The freedom to be

Published: October 4, 2011

To me, New York was just another city – a hard city, a cacophonous city, where bright lights and gleaming skyscrapers belied the darkness.

In New York, you have the freedom to be.No double-standards; the same rules for men and for women, daughters and sons. I had no great love for New York; my heart still belonged to Lahore, and it was Lahore that I forever looked for, in every street sign, in every face, in every smell and neighbourhood. To me,  New York was just another city – a hard city, a cacophonous city, where bright lights and gleaming skyscrapers belied the darkness.

A friend from Lahore recently asked me:

“What would you miss most about New York if you were to move back to Pakistan right now?”

I thought about it for a few minutes. Unlike many Pakistanis living in the US I knew, I wasn’t particularly attached to this country, or to New York.

To me,  it was just another city – a hard city, a cacophonous city, where bright lights and gleaming skyscrapers belied the darkness, the sadness, the grime and the poverty in the corners; where glamour, spectacle, a veneer of ethnic diversity thinly concealed the underlying greed and racism.

I had no great love for New York; my heart still belonged to Lahore, and it was Lahore that I forever looked for, in every street sign, in every face, in every smell and neighbourhood.

But there was one thing.

“Freedom”, I replied to my friend. “That’s what I would miss.”

It wasn’t the freedom to wear a tank top or mini-skirt in public, to dance at a nightclub or get a tattoo; it wasn’t the freedom to hop on a train or bus at any hour of the day and go where you wanted, come home when you pleased; the freedom to attend any kind of rally, concert or film screening that suited your fancy, to make friends with any colour or class of people you chose,  to walk out on the street at 2am. for some ice-cream from the 24-hour deli, to nap under a tree in Washington Square Park.

No, these were superficial freedoms. It was something deeper than that.

It was the freedom to be

Growing up in Lahore, I didn’t ever ask myself – Why are all the women I know teachers and doctors, the other half housewives? Why don’t I know any women engineers, scientists, actresses, novelists, athletes, dancers, photographers, lawyers?

I never asked myself – Why do I have to wait for the driver or one of my parents to drop me to school or to a friend’s house? Why can’t I take the bus, a taxi or rickshaw?

Why must I send the cook to fetch that tub of ice-cream from the shop across the street for my slumber party? Why can’t I go myself?

Why can’t I say my prayers at the beautiful neighborhood mosque? Why must I pray in the musty, uninspiring ante-chamber, or in the confines of my house?

Why can’t I play cricket in the park? Why can’t I wear jeans to Liberty Market? Why do I need a male friend to accompany me on my field visits to the shehr?

Why must I get married by the age of 24 and have at least one child by 26?

Why? Because that’s how things were.

I never questioned it, or if I did have questions, they were momentary. The main explanation, of course, was that I was a girl.

That was good enough. It was reasonable, it was appropriate. You never asked why your brother could do things you couldn’t, why there was one set of rules for the boys and another for the girls. To question that would seem presumptuous, daftly unrealistic, ‘Amreekan’ – this is was Pakistan, this was how society functioned, and women were completely A-OK with it.

There were exceptions to the rule, of course, a handful of courageous women who dared to break into non-traditional roles and spaces – but these women, although publicly lauded, were implicitly looked down upon by middle- and upper-class morality. They were arrogant, promiscuous, ‘unfeminine’, or, they were supremely-gifted rarities that happened once in a generation, and while you admired them, you couldn’t possibly aspire to be like them.

And while life did go on, and the women of my class ‘progressed’ day by day, from classrooms to TV screens to charity fundraisers – the socially acceptable, the superficially liberal – the greatest inhibitions remained.

What if I wanted to be a political activist, campaigning door-to-door and chanting slogans at rallies shoulder-to-shoulder with men? What if I wanted to be a social worker, visiting slums and prisons and acid-burn victims in teeming public hospitals? What if I wanted to be a professional musician, performing at cafés, parks, theaters, outside the protective walls of my school or college? What if I wanted to go for a stroll at midnight, sit at a roadside khokha chewing paan, live in a 3rd story flat in Anarkali, ride my bike to work?

What if I wanted to marry for love to a man ‘below’ my class, to a foreigner, to a gora?

What if I wanted to do all of this, not to make any statements, not to be provocative, not be seen or talked about, but just because that’s who I waswho I wanted to be, and doing something contrary would be oppressive, inhibiting.

In New York, all the inhibitions inculcated in you since childhood slowly chipped away. You could see yourself for who you were, and you could actually be that person. Nobody judged, nobody cared. People treated you as a human being, without the gender labels and cultural baggage. No one stared at you, no one harassed you. No one noticed you for being a woman, for being different. You were anonymous – and while that could sometimes feel lonely, it was also very liberating.

