Dear women, equality comes with a price!

Published: March 31, 2013

Was it fair to demand equality without accepting the responsibility that comes with it?

Pakistan is now producing more female doctors than male ones and it is not a good sign.

According to some of the senior doctors and medical staff, Pakistan’s health system had won the gender equality battle at the cost of productivity. More women are now pursuing medicine, as compared to their male counterparts, which is affecting the health system adversely since a large number of women abandon the profession after completing medical school.

Due to the open-merit system introduced by the Supreme Court in 1991, which abolished the 60:40 ratio for male and female students in medical college admissions, men and women now have equal opportunity in the field of medicine. Due to merit-based admissions, women tend to secure a larger number of seats in medical schools and outperform their male colleagues. But the problems begin once med school is over.

Most young women either bid farewell to medicine completely after securing a degree or choose to work in selective fields such as pediatrics, gynecology and radiology etcetera. There is also reluctance towards working in far-flung rural centers, emergency departments and doing odd hours due to familial obligations, security concerns or both.

According to these doctors, the dangerous repercussions of the Supreme Court’s decision were being felt more than a decade later, and if immediate action were not taken to reverse or curb this trend, the health system in the country would collapse completely in the next 5-10 years.

When I heard this, the woman in me overpowered the reporter for a few fleeting seconds.

I mentally worked out a few quick retorts on the success ratio, multi-tasking abilities and over all challenges of being a working female professional in Pakistan. But some thing more powerful than my adherence to journalistic objectivity held me back from making that argument.

Was it fair to demand equality without accepting the responsibility that comes with it?

Was it justified to make discrimination claims when some one who went an extra mile got promoted while you operated from the confines of your comfortable domain?

Was there room in successful women’s careers to dwindle between being a powerhouse and the fairer sex on a situational basis?

The answer was a crystal, clear no.

Women in every field had worked too hard for too long to allow their gender to be an excuse in their career growth anymore.

Every female doctor who chose not to practice medicine due to personal reasons not only drained the national resources but also added to the stereotypes and doubts that already inundate those who are struggling day and night to prove themselves. And a critical look around would reveal that the problem was not limited to the field of medicine.

Countless of my own female peers have taken refuge in the more flexible professions, completely discarding their privileged education in business, law, medicine and even journalism in certain instances. Between those working for a living or according to convenience, we have lost out on those who work for the pure, unadulterated joy of loving what they do.

The question here is not of more or less equality for women, since that has been debated far too many times. Instead, what is needed is a moment of self-reflection for every woman. Do we at times get so preoccupied with the rhetoric of being treated as equals that we forget our end of the bargain.

Somewhere along the line, had we won the battle for equal opportunity and recognition, but lost perspective ourselves?

I think it is time for women to stop choosing fields just because they were more ‘manageable’ or ‘acceptable’ or ‘flexible’. It is time to stop treating careers as a ‘luxury’ that can be subtracted as soon as families, husbands, in-laws or household chores are added to the equation.

Instead, it is time to choose vocations that are born out of passion– work that drives you to the very edge of your potential and yet makes you want to go through the grind again and again.

Do not accept, or even worse endorse the limitations set on your potential by conventional norms. Because, if so many other women could do it, so can you. And because, the worst form of discrimination against yourself is the one that emanates from you.

Read more by Sarah here or follow her on Twitter @sarahmunir1

Sarah.Munir

Sarah Munir

A graduate from the Columbia Journalism School and is currently heading the Magazine Desk at The Express Tribune. She tweets @SarahMunir1 (twitter.com/SarahMunir1)

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

  • Women

    I just loved this article,this goes out to all the women and the society which needs to change the mindset and let women practice their career! Cheers ladies..Recommend

  • http://mezaajedeen.blogspot.com Tribune Reader

    Yawn can we move on from.this mumbo jumbo topic alreadyRecommend

  • ab

    the topic says it all Dear women, equality comes with a price!. I really liked your post specially the last two para. Well sadly enough i have worked with many woman who was working to enjoy life before marriage rather then professional excellence.

