What if your daughter doesn’t want to be a ‘doctor bahu’?

Published: October 23, 2014

Don’t make them doctors just because you need to tell other people that your medical-degree-holder daughter’s greatest achievement is finding the best catch in your sight.

In a recent conversation with a mother to little girls, I asked her what she had planned for her children with regards to their education. I was merely referring to school choices but she told me, quite categorically,

Matric, FSc and then straight to medical college!”

It seemed quite standard a response for the desi mind-set, but I couldn’t help but wonder.

What if they want to do something else? What if they want to grow up to be writers or study hieroglyphics or become physicists or God forbid, singers? What if they hate being doctors? What if they hate studying biology? What if they want to be the next Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy or the next Sana Mir? What if they want to invent something? And most important of all, what if the only reason you want them to be doctors is because you want to get them ‘good rishtas (proposals)’?

What is the point of educating a girl with a degree you know she is not going to use? Why are you setting her up to study and survive in a competitive environment, where she is going to have to study for four years for things she’s probably not going to remember if she doesn’t keep studying for another 10 years? Why are you telling her she needs to do well in school, in college, in the entry tests – when the only time she will use her professional degree is when her in-laws will have the sniffles?

As a pre-medical student, I got a lot of eye-rolls and shocked expressions when I refused to even sign up for the medical college entrance tests. I was meeting the merit, I could have gotten in, but I refused to register. It was a sad day for a lot of people in my family.

“She’s got so much potential, why doesn’t she want to be a doctor?”

When I chose to study clinical psychology and worked as a teacher, and even after I managed to earn well with my degree, I still often hear detractors wishing that I had gotten a medical degree. I have no idea why. And I’ve stopped trying to figure it out.

The formula in our society goes something like this:

‘Remotely intelligent human female with remotely decent grades’


‘Must get married soon at a decent child-bearing age’


Medical degree

A lot of my classmates, who went to medical college, went down the marriage and family route. Many of them didn’t study or work further. I know many women around me who quit their degrees right after college to get married. So their knowledge of medicine is about as equal as my knowledge of biochemistry – very low. Most of these women say they ‘chose’ not to work, which is a choice and I respect that.

But let’s be honest here, shall we?

How many of us, women who chose to pursue their medical degrees and then quit soon after because the US-returned bachelor was just too good to pass up, actually went ahead to get their degrees knowing that they wouldn’t quit? How many of us actually knew from the very beginning that the only reason they’re studying day and night and cramming up book after book was not to help the cause of humanity as healers but to find a suitable groom? How many of our mothers proudly tell their friends that they’ve found a ‘doctor bahu (daughter-in-law)’ for their son, who will soon be attending all their kitty parties and producing healthy, sturdy sons?

In a recent conference held under the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC), it was revealed that about 50% of women, who graduated from medical colleges, never worked.

Never worked.

At the moment, there are 65,324 female doctors and 8,300 female dental practitioners in Pakistan. Only 50% of these are active healthcare professionals. They studied at the government’s expense, enjoyed the subsidised education, got the government to invest in them, and once it did, once it spent 2.4 million rupees on each student, they decided to spend twice the amount on a designer wedding. Students who get admissions in government medical colleges spend around 100,000 on their degrees. That’s less than a designer dress, less than what you will probably spend on your Thailand honeymoon. That’s a career, a profession, a deserving seat that you just spent on social approval.

Educate the women. Make them doctors, engineers, pilots what have you. But don’t make them doctors just so they can bag a good rishta. Don’t force them to become doctors just because a literature, visual arts major, a botanist or a mathematician is a lesser degree, an insult to her credibility as a person and as a woman. Don’t make them doctors just because you need to tell other people that your medical-degree-holder daughter’s greatest achievement is finding the best catch in your sight. Give them an education they can use even from home. Empower them to earn even if they cannot leave their house, empower them enough to play a role in society, to shoulder the responsibility of a citizen in society and raise a family. If you want a medical-degree-holder daughter-in-law, make sure that the questions you ask at the time of meeting the family are topped with,

“Please do assure us, you will work after marriage?” instead of, “I hope your rotis are round and you do not have any fertility issues!”