What it comes down to is choice. You coud choose to pursue your passion, and, married, divorced or single, childbearing or childless, rich or poor, be the happiest woman in the world for having done so – or you could be be like the neighbouring mother-of-4, whom society praises for raising such well-behaved children, for keeping such a tidy, efficient household, for having such an amicable relationship with her in-laws, for being so equable with the servants, and yet be lifeless inside, burdened with regret.

For no matter how noble the mission of wifehood and motherhood, no matter how sacred our notions of femininity, I do not believe that any woman can enjoy seeing her ambitions crushed. I do not believe that every aunty I know did not nurture a secret wish in her heart that she was not able to fulfill. And that was a loss not just for herself, but for everybody around her, for society, for the country – because one woman who lives life to her potential, who is brave and follows her heart, is far more inspiring than any number of daughters, wives and mothers imprisoned to their homes and kitchens and children and a job or husband they do not love.

So, yes, what would I miss about New York if I were to move back? The freedom to be. The choice to be. No double-standards. The same rules for men and for women. The same benchmarks for your daughters and your sons.  And though I miss Lahore with all my heart, I do not miss its self-righteous upper-class morality.

Obviously, there will never be a day when you wake up in the morning and the men of Lahore cease to ogle, the aunties cease to matchmake, the uncles cease to lecture, and society ceases to preach one thing or other. It’s up to us to make that happen. It’ll  take courage, but that’s the only way to live, the only way to free yourself  from the invisible cages your mothers were trapped in, the only way to ensure that your children aren’t trapped the same way.

The original article is posted here.


Manal Khan

A freelance writer and photographer based in Madrid, Spain, who loves old cities, tall trees, dark chocolate, and being inspired. She is a graduate of the UC Berkeley School of Journalism and a Lahore native. Manal blogs at "Windswept Words" (

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

  • Parvez

    Enjoyed reading this. Feel that freedom is more a state of mind than anything else, but it is effected by your surroundings. Comparing surroundings in N.Y. and Lahore is not a fair comparison. Did you establish the link between freedom and happiness ? Possibly I missed that.Recommend

  • Loneliberal PK

    Stay tuned for the march of the patriots against your pro-Amreekan piece.Recommend

  • Jibran

    Excellent piece of writing. You conveyed it succinctly and forcefully. Kudos.Recommend

  • waqqas iftikhar

    Great piece….but this will invite ridicule…good on ya though.Recommend

  • Abu Bakr

    Totally feel what you mean. Our subcontinental roots come with a culture that teaches to accept things only because they have been accepted for so many years. Talking against these things, having a different opinion, or arguing about them with an ‘elder’ are all considered acts of treason. The liberty to be free comes with a price i think, and depending on what you’re up against, the bigger the price.. But slowly i do see things changing. Our thoughts coincide. Recommend

  • manalkhan

    Thanks for your comments. I agree Parvez, that freedom is definitely a mindset, and it is the mindset we have in Pakistan that I’m trying to bring attention to in this piece. It has very little to do with culture and surroundings – I have friends in India who live in pretty much the same surroundings as we do, but with an entirely different level of freedom.

    Lastly, as you said LoneLiberal, I anticipate an onslaught of “patriotic” criticism, though I don’t see why this should offend anyone’s patriotism! I don’t think of myself as pro-American, and the comparison with America is only there because that’s been my personal experience – it could apply to many different places all over the world.

    I’d also like to mention that what inspired me to write this piece was a volume of brilliant short stories by Ismat Chughtai. I admire her immensely, not only because she was a gifted writer, but because she saw things for what they were, she saw herself for who she was, and wasn’t afraid of being that person, no matter how much society gasped and censured. Though times have changed and women in Indo-Pak are “freer” than they were in the 1960s, when Chughtai wrote “The Heart Breaks Free”, one of my all-time favourite stories, her observations are just as pertinent today. Do read! Recommend

  • from india

    if you look into ancient indian subcontinent, these freedoms were already existing …yes we were traditional but not conservative …refer to the art and culture of the sub-continent some 3-4 thousand years ago, that freedom was already there :-)Recommend

  • tanya

    Its like you stole my thoughts and put them in writing, i so agree its not about the superficial freedom but something on a level like you described being able to live in anarkali and hop on a moped to work that was such a great example. Dont know when we will ever come to that stage when these basic factors will be an everyday thing for the women of pakistan without being labelled as feminist freaks or a rebels.Recommend

  • Faz

    Nice read! I, being in similar situation, can also relate to the mindset. And I agree with you that people are less judgemental about others activities and beliefs. But I am not sure whether one re-discovers himself/herself by being in so called free societies or it is the enviroment of such socities that induces change in approach to life in the name of getting liberated. Humans do get effected and are prone to trends around them.
    Whatever the cause, “freedom to be” as you potray appears contradictory in nature. It seems you advocate for taking up a major role and total control of choices made in life in the name of freedom but at the same time you don’t want one to be tied down to any responsibilty. It appears a selfish idea both for men and women, not that I have anything against it, but I don’t know whether is it fair to call such concept “freedom to be”.