    I am sure the things will definitely change for working woman if they prove to be driven by passion also I think that the medical profession is very sacred and woman ones getting the education should really pursue it. sorry but to me it is a crime if they do not pursue it. and the husbands or the parents and the woman herself is part of it. Recommend

  • danny boy

    its funny that women demand chivalry and equality at the same time….They like to switch between being trophy brides and Miss independents at their own convenience….Most of the times they only work to escape their responsibilities around the house…. Recommend

  • http://habloid.wordpress.com Habiba Younis

    finally a sane voice out of a sea of whiners! great post!Recommend

  • faisal

    well i think instead of subsidizing all students they should charge full fee so only those who are serious will study. for people who cant afford high fee should be given need and merit based scholarships with the help of private sector. those who will receive these scholarships should be bounded by an agreement to practice in the country for at least 5-6 years after graduation. this will limit the free loaders burden on tax payers and will solve the crisis. Recommend

  • Dan

    Hmmm, to be honest with you that is a very stupid argument. So basically you are saying women should stop studying medicine if they are not going to practice it as they take over the seats which the men could not get?

    I think you should rather be arguing that the government needs to open more universities and/or increase the seats in medical universities so there are more people who can potentially study and become doctors, increasing the overall number of doctors :)Recommend

  • http://naziaiftikhar.wordpress.com Nazia

    The poor knowledge of author looks me quite clear as this is only valid for few not most of them as she is mentioning and this same ratio for men too.Get the facts 10 to 15% male doctors too change their professions and love to go for FSPC exams on priority.Some opt for business and few are returned to their agriculture business.Lady doctors too need some break if some one is not available to them to look after their kids or surely cant risk their married life which should be priority of all Muslim women in our society too.Recommend

  • ABC

    I think that the government should adopt the system of student loans as used in most advanced countries. Women or anyone who wants to study will be given free education just like now but after graduating they will have to payback the cost of their education as a small monthly percentage from their income. If a woman or man does not work then his loan would be transferred in the name of their father or husband etc.who will pay it back. So women would be made to work in order to pay back their loan. This might ensure that skills which are so scarce in this country are not wasted but utilized.Recommend

  • Dr H.Pasha

    Open merit system should prevail, but at a condition; all graduating medical students, irrespective of their gender, would be awarded their doctorate degree only after they serve as medical professionals for a minimum duration of Five years. This should include serving at a Rural Health Center/ Tehsil Hospital for at least six months.Recommend

  • Nayab Pannun

    Totally agree with the writer. I myself am a medical student and see my girl-fellows openly saying that they don’t plan to practice their profession once they’re done with the 5-years of tough studies!Recommend

  • IZ

    So instead of calling on men to share housekeeping and childcare chores more equally or calling for state-mandated facilities and regulations to facilitate parental care with careers, you are…. just insisting women choose between careers and housekeeping and make it one or the other? I would suggest that this is failing to understand what gender equality means on so many levels.Recommend

  • blah

    This just says that you being a woman cannot understand how a woman’s life changes after marriage. There is a reason why our religion has not put the burden of earning for the family on the shoulders of a woman. Her main responsibilities after marriage are the kids and the husband. A woman is free to choose a career if her situation allows it and she can handle it otherwise we cannot consider housewives shallow or useless in terms of contributing towards a healthy society. Choosing to pursue subjects of her choice is also a basic right. There has to be other ways to deal with this like maybe more daycares, more facilities for working women and compensation benefits etc to facilitate a smooth career path.Recommend

  • Sana Haider

    So you meen to say that women should only persue higher education if they know for sure that they will be able to persue a career as well or else face the risk of being judged by people like you?

    I am an MBA by qualification and a gold medallist in my batch as well. Like most women in our society I also had a short lived career. I worked before and after my marriage till the day I had my first born, not because I had limiting circumstances but because I chose to change my priorities. And I don’t believe that anybody except myself has the right to judge me because it is a matter of personal choice.

    There is no law that states that a contribution can only be made to a society if one sits at a desk from 9 to 5, I believe an educated woman can make a much more valuable contribution by establishing a sound house hold.