Mahwash Badar

The author is a clinical psychologist, a mum to two boys and permanently in a state of flux. She tweets @mahwashajaz_ (twitter.com/mahwashajaz_)

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

  • Zeher

    Times are changing. It takes time for a whole culture to change. Everything can not change in the snap of a finger. Slowly these ideologies are being abolished, so I think you need to realise that. Stop throwing negative comments around all the time. Think positively about our culture for a change.Recommend

  • Babloo

    I suggest please do not waste your talent, do not follow other’s spread lights, become your own sunshine. Be faithful with what education you get !!!Recommend

  • TheStoryGoes

    Think positively? Dude. This happens. It’s not changing. I myself know countless women, classmates, with whom this is happening. I know a girl who’s parents spent 7 lac (that’s just the tuition fees-ignore the clothes, stationary and transport cost) on her first year of MBBS in a private university only to get her married off before the first year ended and leave the uni. PMDC have recently changed the quota of Medical colleges from 70:30 of women VS men, to a 50:50 because NONE of these women WORK after their degrees. They waste the govt’s money on good rishta’s. And you know what the sad part is? That this 50:50 quota is going to do women no good. I plan to enter the medicine field (out of choice and I do plan to work) and the thing is, it’s women who occupy the highest merit seats that leave. I have an 84 percent in my 1st year. It’s an okay percent. a 50-50 if I wanna get in. The recent change in quota only reduced my chances all the more. Where I was applying for a 70 percent of the seats, I will now be applying for 50 percent. Mahwash is not being negative. She’s saying what is HAPPENING. And what is happening IS negative. Things need to change. And speaking up about it like Mahwash is doing is not to be condemned. Pakistan is in shambles. Accept it. Move on. Fix it. Instead of condemning people who are telling you things as they are.Recommend

  • Queen

    I think it depends on the mindset of our society where every mother-in law wants a ‘doctor bahu’ for her son. And mothers, being worried about getting ‘good rishtas’ for their daughters force them to study nothing but medicine or engineering ( though engineering is also not that common :) ) It is up to boys, who after all have to spend their lives with their wives, to stop their families and especially their mothers from demanding nothing but a doctor bahu. Every girl, whether she is doctor, engineer, business graduate, or in creative field, has her own personality, which unfortunately gets neglected during the course of searching the perfect ‘gharelo doctor biwi’.Recommend

  • Dr. Tahir

    I think she is thinking positively …. that indeed is a grave issue ………….. it should be addressed …. i am a doctor ….. we had 40 female classfellows and out of those about 10 are actively praciticing ….. rest are enjoying peaceful life …….. we lost 30 doctors in one go ………. culture should change and change for the better…..Recommend

  • zeher

    I come from a very conservative family but I fought for what I wanted to do regardless of what my family wanted me to be. Women nowadays cry more about not getting rights, and work very less to get them. This post seems like one of those. If you want something, strive for it. Writing posts honestly does not help.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    Kinda off topic but what you wrote about people looking down on your psychology degree caught my eye and I would just like to tell you that almost the world over clinical psychologists are treated as doctors. “REAL” doctors, in the USA they even write MD or DO. It is only in Pakistan that this kind of study is belittled. As ofc are many other which you have mentioned. Well written piece, Keep HealingRecommend

  • Critical

    Story of my life…

    My mom pledged to a local temple that if I was born without complications,she would make a doctor and make me serve people…A step ahead of what they show in 3 idiots…

    Unfortunately,I was very good in studies but I cant stand the sight of blood,flesh so much that I didnt touch meat till I came to college….

    With parent’s pressure,I wrote my medical and engineering exams…My cut off was 292.87 which was way below the 295 needed for govt colleges…

    My father tried in private colleges,they asked for 20 lakh donations(that too because I had good marks or else it would be higher).They were even discussing ways to get loan… That was the time I put my feet firmly down and said it was math I liked not biology and I cant study medical…

    Fast forward 10 yrs,I completed my engineering,got placed in an IT company,came to onsite 4 years ago..bought a home in a metropolitan city and enjoying my life rather than spending my days with sick patients….Recommend

  • Prashant

    “In a recent conference held under the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC), it was revealed that about 50% of women, who graduated from medical colleges, never worked.”