    P.S. Going to mosque for attending prayers is not a luxury women being deprived of. It is a relaxation given to women, or one may also see it as women being liberated from the responsibilty of attending social & religious congregations for 5 times daily must prayers. Still for women it is not forbidden to attend prayers in mosques, some conditions apply(not for women but for mosques). However, praying at home is far easier and quicker. Being a male, I would even prefer to pray even Jumma at home, if given the choice.Recommend

  • ally

    the part about not knowing many auntys who feel that their ambitions have been crushed is so true, for me we could have the same cultural values if they were a choice and not an obligation…taught to us and not forced upon us, i am all for morality and modesty and it irks me that lahori women have taken up shorter clothes as a freedom while being stuck in the same rut, talk about short sightedness..2% give or take actually take their education seriously..tragedy, true for most muslim societies gone are the days where we have women like Ayesha (ra) and Khadija (ra)Recommend

  • hina

    Excellent article.. Portraying the reality.. Absolutely loved reading it.. Keep writingRecommend

  • maestro

    You forgot to add one major freedom in the US – the freedom to meet and be friends with people of all religions, nationalities, races and backgrounds! I have moved back to Pak, albeit Islamabad not Lahore, and I do love being back to be honest even with all the problems around us. I am a male in my 30s so I cannot obviously relate to all the gender issues that you talk about. But i did want to add that I miss being able to hang out with my hindu, muslim, christian, jewish and even atheist friends in the US. We all understood that religion is not what you judge people by – its the goodness and decency of the person that defines him or her – I couldnt care less which God they prayed to as religion is a personal matter. Just my 2 cents. Peace..Recommend

  • hasan ali

    very well put on paper in an appreciable manner.
    Just for the sake of comments, What if someone under the notion “The freedom to be” choose to be be like the neighbouring mother-of-4, whom society praises for raising such well-behaved children, for keeping such a tidy, efficient household, for having such an amicable relationship with her in-laws, for being so equable with the servants. Is it not a bit unfair for us to decide/call this choice lifeless inside and burdened with regret?Recommend

  • Saba

    I can quite relate to this piece of blog. It was honest and straight-forward. This is very true that majority of the women in our part of the world have to sacrifice their careers, dreams and well simply themselves to meet the criteria of a ‘good woman’ set by the society. I have been raising my voice against this mind-set too. There are many women today who actually manage to break the norm and pursue a life of their dreams, but their biggest sacrifice comes in the form of having to stay single for perhaps the rest of their lives as people consider such women not fit enough to serve as ‘good wives’ since apparently they become way too ‘independent’. If we are to expect a change, it has to come from both sides. Where the women will have to showcase more will-power and determination, the men too will have to support their daughters and wives to pursue their dreams. In addition, the definition of ‘freedom’ varies from woman to woman. For some, freedom is simply having the liberty to walk in western clothing as the writer mentioned and for others freedom is to satisfy their inner urge ‘to do something’. The fact that our society has confused both these mind-sets has created further obstacles in the way of ambitious women. Recommend

  • india….

    I love this write up …. Am glad to see a pakistani woman speak up and demand freedom .. small liberties which people in most countries would take for granted. This article was a breath of fresh air .. i really enjoyed reading this. I am an Indian woman and fortunately i live a great life .. i dress up the way i want to, work, ride a bike, travel, trek, basically do just about anything that i wish to do … I have been following ET blogs for a while now and it really saddens me to see that pakistani women aren’t as fortunate. Over the past few months i had really come to believe that women in pakistan have come to terms with the way things were and were happy with their lot. So when i read this piece i jumped for joy. Here is this brave girl asking some really tough questions .. Here is some food for thought for all you pakistani men.

    Some of the authors’ statements are really heart wrenching — ” Why do I have to wait for the driver or one of my parents to drop me to school or to a friend’s house? Why can’t I take the bus, a taxi or rickshaw?”
    “Why must I send the cook to fetch that tub of ice-cream from the shop across the street for my slumber party? Why can’t I go myself?”
    “Why can’t I say my prayers at the beautiful neighborhood mosque? Why must I pray in the musty, uninspiring ante-chamber, or in the confines of my house?”
    “Why can’t I play cricket in the park? Why can’t I wear jeans to Liberty Market? Why do I need a male friend to accompany me on my field visits to the shehr?”

