Is it a burden to have four daughters in a Pakistani society?

Published: July 21, 2014

I think I changed the day I had my own daughter. That was the day I realised she deserved anything and everything the world had to offer. PHOTO: STOCK

“Four daughters?” the woman asked, her eyes wide with a mix of horror, pity and fascination.

Then,

“Mashallah!”

A sympathetic smile, followed by,

“They are beautiful. May Allah (SWT) bless them with good kismet (fortune)”

I can’t count how many times I have heard these sentences being said to my mother. Different women, same words, same connotations each time. For most of my life it did not bother me. I took it in stride. After all, it is a burden to have four daughters in a Pakistani society. To find an educated husband for them, to painstakingly accumulate their dowry, to train them in the art of keeping house; above all to ensure their “good kismet” – a herculean task – which can only be achieved by Allah’s blessing, good looks and money.

Growing up, I did not feel any particular prejudice against myself for being a girl. I simply believed that a girl’s place was in the home; from an early age she was to be domesticated, beauty and poise considered her biggest asset, domestic skills her most important achievement. Of course attending a respected school and college was always a plus.

I was groomed to marry from a young age. I was loud and boisterous, I walked fast, I talked fast, I had opinions; I was told over and over and over again-to zip it. Because who would want to bring home a daughter-in-law who was not soft spoken and timid, and shy and mouldable? Despite being an over achiever in my academic career, I was never expected, nor encouraged, to pursue higher education.

It was not that my parents did not consider educating their daughters to be important; they did. But, like many Pakistani parents, they believed every Pakistani girl had a shelf life, so they could not afford to encourage their daughter to pass that shelf life in the pursuit of higher education. Their dream for me always remained the same – a good marriage. And perhaps that was my dream too, for I didn’t know I had the freedom to choose a different dream. Much to their relief and delight, I got married at 21 and moved to California. I was at the precipice of living my ‘happily ever after’.

But then slowly, I changed. No, I think I changed the day I had my own daughter. That was the day I realised she deserved anything and everything the world had to offer. She deserved the best education in the world, she deserved to sing and dance on the top of a mountain and she deserved to frolic in the sun. She deserved to not be beautiful. She deserved to be ordinary or wild or plain or strong. She deserved to be stubborn and opinionated and hold her ground for something she believed in. She deserved to be anything she wanted to be without fear of being rejected for who she was. Because if she became that – if she became her true self – she would be extra ordinary.

Her birth marked my transition from a young sheltered girl to a sometimes-unsure-of-herself woman, and, eventually, to a tigress. Because of her, I was finally coming into my own; learning to be unapologetic for my opinions, intelligence, strength and fierce desire to be independent. I had loved to write for as long as I could remember, but I never fully realised the power my pen wielded until I had begun this journey of self-discovery, choking on my own words thirsting to gush out.

Not too long ago, I started writing for different publications in the US and Pakistan. Soon after, I was approached to write a short novella about romance in the sub-continent; I signed a contract with an e-publishing house. All I had to do was make the decision to take action, and then the universe aligned itself, things started to fall into place for me. My pen became my power; my voice. And… it made me want to fight for my dreams.

A couple of weeks before I turned 32, I watched Malala Yousafzai with teary eyes as she spoke about the power of education on her 17th birthday at the United Nations Youth Assembly. This girl, half my age, from rural Swat – a faraway magical place I had visited many summers in my youth and where I had seen many little girls like Malala, in their blue and white uniforms, marching to school across actual mountains – stood in front of the entire world and declared,

“Even if they put a bullet in my head, I will pursue my education.”

But, I realised, I had never been stopped by bullets or force or fear… I had simply been stopped by expectations and traditions, duties and obligations… and guilt.

That was it. That was the day I threw out the last remnants of fear and doubt; it was time to pursue all of my dreams. Dreams I did not know I was allowed to dream in my yesteryears – dreams I wanted my daughter to know she could dream.

So here I am, back in college, for my sake, and the sake of the song my daughter will one day sing on top of a mountain.

