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

Published: October 23, 2014
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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.

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_)

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