    How has your society reached a point where women are denied these small freedoms ? How and why did things get this bad ?

    To Manal – More power to you girl ! Live life on your terms. Live life queen size. :) Recommend

  • maria

    Manal, this is a great piece. I lived abroad for 3 years and freedom is the one thing I miss the most…Recommend

  • MK

    @Loneliberal PK:

    There are none so far. And this is a well written PRO FREEDOM piece. Recommend

  • Jameel

    “Freedom”, I replied to my friend.
    “That’s what I would miss.”

    Bingo. Me too.Recommend

  • Shumaila

    Manal, though this will sound cliched, you’ve put my thoughts into words. And your way of writing was so splendid – you refrained from sounding derogatory and yet still pointed out the lack of freedom in pakistani society, that exists and cannot be denied. I simply loved this piece.Recommend

  • MK

    ah. freedom. i can totally relate to that one. how about the freedom to just go and sit at a cafe and read a book for hours, and not have to worry about your safety, what people are silently observing you, or what random cheap guy is going to try hitting on you. freedom = bliss.Recommend

  • Jacqueline

    Read this on your WordPress blog and absolutely loved it!Recommend

  • Arif

    Very beautifuly written. Kafi din chavliyan parhne k baad akhir kaar ek acha blog parhne ko mila. I live in Britain and same feelings I have about the streets of my city Multan but being a boy my issues are employment and earning opportunities just as freedom, being a girl, is yours =(Very beautifuly written. Kafi din chavliyan parhne k baad akhir kaar ek acha blog parhne ko mila. I live in Britain and same feelings I have about the streets of my city Multan but being a boy my issues are employment and earning opportunities just as freedom, being a girl, is yours =(Recommend

  • Garbargotala

    marvellous ma’am, simply MARVELLOUS!
    godspeed to you :), i look forward to your ‘being’ and ‘becoming’ :)..catch you in the papers or better!..on tv!Recommend

  • sars

    Totally agree with you.We think that we accept women in positions of respect and authority but the bottom line is that even though they may reach the top of the ladder all personal decisions will be taken by their family.Recommend

  • KolachiMom

    My dear girl, you have an innate ability to touch heartstrings, in simple words. Your thoughts flow effortlessly on paper, so my first piece of advice is to never stop writing. Secondly, continue to be free, because you’ve tasted it, and lived it, and no one can ever take that away from you. There will be criticism but that will undoubtedly stem from deep seated envy, and regret. I’ve not enjoyed a blog post on ET as much as this one since I started reading here. Kudos to you and youth such as yourself. YOU are the ones who give the rest of us hope. Many blessings!Recommend

  • Outdated

    Manal Khan u have great writing skills no one can deny that but for your information the ‘Lahore’ you are referring to in your article has changed long time back..i think before writing this article you should practically come and live here for some more time and you would find out everything is happening in this city. I am quite surprised to find out you didnt come across any engineers, lawyers,female actors in this city..u need to correct your facts before you write on such blogs. You might be deprived of all this but most of the women in Pakistan have the freedom to do all this now that you have mentioned in your article.
    I would suggest you rather than giving this grim picture of your city you can use your writing skills to write something positive about your city and country. I dont agree with more than 50% of the things that you have mentioned here and in reply to the ‘INDIAN’ lady’ who feels sorry for the Pakistani women, i have practically lived in India for quite some time and i know for a fact the customs n traditions prevailing in your country are worse than Pakistan. Its all about giving a good and fake image of your surroundings and i guess that is what you are trying to do here. The way women are treated in India is not hidden from anyone and most of the traditions that still prevail in our society have been taken from India itself so its not something to feel sorry about.
    Manal Khan next time you write something on this blog make sure its not outdated and obselete.Recommend

  • M.Phil

    It goes without question that the situation you have described is what actually occurs. Gender bias, religious bias, ogling of women, raised eye-brows at jeans & skirts, material-mindedness of women, holier than thou mentality, different standards of morality for different socio-economic strata. It’s all there.

    What is perhaps most saddening to me, is how generations appear to have been corrupted. How innocence in pakistan seems to be a luxury that most cannot afford. From your writing it seems you are or had frequent exposure to the self-righteous upper class, but the gritty reality is that you still had it better than most. Your choices, your dilemmas, your constraints are by-products of your financial capability to have gained international exposure. The millions without education, without intellectual enlightenment, without exposure to the human condition outside the borders of pakistan are living in a state which can best be described as ‘ignorance is bliss’.

    You talk of change, you talk of not being stuck in the situation that our mother’s found themselves in, but apply it to the average pakistani man & woman and whatever strength and resilience they may have left, that sees them through all their daily struggles, it will evaporate. As a nation, we are not ready for change.