    Unfortunately I think, your argument has not only over looked the unresolved issues of our education system that are reflected in the limited/scarce resources that we see; but have also given fuel to the anti groups who would rather have women completely removed from the education equation all together. Recommend

  • zeeshan sheikh

    But but I thought women should only have rights but no responsibility. that what I all hear from feminist women.Recommend

  • Ainee

    @Dan: There is always competition no matter how many universities are built.Recommend

  • Parvez

    This whole issue of being born a female and the baggage that comes along with it especially in our society, is mighty complex.
    The advice given by you in the end sounds good, but if a strong support base does not exist for the young girl, it becomes a difficult decision for her to make. Let’s be honest, our society is so materialistic and quick to condemn and label people that if by chance a helping hand is offered it will be looked at with suspicion. Recommend

  • Sabih Shad

    Instead of the government funding numerous medical colleges with near zero charges, have the government fund loans for students there. That should keep those not intending to work/repay out while allowing more universities to come up which are financially viable.Recommend

  • Kanwal

    Great argument by author. This troubling trend is very discouraging. Yes the families and in laws must make concessions after marriage bcoz they knew what they were going to do. But the prime burden sits on the womens shoulders themselves. You have to be very clear about what you want in life. Unless some unfortunate and unexpected circumstances stop them, there is no excuse for wasting so much time and energy. And the idea oc putting bonds on cand so they pay back the cost at least, is very good. It is already in practice in HEC scholarships. This ensures that the candidates pay back what was given to them. Still, if girls wish to purzue getting a MBBS and are wobbly a out the ne t step, they can choose to study in private colleges where they will not be using the tax payer’s money.
    @Dr …..
    Pls do not use the word “doctorate” for MBBS passouts. They are not doctorates.
    @ blah
    You were born a couple centuries too late. when these women you are defending know that it is male spouse’s job to do a job for family ( according to ur Islamic interpretation), why not then give the males the bulk of the seats too? See where your argument goes?Recommend

  • Sundus

    @Dr H.Pasha:
    This is a real good advice. I wish it is implemented for all new batches! I am an Engineering graduate and things are no different with female Engineers, yet more than half the batch is females. Please someone tell these ladies that education is good, but professional education (Sponsored by tax-payers money) is meant to boost the economy of the country and is not for running the house! Recommend

  • sundeep

    @zeeshan sheikh: I agree with you. If you see Indian media they are always supporting laws that blindly favor women, the courts don’t want to listen to men. If you ask them to bring gender neutral laws these feminist will give you thousand reasons against it.Recommend

  • gp65

    Wrong diagnosis of the problem. The problem is not that a ot of women are studying medicine. The problems are:
    1) No policies in place to ensure that subsidised medical education is repaid by a certain minimum number of years of rural or any other need based service. IF the women are not subsidised then more medical schools can come up and women’s parents can decide whether or not to pay fully loaded cost of education. As such, they would not be ‘depriving’ another deserving student of a seat so no harm no foul.

    2) The social situation which forces well qualified women to drop out from the labour force needs to be changed. IT is unlikely that women who studied hard to become a doctor are happy lolling around in kitty parties once they get married.Recommend

  • http://www.syedaabidabokhari.wordpresd.com The Only Normal Person Here

    After effects of not getting into medicine i guess…Recommend

  • http://gilgit SJ

    equity approach is more sane than equalityRecommend

  • gp65

    The comments of @Sundeep and @Zeeshan Sheikh show that patriarchy is alive and well in both India ad Pakistan. The patriarchy lobby in Pakistan has bit of an edge in that it is able to push back domestic violence laws and able to stick to rape laws that greatly favour the aggressor at the cost of the victim.Recommend

  • adil

    Isn’t this something men and Pakistan deserves though? Gender equality is not only access to education and employment but being given the ability to work and live as equals. Take for example rural medecine. Why do female doctors not want to go there – its because rural societies would never welcome a single independent woman in their midst. You can’t have it both ways – wanting the benefits of modernity (including trained doctors and women doctors also for teh women) while denying other aspects of it (a woman not being judged and living freely in their midst with security). Same goes even in Urban areas – men who are ‘ok with their’ wives to work, happy to share in teh money, but cooking, cleaning and other chores are woman’s work. Or In-laws who believe in the principle of equality as long as its not their daughter in law working and pursuing a life outside of her marriage. Pakistan is a gender imbalanaced discriminatory society which is reality and bloggers like you simply don’t get it do you? Its a whole system not just access to education and if thats our choice we must be prepared to live with the consequences – 50% of our population being non-productive in a country that is already at the bottom of the most world development rankings. Recommend

