://www.techmuzu.com Muzzu

    hmmm great article..its better to make decision between husband n wife about how many children they want, probably 2 or 3 children enough to live a peaceful life(small n happy family) but if they want then they can but at the same time family economy must be high to takecare of children’s feeding(dress,fulfilling wishes etc)……Recommend

  • zehra

    wow . Great article .. we should not even blame men . whole society is involved in this misery .. Recommend

  • zehra

    geat article . but should not blame men coz its even not his fault .. its our society who create these problem . child planing family planing is considered as a sin . Recommend

  • malik

    Treat her like a lady and not like a baby-making machine.

    Islam means submission. This means, kaffirs submit to believers, and women submit to men, and men submit to Allah.

    By asking us to treat women as equals, aren’t you trying to undermine the very foundations of Islam ? Recommend

  • Saima

    @Mansoor Javed:

    What does that mean… “women giving comments on the subject”. So women do not have the right to comment? I do have the same right as every man.
    And moreover.. the topic is childbirth. You do not have a baby in your body for 9 months, do you?

    So do not tell me what to recite. If you want to recite something.. go ahead.
    But do not bring on religion always if you do not have a better answer!Recommend

  • http://www.sugarncrumbs.com Nabs

    Brilliant expose` of the bitter truth caging our society.Recommend

  • M.I.A.

    @malik:
    Get your facts right.
    Islam means submission. Muslims submit themselves to Allah. (Both men AND women)
    Let me begin by saying that men and women are not equal. This does not mean that men are superior. It simply means that they are different. Have different duties to fulfill. However, in this case, the women seem to be the breadwinners AND playing the role of the wives. A woman who has a child has the right to demand money from her husband for taking care of his child and feeding the child her milk. I don’t see the men doing anything great here. They have no right to demand more children when they are not fulfilling the duty of a husband. If a wife is having children to fulfill her husbands wishes, he MUST fulfill hers.

    Do not undermine the rights of women in Islam.

    Finally, forget equal treatment. The women are not even being treated like human beings.Recommend

  • Independent Woman

    @kaalchakra:
    That is absolute nonsense. If she doesn’t want to have children, there is something called compromise. Recommend

  • http://www.voicesagainstdomesticabuse.wordpress.com Mehar Khan

    help raise support and awareness for the voiceless victims of senseless violence – band together against the cowards who beat up their helpless wives and children..
    http://www.voicesagainstdomesticabuse.wordpress.com
    set this as your status to break the culture of silence where women like Annie (read her life’s story on link) suffer almost daily under the tyranny of their husbands..Recommend