    Your article is clear, it is articulate and it is accurate. Yet I find myself disagreeing with your conclusions for a very simple reason. Double standards exist everywhere. People stare & notice everywhere. You may find your ‘freedom to be’ in the United States, possibly because you are tuned for it due to your education & upbringing. Plenty of Pakistani people who go there, cannot accept that society, its culture or its freedoms (men as well as women).

    Keep up the writing, at the least, it may encourage healthy debate. (after all, pakistani’s love a gossip as much as a good scandal)Recommend

  • Jaweria Rehman

    Why can’t I say my prayers at the beautiful neighborhood mosque? Why must I pray in the musty, uninspiring ante-chamber, or in the confines of my house?

    as it is better for a women to do so in Islamic point of view

    2ndly you mentioned u cant wear jeans when going to liberty..that might be your own choice…clothes are and would not be catered in Pakistan especially in lahore, Its upto you to what extent you can or cant do thing
    you cannot go to buy an ice cream cuz many of us feel that why bother ourselves rather than asking the maid to bring things for us

    in US you ought to be self maid…there are no such luxuries such as maid or driver…
    Freedom is basically an idea to what extent you are likely to do things and not getting offended by any other person..we withhold so that we are politically perfect in front of other…its by our own choice..Pakistan is noway less free state than US…but here we are answerable to our elders, in Us children are given freedom of calling police if there parents says something they dont like..huh….its not freedom i thinkRecommend

  • Tizi

    Manal, I think you didn’t have a very diverse background going through LGS and LUMS. Also, there are always cultural differences. Lots of women here are doing a whole host of things. Just because those aren’t highlighted, doesn’t mean its not being done. Besides, I scoff at the whole idea as NYC is pretty much the opposite of what family life is supposed to be like. Sure there are tons of elements of Pakistan that I’d rather not have- mostly to do with security and freedom of movement/lack of staring at women.. but a lot of what you wrote are now age old cliches. The country has moved on over the last few years. The unfortunate part is that our ‘elite’ educational institutes are also nurturing the same narrow mindset. Open your eyes. There’s a lot more options and vitality for women in Pakistan than ever before. Sure its not enough, we aren’t America and I don’t think we want to be considering the state of the US economy. Since I don’t expect any of the poverty stricken Pakistani masses to be reading this, I’d simply say that for us, Pakistan is the land of opportunity, for business, for growth. There are plenty of issues to resolve, but the ones you mention will take time and are frankly pretty petty compared to the mountainous tasks faced by this country (no we are not a nation). Recommend

  • Sarmad Rashid

    Aoa Manal.It was really nice reading the blog and imagining that u r right in most of ur concerns.
    But lets suppose,one day u wake up in the morning and things are quite changed in Lahore:

    1.Lets suppose that the time has gone back before 1947… :)
    2.And its totally NY culture in Lahore as much as u mentioned.Everyone has the freedom of watever and wenever one wants to do etc.

    Somehow Quaid-e-Azam comes upto you (:P) and ask:
    Do u want to make a new country and name it as Pakistan?But why?

    What would your answers be?


  • Jaweria Rehman

    @Sarmad Rashid:
    totally agree with you,barriers are kept only by i said above that we are an equally free state like US and other western states …many women are not only teachers by profession…i am a software engineer myself and along with me there are so many other ladies which i lookupto,Its high time we should realize that rather than criticizing our state we should stand out and try to make it even betterRecommend

  • india….

    @outdated —- No , i am not presenting a fake image of india. No one in this forum knows me,so i have NO reason to lie about how happy or free i am. You say u have practically lived in india but i find that hard to believe for two reasons. 1 ) because anyone who lives or has lived here knows that india is an open society and fortunately citizens here enjoy a lot of freedom. and 2) a pakistani in india ! that’s kinda odd.

    Anyways i do not need to justify myself or my country to you !!…

    And no i don’t feel sorry for or pity the women in pakistan .. but i do pity people like you who instead of facing the situation at hand, try to sweep it under the carpet and pretend all is well. i pity people who instead of helping women in their countries and working towards their emancipation resort to mud slinging. I pity people who ask women to shut the hell up and paint a hunky Dory image of pakistan so that foreigners do not learn the dirty secrets of men oppressing women. There are a lot of negative comments here by pakistani women …. Are you saying that ALL of them need to check their facts ?? If you are so concerned about the image of your country, TREAT YOUR WOMEN WELL and the world will respect you. YOU CANNOT DEMAND RESPECT, YOU COMMAND IT. And please stop looking towards indians as your enemies.What i wrote to manal was heartfelt. A message and encouragement from one woman to another… is there something wrong in that ?? And the objective of saying something nice about my life in india is so that women elsewhere feel inspired to lead a similar life … is there something wrong in that ? Recommend

  • FY

    It is not all gloom and doom for women in Pakistan…you are at the end of the day comparing a society which has evolved over centuries with a society which is still in the process of discovering itself. Further, many of the problems you have not highlighted are not unique to Pakistan. Harassment, objectification and gender discrimination are still prevalent in the United States, in fact all over the world. The form and degree may vary but the problem persists.