  • TG

    When we speak of equality we are referring to equal rights and equal opportunities. What a man does with those rights and opportunities is his business and what a woman does with them is her business.
    There is no contract that says if you study a certain subject that you will HAVE to work in that field.
    Maybe the men need to start realizing that a woman will have to work at the office/hospital/field as well as take full responsibility of the family and house when she gets back, and that if they want to encourage equal responsibilities in the work place they should try it at home as well.
    I work but if I have to choose between a 9-5 and raising a family, I would always put my family first. Recommend

  • vinesh

    its good awareness Recommend

  • HUM

    The argument makes no sense. Why do we want to legislate everything? Why should anyone man or woman be given any less opportunity to study anything. Career and education are two different decisions and both are based on choice and circumstances at the time of decision. You should be free to choose anything. If you want to encourage people to take up the career, you will have to provide incentive and strictly speaking the incentive isn’t enough for women to make sacrifices, especially when you indoctrinate the generations for familial duties as first responsibilities. So please do not go on lagislating around gender? Recommend

  • Yamna Hassan

    @Danny boy: Excuseme? The article is very clear and doesn’t call for chivalry at all. Please dont infest it with your confusions.

    The writer has spoken my mind on this one. One could argue that the reason why women don’t practice their career is because they are tied to social norms. Those norms are created by the society and that’s exactly what keeps them from practicing their passion. I’m sure that’s what these so called feminists will whine and rant about. But a practical approach would call for a sensible piece of writing just like this one. Recommend

  • Milind

    @gp65 – “subsidised medical education is repaid by a certain minimum number of years of rural or any other need based service”

    Please take out the rural clause from your statement above. Our women are not safe in cities and I shudder at the thought of my wife/sister working in a rural place and being a fair game for hooligans and the country bumpkins who (with their partriarchial mindsets) rule the entire political landscape.Recommend

  • Ali Zaidi

    Can someone shed some light on why women want to be treated with preference in queues of bill payments, banks, hospitals and other such places? Isn’t that inequality?Recommend

  • Mehdi

    @Nazia:
    When has Islam stopped women from practicing medicine after marriage. I believe saving life is considered a bigger role in Islam than your personal married life. Recommend

  • Raza

    @danny boy:
    Oh yeah because working is so much easier than household responsibilities isn’t it?Recommend

  • gp65

    @Milind: Id did not say rural as the only option, I also said any other need based place. Secondl even in Pakistan 64% of population lives in rural areas and if 50% of qualified doctors are exempted from serving in rural areas, how can you improve health outcomes? Whatever the conditions for receiving subsidy should be same for men and women. After all even the men who maybe posted tovillages have women in their family and the same problems that afect women doctors would affect them. There is no excuse for them alone having to bear the ful burden while everyone avails the subsidy. Of course the other option is not to avail subsidy and not be required to serve in disadvantaged areas.Recommend

  • Raza

    I am surprised at the number of people who seem to appreciate this argument because it is extremely narrow and does not explore the reasons WHY most women discard their professional lives after attaining degrees. This article portrays women as someone who just follow conventional subjects like medicine and later abandon them because they have no sentiment towards the profession. That is 100% wrong. Answer me this, is a woman in our society more likely to have a career if she chooses something she loves like photography than if she chooses something orthodox like medicine? NO. This is because the reason women give up their careers is their personal circumstances rather than their lack of motivation for the field. If a woman’s in laws request her not to work or coerce her not to work she’s going to give up her career regardless of whether or not she has a passion for the subject. If a woman has to stay at home and look after her new children then she gives up her field regardless of her passion towards it. What I am saying is that instead of asking our women to gain perceptive we should ask our society to evolve and progress in a way that accommodates women to continue working even after marriage and other commitments. Believe it or not all women do not do degrees just for the sake of doing them or getting good rishtas, some are genuinely motivated but unfortunately are made to make a choice between a career and a healthy household. Recommend

