The not-so-desperate housewives

Published: November 18, 2011

These women contribute more to society than lawn-buying housewives! PHOTO: REUTERS

Steve Jobs is dead. There was a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States. Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier, will be released against the freedom of over a thousand Palestinians. There are a huge bunch of protesters that have occupied Wall Street. The Yemeni president is back. 28 people are dead in Baghdad. Thismakes the total Iraq body count well over ten thousand in less than ten years. And somewhere in Pennsylvania, a paralyzed man high-fived just using his thoughts.

None of these possibly world-changing events matter to the average Pakistani housewife.

Call it what you may, but most Pakistani women are struggling to find their identities in a world that confuses them more than ever. Here’s a fact that proves it: a report records that female labor force participation rate is 45% in rural areas and 17% in urban areas. That means that what all Pakistani wives do, once they get educated to  become doctors and engineers, is pretty much squat.

Parents push women to work harder in school and become model students. However, once they do end up being good students they step into the rishta age where they realize that they got that MBBS degree so that Mrs X could find them worthy of her son.

On the rural front, housewives aren’t simply just baby-making machines. They’re programmed to do a whole lot more, from a very young age. It’s a cultural trend and a documented fact that women contribute to almost half of the agricultural work done in rural areas.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Not unlike Butterfly, a hilarious character created by Moni Mohsin, most Pakistani housewives are obsessed with designer lawn, what Shaista Wahidi is wearing on her morning show, attending committee parties, endless socializing, finding good nannies and maids for their children, complaining about how inflation has increased and how impossible it is to find good stilettos around Eid time.

The mind boggles at the amount of brainlessness found in these educated, refined, well-bred women who went to good schools and ended up with more philosophy than practicality. Looking at the values these women have, the respect for the sunburnt woman working in the fields with a baby on her hip grows by leaps and bounds.

Sure they’ll pick up a hobby or a part-time job that helps them kill the hours and gives them a productive chance to show off how cleverly they put together their latest designer shirts and shoes. There’s little dedication or thought paid to how they can actually, positively and wholesomely contribute to the country (apart from writing vicious blogs such as these).

Something also needs to be said about the Islamization or the ‘women-must-not-work’ mantra. One can find similar educated, refined, well-bred men who don’t want their wives to work half out of fear of what it will do to their pockets (work-clothes wardrobes can’t come cheap) and half out of adhering to the stereotype of bringing home the bacon.

This in no way means that bringing up children and taking care of the house is an ordinary job. It’s a full time job all in its own, however, thanks to the wonderful support groups Pakistan offers to women, a lot of women find time to while away the hours watching Star Plus and the Sahir Lodhi show religiously instead of doing something far, far more meaningful. Thanks to the nannies, maids and all the other friends and family who help us out with our children, we can easily spare an hour or so to do something for Pakistan and its people. Surely we can, with high-sounding degrees tucked under a belt, contribute at least as much as that hard-working woman who’s picking corn and wheat and rice, come rain, come shine?

There needs to be a conscious change in our people. If we actually want the common man to improve the country and pick it up from its bootstraps, let’s all be assured that Zulfiqar Mirza and Shaista Wahidi aren’t the one’s who will enable this. Change needs to start from amongst us.

We keep asking the question:

“What can we do?”

Here is the answer. We can stop thinking that we have to topple the government to bring about a change in the growing dilapidation of the state of affairs. Housewives wouldn’t go out on street anyway; it would totally ruin their Fair and Lovely induced complexions. So isn’t it much more convenient, fellow women, to actually use the degree you spent years slaving over? And instead of the obvious use of the degree of snagging a husband, isn’t it infinitely better to start working for an NGO? Why not to use that masters degree in public health, or volunteer at that free clinic, or help a school by using your engineering degree and teaching students some maths? For free, preferably?

Charity begins at home and change can stir from a single person.