    Education, exposure and time are the remedies for most of our shortcomings.

    Thought it was an interesting write-up nonetheless.

    P.s: Why do you want to play cricket in a “park”? I am a guy and I have never played cricket in a “park” it is just a recipe for developing a horrible batting technique…between we do have a women’s cricket team…I think they won the Asia cup or something…so if you want jump start your cricketing career…it is not too late.Recommend

  • Outdated

    i dont understand why pakistanis who can write well only chose to write about the problems of Pakistan..i think you have alot of other topics to cover where you can talk about what a brave nation we are and how we are FIGHTING with so many problems and still surviving..its time to think beyond jeans in liberty and staring problems and write about something constructive that would change the image of our people that has been created by our neighbouring country and west..kindly think over these lines and come up with a better topic next timeRecommend

  • Salman Latif

    Excellent, excellent article!!!
    This shows what exactly is fundamentally wrong with Pakistan and Pakistani society: the lack of ability to appreciate individuality and individual freedom. We have such wicked, distorted notions of religion and social norms, thanks both to a history of religious exploitations and cultural conservativeness, that there is virtually NO freedom for an individual in the public sphere. Like I said to a friend some days ago, you have to watch everything you say, everything you do, everything you wear and everywhere you go to, here in Pakistan. A slightly step on that side of the line and you may be a social blasphemer. Recommend

  • Outdated

    @ INDIA
    well who is presenting a hunky dory picture is pretty obvious..the dirty secrets of men opressing women prevail in every society and if you are trying to imply that women in India are not supressed i would beg to defer..if you look at the masses they are suffering equally or perhaps more then the women in Pakistan..Women of our country are progressing in every field and the picture painted in this article of what a pakistani woman is like is extremely outdated..i have grown up here all my life and i know for a fact how things are changing here so we really dont need people to show concern and pity on how women are treated in Pakistan..Its better look at your own side of the world and talk about the uncountable issues prevailing in that societyRecommend

  • Rizvi

    Well, there is more freedom in Lahore than in London e.g. But in a different way. The religion has influenced our culture, and rightly so. We are still far better than Saudia Arabia.Recommend

  • Fen

    It’s only when you have lost everything, that you are free to do anythingRecommend

  • free Wily

    @Jaweria Rehman

    “we are an equally free state like US and other western states ”

    Really!! That is why you throw out an 8th grader from school for making a tiny spelling mistake and throw out the girls family from job and city to live elsewhere. There is limit to hypocrisy.Recommend

  • jaweria rehman

    @free wily

    Experiences may varyyy…..this can be done to any muslim out there in US …gimme a break puleezz!!! if somone wears a scarf in US she gets humilated…if its a free state than why do they even bother how muslims carry out thmselves….i guess thats wat u called free for people who wana go wild and ;leave their roots:)Recommend

  • Leila Rage

    @Jaweria: How on earth are we free? Pakistan is the most socially SUFFOCATING country to live in. I don’t feel free in this country where known rapists are acquitted without any punishment (the mukhtaran mai case), I don’t feel free because I can’t walk to a shop, or catch a form of public transport without fearing for my life and without suffering harrassment by perverted men, I can’t sit in park alone and appreciate the weather because thats not safe either, I can’t choose to train for any profession I like because there are social proprieties to consider, for example working with addicts is considered unacceptable and strongly discouraged. I can’t say anything I want to say because who knows, i might just get accused of blasphemy/ anti-pakistan sentiments and get a fatwa on my head. I can’t wear jeans or even LOOSE full lenghth skirts with long tops because if you dont wear shalwar kameez you’re thought of as a trashy girl and sometimes even if you do wear shalwar kameez. Aunties are constantly after girls of marriageable age for rishtas telling them “now is the time to get married. if you re any older you wont get a good rishta.”

    If this is freedom, then what in God’s name would you describe as entrapment?
    Pakistanis only accept other robots like the ones theyve created. They hate people who think freely, bother to ask questions, or are unique individuals.Recommend

  • hassan

    Dear Author,

    Don’t ask questions when you know the answers very well. I am sure you know the answers to all the ‘why’s you have raised.

    Since you seem afraid, let me spell it out for you. The society where you have come back after spurning New York considers you to be inferior to a man. The religion which governs all aspects of the lives here says explicitly say that your worth is half that of a man. Men here feel that it is better for you to be safe than to be free and sorry.