  • Mehdi

    I agree with Ms NaziaRecommend

  • zeeshan sheikh

    Unfounded allegations is what you’re makingRecommend

  • Habiba Younis

    @gp65:

    A woman’s rightful place is at home, not in office. Who take care of family then you understand noRecommend

  • Sensible

    @Nazia: I am sick and tired of people who bring religion into everything. Some practices are just not compatible and aligned with the modern world. Recommend

  • gp65

    ET:
    This is an impostor. IT was not posted by me. If you see my remaining posts on this blog, you can easily determine that this was not from me. Can you please post my message clarifying this was not my post and if possible delete the post made by my impostor?
    gp65
    @sundeep:
    I admire you view. You are correct in assessing the scenario correctly
    Recommend

  • Informant

    Perhaps what you’re missing is that when these women you speak of ENTERED medical college, they had every intention of being full-time, hard-working doctors — it takes enough effort to get into these programs (the good ones anyway) that the less passionate ones are automatically filtered out by the process.

    Clearly, the problems begin to arise when women get married. As a Pakistani man, I have no qualms in admitting that most women are married to pathetic excuses of men, so their career decline is rather inevitable. Hence, even more important than choosing the proper college or career path for that matter, is choosing a husband who is man enough to deal with, and support your ambitions. Unfortunately, though, most otherwise smart young women will jump the gun and be swayed by flashiness, money, etc.Recommend

  • GT

    @Milind WOW! women need to be put in their rightful place?

    By saying that a woman’s “rightful” place is to pop babies and feed them, you have just exposed yourself as the most morally corrupted mind here; someone who only sees women for their physical features and nothing more.

    Children and family are the responsibility of both women AND men. It is the mind set that you have that brings down societies and makes half the population feel unwanted and in essence useless to the economic structure.

    I think your rightful place would be in a classroom; educate yourself. Recommend

  • Hassan

    After reading your blog it gave me a clear thought that how much anti-women, woman you are. Rather than blaming women you should be focusing on blaming Government policies in this area. who are you to say this that women should start thinking not to choose course of their own choice for the sake of all reasons you mentioned in your article…???Recommend

  • Sure?

    @GT: Sir most likely the message you are responding to was not posted by Milind which is probably why it has been removed. This blog has seen too many impostor messages judging by messages I saw earlier that are no onger there.

    If you see his earlier message he does not seem to be against women working or being doctors – just does not want them posted in villages where he feels they might not be safe.Recommend

  • http://naziaiftikhar.wordpress.com Nazia

    @Mehdi:
    Nothing can stop women if she has will of achieving her goals.But like other human beings there is always chance of makeshift plans and she also changes her line too.In my experience medicine is quite friendly fields for hardworking ladies as they can make clinic at home, can join nearby hospitals/clinics have part time courses of specialization and have provisions of flexible timings of jobs in 24/24 hour .So instead of this 8 to 5 offices jobs this field has more capacity to adjust womenfolks by running parallel house hold activities.MY aunts who were doctors, were excellent cook, knitted and embroidery experts and managed very good family life as compare to normal housewives because they got more respectable status from social setup.So from my point of view medicine is very cooperative field if they pick it as professions as compare it making themselves machine of money making.Female as MS/dentists/specialists/ent etc are good options .Recommend

  • http://naziaiftikhar.wordpress.com Nazia

    @Sensible:
    Religion should come in all fields but not for creating hurdles in any body’s talents or skills but for facilitating the human talent in right direction , for utilizing human capacity for useful purposes.So don’t be sick by thinking sickened concept but try to revive the spirit of religion in such modified form that people will take it for managing their moral and ethical limits in their routine and professional life..Recommend

  • abhi

    The article has identified some good problems, but I want to add one correction. Even most of the men also do not work because they have passion for it. There are few (both male and female) who work for passion and don’t care about personal life. So you need not to feel guilty about girls not being very professional.Recommend

  • citizen

    @Dan:
    What a lame comment . We do not need people having MBBS degree hanging in their houses. we need PRACTICING doctors. opening new universities is not a solution . only those females should enroll who have the guts to keep professional life along with family life .Recommend