    These highly qualified but narrow minded aristocrats are a disgrace to the poor among the society as these are the people they are meant to help in general in countries like India and Pakistan.

    The medical degree has become a status symbol, what is the point of spending huge amounts of money, speaking fluent english and making judgements about others when the best you have done is to enjoy your life at the cost of taxpayers money, found a suitable spouse and blocked a deserving candidate from doing a job that you claimed for but never intended to do, this is simply being dishonest to your own.Recommend

  • Prashant

    “This post seems like one of those. If you want something, strive for it. Writing posts honestly does not help.”

    So, what do you suggest? Would you ask her to enroll herself for a medical degree now?

    Writing posts does not help, would responding those posts help?Recommend

  • BlackJack

    Maybe it is a Pakistani phenomenon. I think that in India the number of seats for medical institutions are so low in comparison to the number of aspirants, that this kind of a situation is highly unlikely. There are certainly far more engineers in India (maile and female) who don’t work as engineers (going in for MBA after finishing their course) than doctors who don’t work as doctors.Recommend

  • Tooba

    Among my other cousins of my age group I was the only one who enrolled in a medical school last year and I managed to get an admission. My cousin is in Nottingham and I am in DOW but the response I get from my extended relatives is shocking. They treat her ACF degree like ‘arts’. Getting into a medical college is not a piece of a cake,it is a struggle. Parents should understand and make room for other fields as well rather than sticking to the stereotype. What is the point of valuing a degree when you are not going to use it or save anyone?Recommend

  • Aziz A

    A very pertinent point made here. It is totally wrong for women who are never going to practise medicine to take up such highly valued seats in government medical colleges. Pakistan already suffers from a ‘brain drain’ amongst the medical fraternity (almost all doctors I know emigrate or aspire to do so in the future), so we should be ensuring (somehow) that where someone is taking a government-sponsored seat, there will be some form of service given in return for the government’s investment in them (this goes for males and females). Perhaps some sort of loan scheme is warranted for such prestigious degrees? Not sure what the solution is, but we need to have the conversation to create change. Recommend

  • KlingOn2K

    The doctors who had to forego their practice aren’t complaining. Could it be that they knew this even before they took up their education in medicine?Recommend

  • Mash

    I think government should fine all the husbands and in laws or parents who force their doctor bahus and daughters to stay home! Like those Gov institutes that make you sign a bond that ensures you either work for them for a certain period or you pay the gov for breaking that bond! Similar bonds should be signed by girls pursuing medical. It is such an important and noble profession that it should not be wasted like this!Recommend

  • siesmann

    Wrong!Psychiatrists are MD/DO,not psychologists.They can call them doctors if they have a PhD in psycholgy,but not MD?DORecommend

  • siesmann

    It sure is waste of resources if women don’t practice medicine after they graduate.Poor countries need more doctors and can’t waste money on satisfying the mother-in-laws.As the writer says,there are lots of other fields open for them.Being a doctor is not an end itself,but helping the humanity in healing.Anybody doing an MD/DDS /DO should be required to sign a bond requiring them to practice for minimum of 5 years,preferably 10-15 years or pay the price of a bond.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Author is not saying that women should be limited in following studies in whichever subject they want to.But being a doctor is a profession and takes a lot of resources of society to make one.Poor societies can’t spend monies/resources/seats for producing professionals who won’t practice.It is not a matter of thinking negatively.Recommend

  • Gp65

    This author was not talking aout women being denied rights. She was talking of a culture where it is orestigious o have a Doctor bahu who does not work and the consequences of this attitude on availabilty of physicians in the health sector.Recommend

  • Ali

    Does it not affect us at all that she’s gone so far as to say that “Quaid-e-Azam” made a mistake by giving us this independent country?Recommend

  • Baba Ji

    Excellent piece, bittiya Mahwash, it is.

