Being a woman in Pakistan

Published: September 19, 2010

A painting by Cynthia Angeles titled Grief

Society, especially Pakistani society, thrives on gossip and slander. While urban socialites love talking of women’s emancipation and rights in general, they often fail to see the rigid mindsets within their own circle. Back biting and slander are not viewed as vices or sins in our society where every other person likes to preach. In fact, people feel they have a right to comment, criticize and judge especially if an issue or circumstance pertains to a woman.

Try to make it work

As long as a woman continues to be the sufferering victim (bechari) in any situation, people are satisfied. They may sympathize with her and pity her for being so unfortunate. However, if she takes charge of her life and makes decisions to alleviate her suffering, then she is perceived as negative person. For instance, if a woman decides to take a divorce from her abusive husband, then people start speculating if it is wise of her to go to court – supposedly where few honest people are seen. How will this decision affect the future of her daughters? Will they face problems in getting marriage proposals or not? Without any in-depth knowledge or understanding of the situation, relatives and acquaintances give their verdict:

She should try harder to make her marriage work.

They are unaware of the negative psychological and emotional impact the dysfunctional family life has on the woman and her children. If the woman does not choose to share all the private, painful details of her marital problems then their verdict is final.

Taboos and remarriage

When a divorced woman decides to get married again, the situation almost always gets worse – especially if she is marrying by choice. People blame her for the first unhappy marriage. They raise questions about her character

How can she have found someone so quickly? Was she having an affair during her first marriage? How must her poor kids feel?

She is seen and projected as selfish and clever, perhaps even wicked. On the other hand, a second marriage is seen as the most natural thing for a man in a similar situation.

Single modern woman

Even single women who chooses to ignore the demands of our society and do as they please with their lives – work where they want to, marry when they want to, date etc. – are described as rebellious, too modern, incapable of having a family life and so on.

No matter what the situation, some people do not merely discuss what a woman is doing -they judge it. Despite being wholly unconnected, they offer their ill-informed advice and opinions in order to discourage the woman from making a decision that will help her be free and happy.

Unfortunately it is women who are the biggest critics of women – those who believe they know how to make their relationships or other things work better; those who are unhappy and restricted themselves but not strong enough to take a stand; bored housewives; those who resent the happiness of others and those who merely love to gossip.


Ayesha Hoda

A PR professional based in Karachi. She writes on literature and social issues.

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

  • parvez

    Whoo !!! Strong stuff hard hitting and really well written.
    After reading your opening parapraph who am I to make any comment.Recommend

  • Rida

    loved it. :)Recommend

  • maheen usmani

    Well said, Ayesha. I’ve often noticed, as you say, that “women are the biggest critics of women.” How ironic. Recommend

  • shabir ahmad

    when compared to man, woman has less physical strength, and that exactly is the major cause of her exploitation for me. but she can overcome this deficiency with her mental strength. its all related to the ignorance our society is in. unless we educate our next generation meaningfully, the plight of women will remain the same. if even the conservative sagment of our society opens the holly Quran and do not overlook what is said about women’s rights, it will solve the problem to a greater extent. we have to realize that women are as human as men are. Recommend

  • Ayesha Hoda

    Thanks everyone for your comments. @ Shabir, in this case it is not really about physical strength although yes that is why they are seen as the weaker sex. But here it’s more about what women have to listen to even when they are not at fault, and as you rightly pointed out, it is because of ignorance; people ignore or misinterpret what the Koran says about slander, women rights etc. They are more into following rituals rather than understanding the spirit of religion. They don’t realize that hurting the feelings of any person is really wrong.Recommend

  • Aziz Hirani

    spot on!!Recommend

  • sana

    in my view all the prevailing problems regarding women and families is due to lack of knowledge and practicality of Quran!
    women have been given each and every right from divorce to marrying of ones own choice( and consent of family).
    and the most sad thing is that women themselves are unware of their rights! they accept every unfairness as thier fate!
    being muslims reading and understanding ISLAM is supposed to be our number 1 priority in education, but unfortunately it is’nt!Recommend