How about you choose to spend some time helping the people of your country instead of stuffing your face with cucumber sandwiches at Sind Club. Just imagine what a change can erupt if the numbers of women in the work force were to rise dramatically over the next ten years. Yes, it won’t stop the corrupt practices of politicians, but what if the time you take out can enable a running income for a beggar who has been taught how to repair an AC? Yes, we won’t strike oil in Pakistan but what if that one hour you spend every day Facebook-stalking random people is spent teaching a poor child what Facebook is?

What if we could do our part and not be a dead statistic any more?


Mahwash Badar

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

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

  • LPJ

    I agree with you completely, but the blog gives off a really condescending, holier-than-thou vibe. Also, lacks a little depth in thinking. No offence. Recommend

  • Vigilant

    Good motivation to housewives who had time to engage themselves into some productive activities… benefit that will be less domestic politics & will bring peace of mind to many of their husbands …. :)Recommend

  • Tahir

    The highest number of recommendations on one of the comments say it all!Recommend

  • Raja Islam

    Pakistani women living in the west are even worse. Unlike western women, not only do Pakistani women not do jobs, but also shy away from housework and consider it demeaning and below their dignity to be seen with a mop or a broom.Recommend

  • amna ajam

    I agree with the above article.
    I did my MBBS from DOW. More than half of the girls in my class in first year were girls. As we progressed to second and then third year the ratio of the girls kept going down as they got married. Mind you, the govt had already spend thousands on these seats which were wasted and not to mentions that those boys who did not get admission due to the seats taken by the girls were probably the future sole supporters of their families. It is extremely sad. Even here in USA pakistani women are obsessed with clothes.Don’t get me wrong, i love good clothes but to the extend we see….. And i am talking about college educated women. I wonder why? If anyone could tell me. Recommend

  • Bee

    Interesting read and agree to a lot of things you have to say, Mahwash. Being a female I should absolutely hate the comments suggesting women as ‘free loaders’ but shamefully I think that is absolutely correct. I call them freeloader if they have degrees, have maids and servants to raise their kids while they socialise away and spend their husbands hard earned money on Louis Vitton bags, Rolex watches and diamond rings. Lets come to think of it from a broader view point. I think the concept that brothers, fathers and husbands should bear expenses of their sisters/mothers/wives is instilled by mothers who wish and hope they produce sons so they can look after them when they grow older. So when they eventually have boys they ‘retire’ hoping one day the boy will look after them. They teach the same values to their daughters who think it’s their right to have their needs met without doing anything. When that daughter grows up, gets married she expects the same from her husband and teaches the same to her offsrpings. Hence a vicious cycle never breaks. For those who think they are doing a favour to their kids by being with them 24/7 are so sadly wrong. They are actually bringing up children who are not confident and do not know how to get out there and make friends. I must say I was raised like that and it didnt do me a favour. I am a new mother, living overseas. I have a degree and worked in a senior position just before I had my baby 10 months ago. I am back at work now while my child is having fun at child care. My heart is at peace that this is the best thing I have done for her as the joy I see on her face when I leave her with her care givers for 3 days a week is satisfying. Lastly, I think the author did not talk about buying ‘lawn’ in a literal way. She is talking about the bigger picture which some of you are clearly not getting. There are so many things women can do even as stay home mums to make a difference. Use the internet for positive reasons e.g. running online businesses. You have the world at your fingertips and boy, that is powerful!Recommend

  • maq

    @everyone – pardon my ignorance,BUT WHAT IS LAWN ? i am not a paki so i dont know.Recommend

  • Amir

    An excellent pointer; heartening to see that some small fraction of our “educated” women do think……and think critically!Recommend

  • AK

    A bunch of holier than thou drivel. Say what you want about Tribune, at least they’re consistently (bad).Recommend

  • Kashif Khan

    Love it…where do you find women who can think about things other than clothes, shoes, khawateen digest and Star Plus!!!Recommend

  • Vigilant

    Previously though i was appreciating your Article but i found these offensive words
    “On the rural front, housewives aren’t simply just baby-making machines. They’re programmed to do a whole lot more, from a very young age. It’s a cultural trend and a documented fact that women contribute to almost half of the agricultural work done in rural areas”
    if ET does not have rural audience it should mean that we can to use these words like BABY MAKING MACHINES or PROGRAMMED for rural women…….in this sense every women is baby making machine though with varying productivity depending on circumstances & we all are programmed to do something from very small age depending on the choices we have… u were programmed to write such an intellectual article….they are also taught to help their male counterparts in agricultural work…..this is their cultural and many of them are happy with it Recommend