    BTW I don’t want to open a Pandora’s box here but there are hardly any doctors left in Pakistan … merely “rattoo totaay” who clear their obsolete exams !!!!Recommend

  • Yolo Holla

    I’m glad someone addressed this issue. The fact that most degree holders are treated as less of a catch is downright disgusting not to mention completely illogical. Who’s to say that a woman who holds a Masters degree is not as qualified or decent as a woman with a medical degree? Ive seen medical students slave around in thankless positions without getting paid for staying up hours or not getting jobs at all just because “is degree se rishte aen ge” and being miserable as a result. It is not admirable, it is just sad. I would rather be me.Recommend

  • Radiologist

    Well what you wrote is 100 percent true and is at a level par with corruption and inapptitude which we blame our political parties. We say we are muslims yet we practice what ever suits us and even create our own justifications to legalise the stuff we want to do. Poor pakistanis will b the one who suffer as by 2020 there will be an extrme shortage of male doctors and the femalea who do practice will not want to give there 100 percent as they have there family issues keeponf them on holidays or they are more interested in studying post graduate exams in public hospitals at expense of patients.

  • Radiologist

    Who told you they are treated as real doctors? Psychologists cant even prescribe medication in the states unless they have a doctorate in clinical psychopharmacology and have passed board exams. The psychologists who call them selves doctors can only do so when they hav done there phd in there relevant field. They are given importance but they are not treated as real doctors in usa. Recommend

  • 2Paisa (Khi)

    Too many people enter medicine because of either money or career progression. In this day and age, this is not the best route for either. Modern age has changed the paradigm and we need to come out of this complex.

    We need to promote entrepreneurship to take Pakistan leaps forward. To come up with new companies that have a global presence. That also gives us the leverage to influence the world.Recommend

  • S

    As harsh as this may sound but women shouldn’t be given many seats here. I have several examples in my own family where women graduated as doctors but never began working as doctors. Seats for women must be made limited. One should not be allowed to waste resources like this. 50% is huge; half of our female doctors aren’t working. It’s not just sad but concerning.Recommend

  • Parvez

    The writer has pointed out a fault in society that needs attention……..doing it through a blog is an excellent way to create awareness. If you read the article carefully you will realise that she is a person who has the courage of her own convictions.Recommend

  • imran

    But still even a non working doctor bahu is better than working teacher, banker, pilot bahu. Doctor aakhir doctor hotee hai. People wants peace of mind and a caring bahu. Imagine an army officer to be my bahu .. i think its better to be without a bahu.Recommend

  • siesmann

    A stupid remark!Recommend

  • Minal Khan

    This is a delimma in our society and I’m glad someone brought it up in writing and a discussion has been initiated. Parents need to realise the social and economical burden this brings about in our society. Education should be encouraged to make one realise and build respective talent and potential to contribute to the bigger picture which is contribution to humanity. Recommend

  • Ali

    Contradictory to the typical pakistani male mindset,I would want my future wife whenever that is to be a working woman not that I can’t offord to take care of a family but to me a working women is a symbol of strength whose spouse is not her need but a want and yes she does not need to be a doctor,they’re not around for a good part of the day anyways :pRecommend

  • Mahnoor Fatima Niazi

    I sir have utmost respect for what you said. Agreed a 100% ! We have to change the mindset. Aunties want fair, pretty, wealthy, well-educated doctor bahoos wo can make gol rottis. That is so hypothetical. Without taking into consideration that apart from all of this, that girl they’re looking at is a human too not a piece of decorum. People NEED to change their mindsets. Men always have the upper hand in our society, they should initiate it. Pakistan thinks it has become advanced, while to me it has actually become even more materialistic.Recommend

  • Queen

    Thank you for taking time out and appreciating my comment. Kindly note that I am a girl not ‘sir’ :) and I agree with you 100 percent. It is unfortunate that in our society girls are treated as decorative objects. I hope a day comes when the males in our male-dominated society realize that they need to initiate the change, The would be mother-in laws should also realize that they are women and they should respect other women too. You are very right in saying that the society has become materialistic.Recommend