    You are a woman. And we can never give you equal treatment. This is how it has been for so many centuries and so far no one has complained about it. Live with it. Recommend

  • Peter

    Little knowledge is a dangerous thing and this blog is a good example. You have not lived long enough in the US to know about this society well enough to make lofty claims. I guess you have not lived outside the NYC to know anything about the real US. Every society has its own sets of issues and the US is no exception. The things that look great to you may not be as good as you think they are. Intruding neighbors, sniveling aunties and backbiting coworkers they are all here and are as good in their respective craft their Pakistani counterparts are. My advice: Just grow up and make friends with some american families to know what the life is all about.Recommend

  • KolachiMom

    I beg to differ. Plenty have complained, most are beaten into submission, or worse killed for doing so. Recommend

  • Leila Rage

    @hassan: Live with it? Live with being inferior to men? You make me laugh—not in merriment, but in shock at the new low achieved by the average Pakistani man. Recommend

  • Jaweria Rehman

    @Leila Rage:

    well rapist can be find out there as well..racism is present in US as well…pakistani who are now living there suffer so many problems,if u have issues regarding wear jeans etc…these are all so petty issues….u need to raise your level of thinking..that would help surely
    NOw in us u can bear a child wihtout marrying this wat u r refering to freedom?..all u guys are mentioning are early marriage, clothes issue,going out issue..common guys i knw there are problems in pakistan but if there are why dnt u help solving it rather than potarying it to the world.Recommend

  • Jaweria Rehman


    that was RuuDEe!! men are to protect their women,….but wat u r doing here is humilating them..Recommend

  • india….

    @Outdated — My husband tells me never to argue with idiots. First, they pull you down to their level and then they beat with you with their experience.
    @Hassan – I shudder to think about the plight of women in your household. Did you fall down on your head as a child ?Recommend

  • Awais Khan

    Add to all this, the intolerance in the society, which has risen at an alarming rate over the years.Recommend

  • hassan

    @Jaweria Rehman:
    @Leila Rage:

    You are willing to criticize or attack me, but you don’t want to talk about the source from where I draw my strength for my arguments……I am amused ! Recommend

  • hussy

    @ hassan – as in ??? kya matlab hai tumhara ?Recommend

  • Leila Rage

    @ hassan: If you’re talking about Islam, get real dude.
    Firstly, didn’t the holy Prophet say that no one is above another except by piety (taqwa)?
    Second, in Islam Eve was created as a separate and equal individual for Adam. How can there be “companionship” if the two are not equal?
    Third if you refer to the verse “and men have a degree (of advantage) over them”, the ‘degree of advantage’ refers to their additional responsibility as the protectors and maintainers of women, not as their “majazi khuda” because that is shirk.
    Also, if you talk about the eyewitness testimony issue, let me elucidate… in those days few women conducted trade (Hazrat Khadija was a rare example) and so in cases where finances and business was involved their testimony was not considered as strong because of their lack of experience in those days when they rarely left their homes. This is not the case today and also looking at it in context we see that in NO WAY does it support male superiority.
    Also look at the Prophet’s words when a man asked him who he should obey first, his mother or his father, and the Prophet (SAW) said “Your mother, your mother, your mother and then your father” (Al-Bukhari, and Muslim)
    I don’t see any support for your dumb argument….Recommend

  • Leila Rage

    @Jaweria: Okay, fine, maybe YOU feel free here, but I don’t. Freedom is relative. Let’s agree to that.
    I never said anything about bearing illegitemate children as a form of freedom. Nor am I suggesting that we emulate the USA in all aspects. I only say that we should learn from the good things they have, and try to finish off the bad in our society, while keeping our essential values. And yes, rapes happen wherever there are men, but my point was merely that in other countries there is the HOPE of justice. For instance if the Mukhtaran mai case had been tried in a court abroad, the rapists would never have been let free. There would have been too much media and social pressure for the courts to do something so stupid.

    Also, you suggest that I should try to improve things rather than complain about them, but that is extremely hard considering our rigid social set up and the bias against women as you must have noticed in hassan’s comments. Recommend

  • Weird

    Earlier on the author states, “It wasn’t the freedom to wear a tank top or mini-skirt in public” but then later, “Why can’t I wear jeans to Liberty Market?” Isn’t this the same right? The freedom to wear what you want?