  • SadafFayyaz

    Agreed and when are the biggest enemies of women at times…..(all of the time usually)….Women act as the biggest relation ship spoilers. These women think that if we are born, its NECESSARY for us to get married.(No matter who the person is ) Some dadi moms lie in this category too…Aye haye….age ziada ho jayegi kaun poochay ga? na noopchay…No one is dying for “being poochna”….”I wana adopt a child.” “haye, haye”………I am a leftist, mazeed haye haye……..They make lif more difficult for us……….Recommend

  • ali zhoraiz

    nice effort of describing your feeling ma’am huda
    but dont u think we r living in islamic society
    and we have to think and feel like a true Muslims not be a men or any women Recommend

  • Nasira Parveen

    Yes Ayesha!well written. There is no place for women in our chauvinistic society. Recommend

  • Ayesha Hoda

    Thanks aziz and sadaf
    @ali zhoraiz:
    If we were thinking like true Muslims, such problems / mindsets wouldn’t be so common, as Sana points out in her comment above.

    Women are highlighted because they are generally more suppressed. Of course slander and gossip can be against men too at times.Recommend

  • Javed Afridi

    Yet another piece of stereotype writing, which probably corresponds to yet another women day (we in Pakistan observe more than 200 women days a year). In fact most of the matter, one needs to write these kind of articles, is there in our computer’s hard disk and all we need to do is to add a couple of comments and an imaginary story. All this can be done and is done while sitting back in your bedroom with a laptop in your lap.
    You so-called champions of women rights have put all the men on defensive and they cannot even speak of their rights. Now they need some sympathizers to have their rights back. Recommend

  • Nasira Parveen

    Being a woman in Pakistan is often an academic topic… but if you want to see the brutal reality then read The Terrorland http://theterrorland.blogspot.comRecommend

  • Ayesha Hoda

    @Javed Afridi:
    Isn’t Women’s Day on 8th March?

    I did not feel the need to mention it (because these things are very common) but the examples I quoted are actually based on real life happenings, my observations and experiences. So not much imagination was involved. Plus, such social dramas unfold within households only, so of course they are written in one’s bedroom (drawing room actually) with a laptop in one’s lap. What better setting than that!

    There are men who are suppressed; nobody has stopped them from speaking of their rights. It is their ego that comes in between and again it’s about what society will say. Also, I believe, more women are suppressed / talked about as compared to men, that is why there is more focus on women’s rights.Recommend

  • nadeem Khan

    good thoughts Recommend

  • SK

    one woman’s hate towards another in this country is the sole cause for the bitter butchery of any woman’s chastity and character – and then we blame men to be inadequately inept. Recommend

  • Uzair Javed

    Good writing Ms Ayesha. I, however, would take the liberty to disagree. You, on the whole, seemed somewhat biased towards women. I totally agree with you when you say that women are maltreated and not given all their due rights but i would like to emphasise that in many cases it are the women who themselves are the root of all the problems. In such cases, instead of sympathising with them, we should make such people realise of their mistakes and not show excessive or undue empathies! In other cases, where women are subject to undue treatments or oppressions, i would happily agree with you.Recommend

  • Sakina

    nice article.. but too much of generalisation not good for health…. i find it unfair, try widening the horizons… there are all kinds of people… the bechari wives, and the kharoos ones too, plus zalim husbands and, the loving ones too…Recommend

  • Ayesha Hoda

    @Uzair Javed:
    Read the last para…plus when you say “we should make such people realise their mistakes”, my question is why? Who are WE? Apart from a woman’s immediate family members or a few close friends, why does everyone have a right to comment or advice her when she is not even asking for it. Even if in my or your opinion (based on an outsider’s view), she is making a mistake, it is her choice and her life. Plus people (both men and women) generally don’t gossip about you in front of you unless they are taunting you.