  • Urooj Imran

    Seats for women should not be limited. If half of the women doctors are not working then it’s their choice. I have many women doctors in my family who’ve been working since they graduated and they are now in their 60s but are still working. Instead of limiting seats, the girls who secure admission can be asked to fill bonds that they will keep working for at least 10 or 15 years. Reducing the number of seats is an injustice to all those girls who ‘want’ to be doctors and intend to work after graduating.Recommend

  • MD/PhD

    As a Transplant Cardiologist with two doctorates and 12 years of additional education/training after the MBBS, let me just say the following…

    1) I can’t seem to understand the gravitation towards doctor bahus from the perspective of future husbands and mothers in law. If the idea is to have someone in the household who is able to “take care of the sick” then that is the greatest fallacy around. As difficult it is to get into and survive medical school, that really is the tip of the iceberg in terms of knowledge base. Medicine these days is highly specialized, the knowledge based needed to make decisions in light of the latest advances and technology vast and increasing at an exponential rate. Completing medical school and staying at home may eventually only be good to handle the common cold, but you could likely get the same professional advice from the local pharmacist and/or GP.

    2) If the incentive is to provide a secondary source of income then that would make sense (someone with even as little as three years of additional training would almost certainly make a six figure $ salary in the US), except, as we have seen from the recent data from PMDC published in Dawn, around 50% of women don’t work (or are strongly discouraged from working) after graduating. Also, it seems the same cohort of prospective husbands and mothers in law would also have issues with the wife/daughter in law working to materialize her education. So it doesn’t seem like it is the financial incentive driving the demand for doctor bahus.
    So, what is it??
    Would be interested to hear what people think….Recommend

  • Emmon Raza

    Spot on Mahwash!Recommend

  • Fahad

    a) Not all mother in-laws want a Doctor Bahu. They want what is Right for their Son.

    b)The average Guy seeks for a good companion, he doesn’t care whether she is teacher or doctor as long as she is well-spoken and educated enough to stand next to him; unless the Guy is looking for some support or want to score good on immigration scale.

    c) Being a doctor doesn’t grantee you a good rishta. End of day its your naseeb. Infact it makes you vunlerabe to meeting someone who wants you for your degree/profession and not you.

    d) Its basically the girls own parents who decide what she does, when she marries , who she marries. Even the conditions such as will she complete her degree before marriage or will she study after marriage or practice medicine after marriage. All these things are decided pre-marriage during rishta process. Ask your parents about these conditions instead of blaming the entire pakistani society or your mother-inlaw.

    e) According Douglas Mc Gregor’s theory X people by nature are lazy and will avoid work if they can. As in our society its a norm to let women freeload on their husband income ( though women never acknowledge this; nor thank their husband for this and still portray Pakistani men as cruel ) a lot of women have opted for the EASY life as they get what they want without earning it.Recommend

  • Nobody

    Sir what you’re looking for is a maid/nanny, not an independent self identifying bahu with a life of her own. This idea of women simply existing to serve others is ridiculous. Big part of the problem in Pakistani society. If that’s the way you think, than with due respect, it probably is better you don’t bring a woman into your home.


  • Kamran Khan

    Cant agree more, thats the topic i always discuss with my friends, last weekend, one of my relative got two doctor bahus on the same day and i was like two medical seats and lots of money are wasted again.Recommend

  • Kamran Khan

    Even my mother asked me one day that “Beta ager tmhari liye kisi doctor larki ka rishta mil jaye to kaisa rahega , i felt like i should end my life after knowing my mothers intentions, i said ammie please aap to aisa na sochay, and than she said actually flaw flaw aunty called and said that as i did in my case, you should also go for a doctor bahu. :/Recommend

  • FH

    Very well written piece. I completely agree with you. I am glad to see that we as girls are actually stepping up for our rights but we still have to go a very long way. For a girl its very important to recognize her importance as an individual and try hard to make an impact on society. We really need to step out of the box and use our potential to be what we really carve for. No one can force to do something just for a “good rishta”….its ridiculous. Just identity your self and be a productive member of society not a passive one!!Recommend