T Hassan

T Hassan

The author is a writer, dreamer, social activist and a Communications Major at California State University. She does Social Media and Marketing for various non-profit organizations and blogs at tabzy.wordpress.com/

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

  • Ayesha

    Not a burden but the only dream parents have for them is happily married with 4 children! :)Recommend

  • WB

    Face it lady.

    It is a burden to have four daughters or sons in any country.

    It’s not only a burden on the family, it is a burden on the country.

    Soon, Pakistan will become overly dense and you will see the social and cultural effect.

    In India, the Muslims are going to suffer from similar problems, especially because they have restricted themselves in ghettos.Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    How Do u people say – ameen summameen .Recommend

  • Maggi

    So wonderful to know how a non-muslim country converts a muslim into civilized and independent human.Recommend

  • Asad N

    Very nice !

    Beautifully said…….”I had simply been stopped by expectations and traditions, duties and obligations… and guilt”Recommend

  • Pappu

    People with similar views reside in Pakistan as well, proud muslims as well.Recommend

  • Lalit

    four offsprings aré indeed burden irrespective of their sex.
    Recommend

  • Moiz Omar

    It is so sad that here in Pakistan women are mostly just expected to be wives and mothers. Nothing else. This ideal of sexism should change.Recommend

  • OLG

    very well written lady … keep it upRecommend

  • Basim

    Good article.

    A small correction: Malala celebrated her 16th birthday at the UN, not 17th.Recommend

  • SamarYz

    I have to agree with you, unfortunately. Women who stay in Pakistan don’t get to enjoy such freedom.Recommend

  • http://batman-news.com ranjit_bandukdhari

    More power to you lady! Best wishes!
    Recommend

  • Karwa Sach

    TO be honest in Pakistani families its common to observe 4 daughters, one son, 5 daughters no son etc… people keep having daughters in the hopes of a son and then they worry about rishtas!Recommend

  • Baloch

    My parents had five girls, all well educated now and having brilliant careers. Some decided to get married and have children, some didn’t but not having a career was never an option for them. Now I, a male, have a daughter as well as sons. I have told my daughter she can be anything if she puts her mind to it but she must not think of short-cuts. She must complete a masters or a professional degree even if she wants to be a news caster or a politician ( at the age 10 these two professions inspire her the most, and she is more extrovert than the boys). In case you are wondering, I was raised in typical middle class family. I had many strong women all around me. Family friends of ours were very similar to our parents who made it clear to their sons and daughters that they should think about contributing to the society and I can tell you that most of them made their parents proud.Recommend

  • Malveros

    Four children whether girls or boys is way too much even if u can afford it. Pakistan should restrict to a max 2 child policy. Overpopulation is killing our country.Recommend

  • Xman

    The way population is exploding in Pakistan, it should actually be a CRIME to have 4 children (in any permutation)Recommend

  • Hasan

    I am very very far away from having any children of my own but I never had a sister, we were only two brothers, always. Just my mother was the only woman in the house. I think that was quite skewed.

    If I ever become a father, I can tell you I would pray for a daughter, though four is a bit too much. Not four daughters, rather even four boys, that news article with the man from Waziristan having a dozen children from three wives has really spooked me! 2-3 children I think are quite enough.

    PS. The concept of the girl’s family paying dowry is BS. I would never go for anything like that!Recommend

  • abhi099

    My maternal grandfather has three brothers and 6 sisters. You know what happened? Money has broken that relationship between my grandfather and and his three brothers. They dont even see their each other faces now.

    It is a sin to have more than two children in any part of the world. We have limited reources and if u have more children you are directly or indirectly destroying your children and society happiness by diving the money even more. less money=less happiness. More money=more happiness.

    I know how much stress indians are facing because of population explosion. We are suffering because of this now. More population=less wages. Remember this. The richest and the most livable countries in the world have a birth rate below 2.0Recommend

  • Gp65

    All the very best.