    What an excellent read. Finally the tribune publishes something worthwhile. It boggles my mind that we expect our society to progress when up to 40-50% of our population doesn’t contribute to the “formal” economy. One of the first stepping stones for any country to transition towards a developing economy is inclusion of women in the work force. Look around you. India. China. Brasil. Turkey. They have been reaping the benefits of their women holding jobs and contributing to overall national development for years now. Granted, some of the exclusion women face in Pakistan is because of gender stereotypes and cultural norms. But too often, I see many women who are educated and just become complacent with their lifestyles, and consider “running a household” with maids and drivers a “full time job”.

    It kills me to know that so many bachelors and masters degrees are awarded to women who have no intent to put it to any good use. Not saying we need to shatter the glass ceiling, but if women don’t take a stand for themselves, I don’t see how we can remedy the problems of gender inequalities, economic dependency, under representation in decision making roles, social exclusion, oppression, etc. Do yourselves a favour and be a part of the change. Recommend

  • RH

    My 2 cents:
    1. Islam is misunderstood at all fronts in Pakistan…misused here in the article as well.

    Urban Pak. women are too accustomed to being pampered….majority would not want to change their situation. FB has added to their public display of diva lifestyles and they are proud to showcase that.
    Pak. women all around the world have the same lifestyle..if they were brought up in a village they are the abused ones and if the urban city dwellers….they abuse the poor family(Kids &husbands) with their Diva lifestyles and negligent parenting….trust me…I’ve lived in and outside of Pakistan amongst all kinds of Pak. women…even the NGO lead kinds who have other motives than to help out!
    I say this cause I often get mistaken for a Pakistani but as a professional, Mother and a community leader..I often get asked even by fellow Pakistanis…”wow it is rare to see a Pakistani Hijabi mother lead non-profit community boardrooms and work for a Fortune100 company “…..I smile and let them leave with a good impression….why tell them I am married to a Pakistani guy but come from the padosi hindustani mulk and kill their hopes ;)

  • M

    jeez no need to get so touchy about religion woman, it is simply someone’s opinion. Grow up. Thanks.@Amna: Recommend

  • M

    Which is why its on a blog and not a scholarly journal. @LPJ: Recommend

  • bani

    Amna your religion is subject to many interpretations. Learn to look at the big picture and not get so sensitive, for heaven’s sake. @Amna: Recommend

  • Sarah Dean-Richards

    There is nothing wrong with your husband paying for clothes and shelter. There is also nothing wrong with the woman running the home but she can also giving some of her time for the benefit of the community and that is the point of this article. Some of you need to stop bashing Pakistani women and trying to jump on the bandwagon to get her to work (for her own keep). No! You are responsible as the MAN for her. Even if she earnt it is her money to do as she wishes. You should all be jumping on the bandwagon for all people to give some time and energy towards the community. Recommend

  • Foize Nasim

    Couldn’t agree more Mahwash! I, too, am baffled by the shallowness of character of our urban females who have just one slogan to chant, “Marriage”, which for them is an end in itself rather than a means to an end. High time we quit taking life for granted and do our bit in helping Pakistan get up on her feet!

    Hats off to you!Recommend

  • Dr.jobless

    Ms. Badar, time and again you have mentioned how religion isn’t your thing. So let’s not go there.
    Going to med school to rope in a good guy. Really?
    And if charity begins at home, tell us what YOU are doing to help matters.
    You yourself mentioned your sana and safinaz outfit being ruined by rain the other day in a blog of yours. So much for OTHER women fretting over designer jodas, no?