    You also say: “in many cases it is the women themselves who are the root of all the problems” I disagree, especially in the example quoted. No matter what a woman does, her husband does not have a right to abuse her. Nobody has a right to abuse anyone.

    @ Sakina: Yes, there are all kinds of people with individual characteristics and qualities, but in any article of this nature there has to be some generalization based on what a large number is doing.Recommend

  • http://[email protected] Huma I.

    “No matter what the situation, some people do not merely discuss what a woman is doing -they judge it.”

    Being judgmental has become our national psyche, women or no women. However, I agree it becomes more resolute and determined if a woman is on the receiving end. Similarly being divorced is a collective stigma of our society and tends to become a never retreating dragon if, again, a woman is at the receiving end or should we call it a victim?

    To keep it short, I believe that freedom comes with a price, especially in a confused society like ours where the difference between choice and invasion is blurred. Most of the times this blur leads to chaos, lost of expression, repercussion and finally the same deep black pit we call imprisonment. Are we then back to square one? Recommend

  • Mango Juice

    I found this blog to be badly written and from the stone age. So much has been said on these issues. It just didn’t hold my attention. Such articles are only evident of the fact that Paksitani women need ‘approval’ from everyone therefore they keep writing the same thing over and over and over again. Who cares if ‘they’ agree with our stance or not. We know we’re right. Just like noone listens to some old coot who adheres to racist views in this modern age where universal equality is a FACT of life. Just do your own thing, girls! Who cares if you’re unmarried, re-marrying or working or studying. We need to start being indifferent to such issues, therefore moving forward and concentrating (discussing, writing about and working towards) on creating opportunities for women. Stop thinking/whining/complaining/criticizing! Start doing!Recommend

  • Ayesha Hoda

    @Mango Juice:
    Well, yes, many of them do need approval. Everyone is different and not all women (or men), who are seemingly modern and independent, have the courage to stand up and make decisions, esp. in a society where face-saving is still cherished so much.

    Even when they have the courage to do something, they are taunted or criticized, even by people who are close to them.

    People are still writing about these issues because in this day and age such issues continue to exist. They will continue writing till such mindsets change.

    “Universal equality is a FACT of life” – Seriously? Really? In Pakistan? I don’t think people here have accepted it as a fact, whether it pertains to women or minorities or even ethnic groups.Recommend

  • Sakina

    @Ayesha Hoda, well no… I don’t agree. Any article of any kind. Matter what, generalisation is not good. It just shows that you have a narrow approach of viewing the society. I do agree with you at most of the places, but again, you should have enough evidences to back whatever you are writing. For e.g. Murdock’s study of the most common type of family has been widely criticised, because he failed to see other types of families, and stated nuclear family as the “most common type”…. which is obviously questionable!
    In the same light, I found your article to be a well written one, but too much of generalisation takes away the charm. Im sorry if my words sound rude.. but its just an advice… thanks… :) and yea its good to see your follow up upon the comments… take care! Kudoos! :)


    Sakina Kavi.Recommend

  • Ayesha Hoda

    No, I don’t mind your comments at all. In fact I am glad you took out the time to read and share your views.

    Some traits in society are very common and not restricted to any single community. Of course if one focuses on a single area or class, and researches from anthropological/sociological perspectives, then the piece can be much more specific and an eye-opener.

    Otherwise, if I had simply mentioned specific areas or classes etc., it would just seem like I am targeting or am biased against them due to personal experiences. Anyway, I will look into it.