    I hope though that you will not have 4 kids – be it male or female. That will prevent you from having the necessary resources to ive them a good education and all the opportunities you want them to have.Recommend

  • Rania

    Pakistani here. Born and raised in Oman which is a Muslim country, was raised to see the importance of education and value my opinions and take decisions, was also along the same time taught not to be self-centered and individualistic. Happy to state that this idea is growing in the Muslim world too slowly but steadilyRecommend

  • Amal

    Its Insprirational <3 Hats off !
    p.s let me share smthng , I love the start; ’eyes wide with a mix of horror , pity and fascination’ :)
    Thts wt me n my sisters face actually … & sometimes typical people drop their jaw n say "Haaw , Koi bhai nae hai :o ? " As if the life is impossible without one :-/Recommend

  • Count

    Where did Malala land in from in this otherwise a very beautiful piece?Recommend

  • OLG

    my goodness … dear it was birth of her daughter that made
    her to think like that ( that changed her thoughts) … i couldn’t manage to
    move into another non muslim country to learn civilization … still i feel
    same as the writer do… i can simply doubt your comprehension skills…Recommend

  • Assh

    Beautifuly written ,we have to fight back from within our own souls and learn to dream only then will we be able to see Pakistan succeedRecommend

  • daughter

    so moo-lala is your ideal?
    buhahahahhaahhahah!! God bless your daughterRecommend

  • Troll_Alert

    The author clearly states that it was the birth of her daughter that changed her.. from a suppressed girl to a girl who dared to dream. There was no explicit or implicit link to Islam or muslims or non-muslims.Recommend

  • Prof

    Yes, and in this deeply conservative society that applies to men just as well as women. I know many talented and capable individuals who have been stopped from prosperous careers and/or fulfilling lives because of ‘expectations, traditions, duties, obligations and guilt’.
    Forcing children into a career not of their choosing is one example. Favoring the ‘heir apparent’ over other siblings is another.Recommend

  • Razzy

    “restricted themselves in ghettos”.

    Wow. Try using a Muslim name and see if you can purchase an apartment in the better off or even standard middle class areas in any of India’s big or small towns. Be it Delhi or Ahmadabad or Mumbai or Kolkata or Bhopal or Indore etc.

    Don’t let your blind prejudice color your intellect. Or rather you’d not know the facts and keep on harping the same old repeated lies over and over again?Recommend

  • Subinder

    To all male readers of this blog, admit it, it was the author’s picture that made you click…Recommend

  • Iftikhar Ali

    having four daughters is not a problem provided they are like
    Katrina Kaif, Angelina Joli, Miley Cirus or Deepeka
    Then you will be the happiest mother in the worldRecommend

  • Khan

    Of course never a burden but the only fear is if their fortune (Kismet) their best education and deserve the best.Recommend

  • Feroz

    Thumbs up lady, you must chase your dreams, resisting all pressure to conform. Wish you Luck !Recommend

  • Natasha Afridi

    finally something worth reading. The reason why I read this article was the topic that instantly caught my attention. We are also 4 sisters. Contradictory to your parents, my parents have always encouraged us to pursue higher education. I have recently done my masters and my younger sister is flying to germany to start her masters. But yes having four daughters in our society are definitely a burden. Even if parents don’t think like that, they are made to. The unstoppable questions from the society about why are they spending so much money on their girls when they have to get married or questions like why isn’t your girl married yet.. Is there some problem!! So to all the people who actually ask these stupid questions from the parents of daughters i have just one thing to say… please keep your nose out of their business. Education is for everybody, be it a daughter or a son and Career is as important as marriage. I am so happy you have started your college again. You are definitely an inspiration for all the mothers out there :)Recommend

  • sharabi

    well having 4 children is definitely a problem for this world & it doesn’t matter boy or girlRecommend

  • Working woman

    It was a nice read. Could have gone without Famous Malala..still worth readingRecommend

  • mimi sur

    Not a burden , If you send them to Madrasa and after 15 years , if you allow them to run away with an anonymous boy . Now a days It is not easy to look after 2 kids , means good education , good food , cloth etc . You are talking about 4 .Recommend

  • WB

    There are no lies here.

    I don’t deny there is a degree of prejudice. But this is only restricted to small community driven project.

    In large apartment complexes anyone can buy anything.

    Also, the opposite is also true.