    Dear ma’am, is someone holding a gun to your temple and making you write?
    Because this isn’t making sense at all.Recommend

  • Faiza

    Great article!Recommend

  • Another fly on the wall

    The only thing wrong with sitting at home watching TV shows and buying lawn and spending horrendous amounts of money on other luxuries is the poor kids starving on the streets.
    I understand the author’s point but I think the condescending tone put off a lot of people. This isn’t about women not wanting to work, if given a chance to do something they like, most women will probably work. Similarly there’s nothing wrong with spending the husband’s money. Afterall, he is to provide for her needs and indulge in her wants.
    Also, there aren’t too many jobs out there that a “well-bred” women would opt to do considering the small mindedness of our society. I think many of them don’t just because they would be so out of place trying to work in a factory or something because they are “well-bred.” Given the current situation of the economy as well, it is hard to get a job even as a teacher or at an NGO. I know many women who wish to work but don’t have many options that are open. As for teaching poor kids – that’s a valuable suggestion. Just keep in mind the mullahs of the community would be after the woman who would be teaching those poor kids and introducing western culture into their life.
    Pakistan may be ready for a change, but it appears that a well-bred woman doing something for the country will be met with a lot of condescension from the men. There has to be a change in the overall attitudes towards working women before making hasty conclusions about stay at home moms.
    Overall, this piece was too judgmental for my taste. Recommend

  • Afreina

    Finally something good from ET.

    Wonderfully written and the point was well-driven.

    We have such a lack of progressive women in Pakistan. However, it isn’t only the women to blame. Many men feel insecure with independent women and realizing that they are perfectly capable of handling situations without needing their (male) support. Sadly, having marriage as the ultimate life goal, most women simply realize playing dumb and dependent is the only key.

    The society at large plays a huge role in killing aspirations in women. They are seen as bold, outgoing, too independent and god-knows-what-not … as if realizing ones potential is a bad thing!

    Don’t blame the lawn buying, glitter slippered lot for being who they are. Blame them for not teaching their girls and boys any better. That is where the fault lies.Recommend

  • mrssyeda

    well said and written! spot on. as a non-pakistani married in pakistan – this is exactly what think – women in pakistan are not represed by islam or men – but by women themselves!Recommend

  • Nobody

    @Raja Islam:

    I’m a young Pakistani woman, born and raised in the US. I’ve grown up around many Pakistani women, and I think it’s quite unfair for you to generalize and throw all Pakistani women residing in the west into one group …. don’t know what kind of Pakistani women YOU’RE talking about but most of the ones I know here are well-educated, independent and hard working women/girls. Recommend

  • Ijaz Mahmood MD

    Good blog.
    I don’t know about other professions but I have concern about women medical graduates.these professionally trained skillful ladies take highly competitive spots In med schools. Nation invests hundreds of thousands dollars on their education and gains nothing in return. These women have no excuse of sitting behind and not contribute to nation’s development. They can contribute many many ways. For years, I thought it was unreasonable to limits women seats in medical schools but now I see the logic.Recommend

  • KN

    This is one of the most refreshing and on-the-point articles I’ve read in a while. We seem to think that speaking English, driving cars and wearing fancy clothers is the epitome of ‘englightenment.” Strength lies in our ability to CHANGE the world, not buy into it.Recommend

  • Omair Shahid

    yes they can start at there home by teaching there maid it’s not must to work for a NGO but i do agree with amna that women not working is not “Islamization”.Recommend

  • Saima

    I agree with some of the comments earlier…about the social barriers bla ba…the HUGE difficulties that being a house-wife can be…here is the thing….by being productive a woman will not only be doing good to the economy but a favour to herself too. Beauty does not last, neither does money and guess what children grow up and they don’t need you as much…but here is something which will be with you for a long time…your brain and experience. So try to keep making good use for it because all the others will not keep you company forever.Recommend