  • I am a Khan

    Well it is their choice to study medicine or not and it is their choice to work or not after marriage and it is their choice to work in selective fields like gynaecology, radiology, etc…who are we to say that girls should only study medicine if they intend to practice in main stream areas?Recommend

  • Amara

    This article has some truth in it. How many times have you seen girls do medicine to get good RISTHAS. This is actually quite true, and as soon as they get married they forget they are even qualified doctors. I’m not saying all girls do this, but that seat could have gone to a worthy GIRL or BOY who would actually do something with their degree. Recommend

  • Nishant

    good points raised
    still this article sort of points fingers at the women for being sort of irresponsible
    the issue is why is that
    if a female doctor goes to a far flung rural area, she would get harassed or even shot by the extremists
    In urban centers they face discrimination from male counterparts
    this has become a culture … that needs to change Recommend

  • Truth-seeker

    Its because of the society mindset. Mothers don’t want less than a doctor bahu for their sons. Whether they practice or not. This pressurizes the woman to take medicine and other medical professions whether they are in a condition to pursue it afterwards or not.Recommend

  • Nobody

    @zeeshan sheikh:
    If the women you hear from claim they should have rights, but no responsibilities they are not feminists, they are simply whiners. I don’t know any educated mature woman who doesn’t want her fair share of responsibilities. One does not establish independence without personal responsibility. Any “feminist” worth her salt understands that. Recommend

  • Nobody

    @Habiba Younis:
    Pakistan can’t afford people like you. Don’t most of the women in Pakistan stay at home and take care of their families as it is right now….? Seems it isn’t effective in developing a functioning, healthy country or healthy economy. Recommend

  • Nobody

    @Habiba Younis:
    From that I deduce someone, somewhere is doing it wrong. No doubt, raising a family is a tough job but to expect half the economy to sit at home is ridiculous, especially in a country that cannot afford it. Recommend

  • Dee

    I think a deeper examination of what the “personal issues” women leave the job for is needed here. If the culture does not support women working in such time consuming professions then your call for women to “follow their passion” is pointless. As a feminist writer maybe you should explore what is holding women back or encouraging them to even enter these fields. Recommend

  • Nobody

    @zeeshan sheikh:
    women who expect to have rights with no responsibilities are not feminists, they are delusional. any actual feminist worth her salt will prefer having her own responsibilities. one cannot be independent without responsibilities. you seem to be mixing up the words feminist and femiNAZI (much as I hate that word being thrown around). Recommend

  • Nassar

    This is a problem observed in the UK, in India, in many places. Any field that becomes dominated by women is going to have the same problem EVENTUALLY. Salaries for that profession will start going down.

    Women in their 20s should be allowed to work part-time and encouraged to start families during this period. Don’t call them qualified Doctor until they have done 2 years full-time or 5 years part-time work experience or on some CPD path in the meantime.

    The other issue is if they are refusing to work in rural areas then their exposure to varied set of cases is diminished. It in the early phases you need to experience all kinds of patient problems that will make you the doctor you are you are further down. If they all want to be based in the city then that healthcare system will be ill equipped in the future. We won’t have the specialists. Recommend

  • Tina

    What a refreshingly Truthful and open article for a change- instead of our ho hum repeated feminism nonense. Good on ya Sarah!

    Similar thoughts have been with me for a few years now. In Australia, our Government even puts aside jobs for women to come back to after leaving to look after kids and husbands…. thereby – ironically, putting women who choose not to marry and or not have kids because they REALLY want a career (as opposed to a “break” from their home lives) at a disadvantage ! How laughable and a complete failure for true womens liberation. In other words yes, the culture will help you, but only if you marry and produce children !

    Enough of this nonense, lets have equality for women who WANT a career. If women choose to marry and have kids, then let them, but not both. We have a saying, you cannot serve two masters at the same time equally.

    If the women want both, then let their husbands look after the house and kids. Not let everyone else in society look after their every whim (ie the couples and lazy husbands) !! And you indeed repeated a idea of my own – that this attitude will – and is – adversely affect our society.

    THANK YOU so much Sarah. Recommend