    A Hindu/Chrisitan/Sikh cannot buy an apartment in small community complexes built by Muslim builders.Recommend

  • Razzy

    I’ve personally tried to find a decent middle class apartment in Delhi (my in laws), in Mumbai (my place), in Bangalore (my work city) and trust me it was a humiliating experience. It would almost always stop at the society not issuing me an NOC. When I threatened legal action a wicked smirk would emerge out of nowhere since we both knew how the legal system works here. By the time it would be done, I’d have a receding hairline.
    There are only a few very small Muslim enclaves in Mumbai that are not typical ghettos (neglected by the civic administration) since they house the very rich. They’ve artificially raised the price there so much since they know they are not welcome anywhere else. I couldn’t buy there. Hence I’ve ended up living in a regular ghetto where the roads are almost non-existent, water supply is irregular, garbage trucks comes once in two days and where the only government institution is the waste disposal site. Why would any Hindu/Chrisitan/Sikh want to live in this place anyways?Recommend

  • Khan M

    Its not about daughters or sons. Pakistanis should think twice before producing more than TWO children in such poor, chaotic country.Recommend

  • SK

    if a daughter picks up bad morals yes she can be a disgrace to parents and family which happens quite so often nowadays.Recommend

  • Ziad Adnan

    Very true! Family is all what a woman have :)Recommend

  • OLG

    most of the people commenting here are trying to vomit their ideas about one, two, three or four children but no one is getting the idea that writer laid down here… that is attitude of society should change towards daughters and women… those stereotypes should be broken that girl has to marry so no need to educate her. thats itRecommend

  • Arsha

    How is that different from a boy picking up bad morals and becoming a disgrace?Recommend

  • Tom Tom

    Mrs Hassan, don’t worry about dowrys as your girls have many options. There are a lot of educated Pakistani bachelors living in the UK etc who won’t be so stringent on dowrys. Many go to Pakistan in search for love. If your daughters are pretty; well, a dowry may be switched and be coming your way;)

    Aside from the losers and idiots who throw acid in girls faces or do honour killings there are many eligible bachelors and work opportunities for the girls when they mature. Recommend

  • M Cervantes

    I was touched by your story, for my own life bears some similarities. I was born and bred in America’s heartland. While my brothers had carte blanche and were forgiven every transgression, the girls were held to a very high standard. In addition, we were discouraged from even thinking about a career outside the home or about higher education. Stubbornly, I went my own way and graduated from college before any of my siblings. Yet, my father was not impressed with my doctorate, with my high grades, with my new and high-paying job. To him it seemed to prove how dumb I was that i had spent all that time and money on college and I had still not found a husband. My mother had passed by that time.

    Also, some posters must remember that children are not always viewed as a burden, but as a joy. They may be a symbol of good luck and good health and they may certainly be viewed as old-age insurance.

    Just think twice about stereotyping.Recommend

  • Sarah

    How pathetic can you get?
    Children are a blessing.Recommend

  • Me

    Not only having four daughters but unfortunately having girls are considered a burden in our society. I have one sister and whenever anyone asks how many siblings I have people usually respond with extreme astonishment that why I don’t have a brother.Recommend

  • Nobody

    Sons are capable of doing the exact same thing and this mentality only allows them more opportunity. So what of them?Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/riaz.ali.1069020 Riaz Ali

    In India muslims are badly discriminated in terms of housing. Just few years ago, emraan hashmi was denied a flat in a building,Shabana azmi went on record stating the same.Even Huma Qureishi and her brother Saqib Saleem have stated the same.These are film stars and they are facing these issues. For the common muslim it is more worse than this. Muslims are choose ghettos they are forced into it. Add to it the ubiquitous communal riots, where muslims are particularly targeted.Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/riaz.ali.1069020 Riaz Ali

    I bet of you find a muslim from Delhi you can easily guess where he lives. there are only 2-3 areas where muslims can live- Jamia Nagar,Okhla etc.Its the same situation in Mumbai and even other cities in india. Have any doubts, go to online websites leasing flats and then check. many clearly state no muslims. Apartheid in the new era.Recommend