  • Me

    I’d like to take the opportunity to touch on a few things, not necessarily directly connected to the subject of this blog, but valid issues which are connected to why many women don’t work, or quit work despite qualifications.
    All very easy to criticise women for morphing into good for nothings. Let me tell you that I, as a woman who works 60 to sometimes 70 hours a week, and with a business partner who is also a woman with young kids, find that it is ten times as tough for us women to work and give home and children a solid upbringing and attention. Dada, dadi, nana, nani play a significant role in helping manage the bachas, but not everyone is so lucky. Nothing like one parent staying at home, in a male dominant society that naturally ends up being the mother.
    Sometimes i’d much rather be the stay at home lawn buying aunty and not feel apologetic for doing nothing. Its true that more women need to work to improve the economy, but not necessarily as doctors or engineers -though that would be nice- more feasibly, they can be brought into play if given more family friendly structures, an example is home-based businesses which do work well for many women, whereby they are able to manage both work and family.. This does not mean that all women should work out of home, it is Just an example of opportunities with a family friendly structure with which it is more possible to involve women such, that parenting too can continue without either the worry of the woman or her family. The government needs to come up with schemes and incentives to encourage such participation much like so many NGO’s do by taking work to women in their homes, as do many middlemen (who subsequently pocket most profits), this needs some regulation.
    In light of the reservations that cause most women not to work, and in some cases cause their families not to allow them to work there need to be incentives, support and protection. Examples would be: All female transport facilities, lower taxes, option for part-time employment, and better facilitation in general. This would bring in a lot of women who are unable to put in full days and so on. It would definitely be a start.
    To move to a slightly less direct topic that does affect the working woman’s life. Private schools too need to be regulated, they are taking a growingly unfair amount of advantage of parent participation. Their list of demands for participation covers duties that the school itself should be providing, and it is unfair to outsource this to the parents themselves, seeing their high fee structures and the significant involvement of parents in the children’s home lives, this in fact should be banned. You send your child to school to get an education. Stick to the traditional parent-teacher meetings, keep the parents informed via email and SMS but dont involve or introduce participation in areas meant to be addressed by the school itself. There needs to be a strict ban on this, in fact. Library duty should be done by a librarian, and Sundays should not be taken over by class outings. Sundays are family days and parents and children are incresingly being forced to forgo actvities with extended family for an increasing number of activities with the school. All class outings should be during the school week, and shoubeanie include the parents.
    The competition that results amongst parents, who are either paranoid that the next child will not be accepted during admission procedures, or are just trying to keep up with the rest, causes disruption in the lives of working parents on a regular basis. Nobody wants to be labelled an uninterested parent, so few are raising a furore over this as yet, but administration of schools need their ethics and practices questioned. Recommend

  • Umair Waheed Sheikh, Khayban e Hafiz,Karachi

    Well i will be guilty of this as well. When I get married in December my Mother has asked my fiance not to work and I am a Mama’s boy.Recommend

  • The_False_Prophet

    Mahwash Badar… I only have three words for you. “I love you.” Brilliant article. Jesus, the complacency and lack of allure in older Pakistani women remind me that I can never find a spouse within my own race.Recommend

  • glassgoose

    This is a truly good blog entry. The phenomenon is not really unique to Pakistan, though. If you look around in the world, it is happening in other countries, also. And historically it happened in the West, also. It is a general stage in the development of the middle classes. Europe and America went through this stage ib the first half of the 20th century: The next step there was the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 60s and, as a result, the opening up of the workplace for women. Because it is not that easy to say, hey, let’s go and earn some higher degrees and go out to work. The workplace, as well as Pakistani society, is not exactly ready to accept the free working woman in large numbers just yet. This is not to say, though, to not try. The time is ripe for a Pakistani Women’s Lib. :o)
    But the most important task right now is for you ladies to make sure that you bring up your children, both your girls and boys, so they will be ready to accept and implement these changes themselves. Recommend

  • Ayesha S. K.

    @muhammad farhan aziz:
    I beg to differ with you. First of all, what you call a “mufta offer” is a highly overrated term. You forget who does your laundry, cleans the house and cooks your food, yep, it is that same wife or mother or sister that you think is freeloading off you. The wife does all that AND bears your children, raises them to be decent human beings and makes sure they are on time for school, with finished homeworks and prepared tests. You won’t get it, like all the male counterparts of our society and think sitting at home is easy. You go to work for 7-8 hours come home and whine that I’m tired, a mother and a wife is not entitled to that luxury. The kids still need food and attention whether she is tired or sick. So even the woman who sits home is doing her share, less, I agree, but a share nonetheless.