  • Uzair Javed

    @Ms Ayesha. I agree that no one has the right to abuse or harass another one. The other point you make is who we are to make someone realise of their mistake, i agree cent percent. I am nobody to stop a crying women whom i don’t know walking on the road to say her that the treatment she was given by her husband was well deserved for her in response to her actions. I completely agree. But again, “who are WE” to sympathise with such people (disregarding who is/was at fault). My presumption was to make those realise (of mistakes) whom you are in relation with or whom you know! The perception you made out my words is sorta absurd to me! How can one (rather anyone) interfere in matters of someone with whom or with whose affairs one has no concern? I am a complete proponent of freedom of actions and choices…Recommend

  • Sana Saleem

    Being a woman is really very difficult. Though she isn’t responsible for financial looking after of her family but still she has to bear alot of mental stress. There are like everyday challenges in terms of keeping both her in laws and husband happy. This is the most difficult thing to keep balance and keep every one happy. So the problems start from this point and exceed if you can’t counter these.

    If a woman gets trapped in a situation where she is likely to get divorced then it is a very difficult decision because the direct affectees are the children. She should know by then that she would no more or never be respected and blamed.Recommend

  • Kamran

    Not agreed, You have mentioned some points in your article which are unacceptable in our Religion Islam. Although some are acceptable.Recommend

  • ahamd

    A very good thought and a very good effort in writing and as your article i am now thinking that there is sumone one the other end who is good at accpetiong the both wrong and the both bad sides .
    TRY TO MAKE IT WORK i do agree with you in that para. In case of relationships they only work when the both sides work equally,compromise and accept. Its not only upto the female side to work the relationship all by her own self. Male do need to bend to in this matter.

    TABOOS PART . Wel u cant blame the people who use to talk non-sence and the crap out of it .The saddest part is that the female side also takes up the charge onto the fellow sex and then the never ending siege attack on the victim comments.

    ” SINGLE PART “ Here are some thing onto which i might disagree onto you . You see women can mostly do and join every industry they want to . Mostly people encourage the female side taking part into industries.

    Tel me something .wat you call the men when they say there laides to wear veil? Mostly females then label them conservative. For instance have you read the UMEERA AHMAD novles ..what that lady is trying to prove in her novles ..being a male i also read it n i also liked it to .the story, the mind, the characters ..but wat was the mainly perception given by the writer was just that the writer is making a impact onto the female mind that the male are there enemies and the female side is the weekest ever blah blah .. My point is by writing the articles on the weak side dont jst draw half side of the picture . you should also come up to the bright side. There are many cases in society were male people comit suicide only due to the dual nature of there female partners .. and i have to accept this also happens to women to .
    I hope you have understood me . and i am not being rude to you . its that i just wana talk this all out . that why we label each other agresive,conervative .
    “:) thanks Recommend

  • Ayesha Hoda

    Not acceptable in Islam? Or by some male so-called religious scholars who would like to retain power over women and keep them under control?Recommend

  • Aamna

    You’re so right, it IS actually women who make things worse for their gender. and i believe the major reason for this idleness. when u have nothing to do, ‘everybody’s business is your business’Recommend

  • INAM

    its culture, and if our culture doesn’t allow it, then why are you blaming, just accept the things the way they are. I mean if you are looking at the western culture and their freedom to woman, dear thats something different on the other side.there the woman is also a low paid working class as compare to men. Recommend

  • Nobody

    Bit late in reading this, but who told you women are a low paid working class in the west? It’s not at all strange to see women in top positions, let alone in the workforce. While the percentage of women working is LOWER than men, not low to begin with, (and that, too, low for western standards, not eastern) it’s only growing as more and more women enter the workforce. Also, just accepting things the way they are is the exact mentality that’s brought Pakistan to where it is now, and will only further pull it into a black pit of nothing. Props and respect to people who stand up and speak out against regressive thinking. Recommend

  • Leila Rage

    This is all so true. Especially the bit about pressure to marry at a certain age!Recommend

  • A Beer

    Cannot disagree to a word written in this article. The fact that “women are the biggest critics of women” is true to the core. The best and sometimes worst quality of our society is that women have a huge hand in shaping it. If women take a stand and shun the taboo’s of our society, i believe a lot of things could be rectified and lives of many people can be made so much better!Recommend