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Working Women – They mean business

Published in The News on Sunday:

This girl means business

She is more committed to her career, and willing to step out of the safety net of her parents’ home and city

By Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam

In the bustling metropolis we call Karachi, the following scenario is ever-so common: a young woman, somewhere in her 30s, living alone in one of the umpteen apartment buildings that have mushroomed across the city in the past few decades. This woman may be sharing her apartment with a friend. This woman may be living in a hostel or a portion of a house. She does her own grocery, pays her own bills, works 9 to 7 and still manages to socialise with friends at work. Friends are exceedingly important to her because her family does not live in the city. This woman is one of the breed of ambitious career women of Pakistan who have chosen to move cities for purely work reasons. She is confident, independent and a go-getter. And she means business.

Not just in Karachi but all over Pakistan, an exceeding number of women are joining Pakistan’s labour force. Jone Johnson Lewis writes in Pakistan: Status of Women & the Women’s movement: “Four important challenges confronted women in Pakistan in the early 1990s: increasing practical literacy, gaining access to employment opportunities at all levels in the economy, promoting change in the perception of women’s roles and status, and gaining a public voice both within and outside of the political process.”

Yet, today, somewhere in 2010, work opportunities available to women are much more compared to the 1990s. This in a country where formerly only women of the lower social strata were more actively involved in the economic process and affluent women were basically homemakers. Times are definitely changing. Economic pressures, the desire for better quality of life and inflation make one pay cheque per household a less than ideal proposition. The dissolution of extended families in urban areas has made it all the more imperative for women to join the workforce.

In addition, the woman of today is much better educated and has had much more exposure compared to her counterparts some two decades ago. Hence, she is more committed to her career, and willing to step-out of the safety net of her parents’ home and city. Ironically, in the big bad world of the ‘unsafe’ Pakistan that we live in today, more and more women decide that they can and will live alone away from their hometowns and families if their work demands it. Particularly in the corporate sectors, such moves are very common. And the move is not always to bigger cities. A Lahori female executive may move to Rahimyar Khan where her multinational company has a complete setup, for that is required for her to do in order to step up the corporate ladder. In certain situations, women may even move abroad if a good job opportunity comes up. Dubai, the Far-East and the USA remain popular choices for women who want to respond to their professional calling.

When Sadia Qureshi, poet, writer and anchorperson got an option between Multan and Lahore, she chose to move to Lahore for her career. “I am from the Seraiki belt and saw hurdles for a girl in moving forward in Multan. My elder brother was then posted in Muzaffargarh, 25 kms from Multan and he also thought it would be better if I went to Multan but I wanted to work in a big set-up, in a big city,” says Qureshi with clarity.

“Lahore was not new to me but working here was new. There were many challenges. Initially, I stayed with a cousin in a hospital’s hostel. Soon I moved to APWA hostel where I stayed for four years. At the hostel, I got the most difficult girl as roommate and found aged women quite hostile. I felt quite vulnerable because of living in a hostel. I had extended family in the city but I didn’t want to stay with anyone. It would have been stifling,” says Qureshi, shedding more light on the dilemmas of women staying away from home. She recalls how at the hostel there was a girl from Multan whose parents, who were illiterate, would bring in a match for her every other month, sometimes to the hostel and sometimes to her office. “She was a girl belonging to two different worlds.” Qureshi’s comment is true for numerous Pakistani women, though gaining economic and social independence, still remain inextricably tied to their backgrounds.

Sophia Ahmed, a Chartered Accountant by profession, moved to London for a while to experience living independently. “Moving to live alone locally or abroad is a major challenge for an average Pakistani girl. My experience was no less challenging,” shares Ahmed. “Living a protected life in your parents’ home in no way prepares you for the deluge of responsibilities and recklessness that come when you’re on your own.”

For her, the experience was a combination of pros and cons. “The ‘goods’ include independence and freedom with no shackles. Being answerable to no one but yourself teaches you so much. There is immense learning involved in managing finances, discovering new friends, and coping in a new way in a new place.”

The ‘bads’, in her opinion, are, “missing being with loved ones, especially on Ramazan, Eid and important occasions; missing family get-togethers and chatting with old school pals…”. She asserts living outside the protective cocoon of your family can make you feel lonely and isolated. Yet, she feels it is all “Worth it. Big time. You discover yourself; I found the path that I wanted to be on.”

Living on your own in the Pakistani society has certain taboos involved. People assume a lot about a girl who migrates from her hometown for job reasons. The biggest assumption is that for this girl, her career is more important than her family, and after marriage she will not be able to endure the compromises that are a prerequisite for a stable marriage. Yet, encouragingly, there is a simultaneously growing breed of men who respect and understand their fiancé’s or wife’s ambitiousness and are willing to sometimes shift from their hometown because the wife’s career is demanding her to make that move.

Saima Shareef (not her real name), a media person, moved from Lahore to Karachi for greener pastures. “It was a better career opportunity plus a desire for change that provided impetus for my decision to move. I remember being apprehensive when considering the move, since it was an idea that was new to me, and no one in my immediate circle of family or friends had ever made such a move.” But her experience proved to be “wonderful, and all positive — except for one thing — finding accommodation that suited my needs, being safe without being very expensive. That is something that I think is a concern for all single women who move to another city and plan to live on their own.”

As a parent, Shareef’s supportive mother says, “It wasn’t a difficult decision to let her move. I felt the career opportunity plus the move would be a good change for her.”

Living on one’s own has definite advantages. You are taken more seriously by your bosses for one, and the senior management respects a girl who takes her career seriously. On a lighter note, you have more uninterrupted “me-time”, you have solo control of the tv remote and your routine revolves around you. You can keep your home as you like, make friends of your choice, read till late hours of the morning and stay in bed all Sunday. It can be an enriching experience in which you learn to handle things yourself. The flip side of the coin, however, is that you are in a danger of becoming an isolationist permanently. You may become so used to independent living that once you move back with your parents, you don’t know how to adjust in combined family living. When you are unwell and down in the dumps, nostalgia about moments spent with your family can kill you.

Yet, once in your life, if you get a chance, moving a city and living alone to pursue your career is a chance one should take. You grow as a person, and your career could grow with leaps and bounds as well.

About FarahnazZahidi

Journalist, writer, Communications practitioner, teacher, media trainer | Literature | Gender Parity | Peace | Islam | Very Desi | Chaai, not coffee.

3 responses »

  1. Tarannum Zahidi Ahmed

    The challenges that a working woman faces in balancing both fronts viz. family and work is what I admire the most. Hats off to all such enterprising women. 🙂

  2. I think it’s very important that all women spend some part of their lives living alone and working. It makes you much stronger, mentally. Otherwise we end up going from my parents’ homes to our husband’s. One must know what its like to be on your own.

  3. Useful tips. I realized the significant nature of hostels. Termed is useful for future development. Facilities are main conjugation for peoples. Concentrating on this we will attain good feel.


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