    Secondly, you tend to admire the western women for their independence, yet Pakistani males, no matter how successful they might be themselves are wary of “allowing” their highly educated wives to go out and find financial independence. Why? It hurts their ego, of course. Can yo imagine a woman’s frustration who spends her entire academic life struggling and working hard for that dream career, only to find that her parents found a good “rishta” and married her off? Sometimes even halfway through that highly coveted degree that she was actually topping. Then hubby dearest wants a family and wants a “sugghar” housewife to take care of the kids and cook gourmet meals for him. Once her class graduates and gets high paying jobs and brags about the pay and position, that “mufta” housewife (as you very unjustly put it) cries herself to sleep every night wondering how her life might have been if she was allowed to use the degree she worked so hard on.

    Sure, nobody has a problem if the wife teaches somewhere, saves him the tuition fee of the children and earns six, maybe seven thousand a month. That is acceptable as it doesn’t hurt the husband’s ego. But if she finds a highly paying job, earns equal to, or more than the husband, gets invited to international conferences to tell the world what she thinks, he’ll do everything in his power to make her quit. Mental torture, fights, emotional blackmail about how she’s neglecting the kids, anything, ANYTHING to make her inferior to himself again.

    So you see, Pakistani women are not freeloaders, or “mufta khors” they have simply resigned to the fact that the degree is necessary ONLY so that the parents can brag that “humne bety ko doctor/engineer banaya hai” and the husband can boast in front of his friends that he landed an aerospace engineer, and is making her wash the dishes and increase the country’s population rather than building an airplanes and space shuttles as she had dreamed.

    If you want the women to come out and work, it’s the male mentality that you need to change. Make the men digest the fact that it is possible for a woman to be a housewife and yet do their job as well. As THAT is what gets to them! Recommend

  • Ahsan

    This is what i was looking for on this website, You are great at your work of psychology , I mean i hope Men in Pakistan don’t get the wrong message by jumping in their Sofa’s and getting your arguments to justify their stupidity.Recommend

  • khurram hameed

    If a married woman can keep balance between his professional life and marital life.Then surely she should work but i think its nearly impossible.Either profession or marriage suffers from such a routine.Because both housework and profession require time. Role of husband and wife is complementary that’s why its best to leave the tension to earn money for one person and to give best care for your family to other.Once the task of initial care of young kids has been done,then female can utilize her studies for the financial support of her family or for herself. If you need urban females to work,you need to provide them appropriate environment as well,keeping in view that most of them could be married.Recommend

  • khurram hameed

    oops … if a married woman can keep balance between her professional life …Recommend

  • Hassan Tariq

    Gross generalization on the writer’s part. Making statements such as women getting educated to better their chances of marriage, eating cucumber sandwiches at the Sind Club and enjoying luxuries of life that they can afford are baseless and pathetic analogies in this case. Some great work is already being done by educated women in the country and there has been unprecedented contribution from this segment in the last 10 years or so. Having said that, like many other matters of the world, there is always room for improvement. A more well thought out article on how more women are getting educated than ever before and how even more are pursuing good professions would have spread a little more positivity.Recommend

  • mahrukh

    @muhammad farhan aziz:

    wow you really don’t want to spend money on your wife, sisters and mother. that’s nice of you. however, fyi it is your RESPONSIBILITY in deen to support your wife, daughters and if dependent your sisters and mother financially. women have NO economic responsibility whatsoever. also, this article is not for you to take your frustration out because you don’t want to spend money on family.. it’s about women joining an NGO or working voluntarily to help the people of this country. you think raising children is easy? raising a boy to become a happy healthy responsible citizen means saving a family.. a wife from distress and children and providing them with a good environment at home. similarly, raising a girl to become a responsible woman means saving the future of her husband and children who can become good citizens. Recommend

  • mahrukh

    @Sarah Dean-Richards:

    i agree with you! well said! Recommend