    Whatever the first paragraph says in terms of “I’m not going to miss XYZ about New York” later contradicts itself by saying that those are the very same things the author misses not being able to do in Lahore. Recommend

  • Abhi

    Good point.Recommend

  • Indi-Pop

    @Outdated – You are a disgrace to Pakistan in particular and men in general

    @India…. – To be honest I m not much aware about situation of women in Pakistan but about my country i can say this much that i live in a small town and girls of my town are fiercely independent. They perform better than boys in school and refuse to get married until they become financially independent. One of the good effects of inflation and economic progress of india has been that families are well aware that a house cannot be run on income of the husband alone hence parents push their girls to become engineers, doctors etc and get a stable job before getting married so that they are not financially dependent on their husband and also command more respect from in laws and society at large. Recommend

  • A.F.K

    Nice article. this is exactly what i think. Here women have too many a shackle glued to their existence but anywhere else in the world its kind of different. We Pakistanis should now break out of the typicality of our own minds and need to collectively get matured mentally to make our lives better,simpler and prove our mettle not only to the world but to ourselves. Everyone is entitled to have an opinion. Everyone is equally rightful to make their own choices as individuals not under any pressure or circumstances. Its time that we start thinking broadly about every aspect of life. Its time to be free of every negative thought and move forward as a nation.Recommend

  • csmann

    i thought hassan was satirizing the male chauvenism;well,maybe not

    and why do you bother with home-locked, soap-opera -watching ladies wjho know all about india and usa becuase they get some kind of ‘wahy’.i live in usa and there is an apprecaible number of pakistani in my city and city next to it.Pakistani men are walking their in their preferred kurta pazama without anybody bothering to look at them;usa might have its probelsm but nobody goes hunting like pakistanis do after ahmadis. even beasts are treated better elsewhere than those poor souls .And any ill in pakistan is either raw or cia,although it is usa who gives them the maximum aid.
    sorry,i had to be so blunt, but when lies are put forward and haughtily so,it behoves to answer in kind..
    nice write manal ji;speaking the truth and writing truthfully your herart-felt experiece is ok with most peopleRecommend

  • Kuzan


    “You are a woman. And we can never
    give you equal treatment”

    It makes me feel ashamed that such intolerant fools exist within our society and will let such behavior and thinking prevail when it comes to their daughters, wives, and sisters.

    Who made you the authority to decide whether women can be treated equally or not?

    Please, if you were raised with such disgusting point of views, keep them to yourself. It is people like you who deserve to be treated exactly how they want to treat others.

    Manal, thank you for writing something so beautiful that a Modern Pakistani can associate with. Recommend

  • Kuzan


    > “You are a woman. And we can never
    > give you equal treatment”

    It makes me feel ashamed that such intolerant fools exist within our society and will let such behavior and thinking prevail when it comes to their daughters, wives, and sisters.

    Who made you the authority to decide whether women can be treated equally or not?

    Please, if you were raised with such disgusting point of views, keep them to yourself. It is people like you who deserve to be treated exactly how they want to treat others.

    Manal, thank you for writing something so beautiful that a Modern Pakistani can associate with.Recommend

  • Yasir Ali

    Friggin New-Age Hippy Feminists!

    Witches i tell ye, witches!

    on a side note…

    an honest piece. Quiet refreshing to see that your feet are still grounded :) Keep doin what yer doin!Recommend

  • Roohi

    Such a good read, as if you hve poured out my feelings on this blank sheet. Wondrous job done. Bravo!!Recommend

  • Outdated

    @India..u shud listen to ur husband and refrain from giving ur ridiculous comments on any blogRecommend

  • csmann

    proof is in the pudding;let the women speak for themselvesRecommend

  • sara

    So I would like to say, that being anonymous for some of us is a precious thing. Being raised in a society where everyone knows your family, and being raised with values that are not your own can later haunt you. For families like ours we never questioned why we were, simply because we didn’t know who we were. How will you know where you’re headed when you don’t know where you are now?
    On the flip side the false sense of security in our homes as a result of an over protected existence shattered me when I moved to London. For me I wondered how on earth am I expected to carry a bag of groceries and get on a bus. Why do I have to scrub the toilets and why is there no domestic help even when people can well afford it. The answer came later , its a way of life. That, in Lahore is a way of life, women don’t hop into a rickshaw !
    Today thirteen years and two kids later I’ve discarded notions that don’t serve me anymore, I have my own notebook of rules, the most important person that I must listen to is ME. I now am an identity for myself. That is what I call freedom, to know who you are. Whether I’m a housewife confined to a kitchen or a freedom fighter, its what I’ve chosen to be. Not what is expected of me.
    Most women in our country are someone elses reflection, and sadly they have no idea who they are. I agree because there is no Freedom to just be!Recommend

  • Prometheus

    Hassan where do you get your arguments from? Islam? Unfortunately not everyone shares in the same faith as yours. You cannot validate your ideas by something so subjective as religious morality which favours men and creates an unequal and mentally demented society. Recommend