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Monthly Archives: December 2015

FEMINISM – What the F word meant for Pakistan in 2015

Published: December 30, 2015


She. She has worked for one of the world’s leading Formula 1 team. She is a fighter pilot. She is UN’s goodwill ambassador to advance gender equality. She’s changing the contours of this country. And she is not a man.

In recent years, Pakistan has seen a lot of “firsts” owing to women. At the tail end of 2015, Rahila Hameed Durrani was elected as the first-ever female speaker of the Balochistan Assembly. Muniba Mazari was named Pakistan’s first female goodwill ambassador to advance gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls by UN Women. Iron-fisted Ayesha Mumtaz gave owners of sub-standard eateries in Punjab sleepless nights as Director of Operations at Punjab Food Authority, and rose to fame thanks to her unrelenting firmness during raids. And fighter pilot Mariam Mukhtar added the name of a woman in the list of Pakistan Air Force fighter pilots to die in the line of duty. The year has been particularly significant in bridging some of the gender disparity that the country battles day in, day out.

Female co-pilot dies as training jet crashes in Mianwali

Mariam Mukhtar. PHOTO: FILE

“Women and girls in Pakistan are taking many strides to reclaim public spaces and challenging the concept of women belonging inside ‘safe spaces’, spaces largely identified by a male dominated society,” says lawyer and gender activist Maliha Zia Lari, adding that an increasing number of girls and women are taking up jobs and activities previously considered to be male domains. “This is extremely positive.”

Public places, public office

What initially started as a hashtag, #GirlsAtDhabas ended up becoming a jump start to fresh conversation about how women can – and must – frequent all public spaces, including dhabas, police stations, courts and even mosques.

#GirlsAtDhabas aims to make dhabas run by women a reality


“The year 2015 ends on a high note as women’s leadership role is getting increased recognition. In traditional milieus such as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Balochistan, women are leading the provincial legislatures,” says columnist and activist Raza Rumi, and particularly mentions how Rahila Durrani also happens to be a well-known civil society activist. “She brings with her years of experience as a women rights defender.”

The social ripples are many, but there is little simultaneous effort at the state level, and there is too low a number of senior female politicians, female politicians in important decision-making positions, female CEOs and judges. In a recent write-up, former vice chancellor of the Lahore University of Management Sciences (Lums) Adil Najam suggested that after 137 male justices of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the time is ripe to appoint a woman. But top positions in all spheres, for the most part, continue to be ruled by men.

Lari mentions how the recent local government elections once again evidenced agreements whereby women were disenfranchised from voting. “It is a paradoxical situation where social change is happening, but it has not yet been translated into an institutional actual policy at the state level.”

She says there is little discourse in what feminism actually is, even within the women’s movement and women’s NGOs. “Few, if any, would recognise the iconic names of the feminist movement such as Judith Butler or Simone de Beauvoir, or even Pakistani feminist icons such as Tahira Mazhar Ali, Nighat Saeed Khan, Nigar Ahmed, Shahla Zia or Farida Shaheed,” says Lari. She adds that it is a pity that we do not institutionally focus enough on the ideology and choose to focus more on finishing projects.

On a more upbeat note, Rumi observes that within the dynastic framework, another woman leader – Maryam Nawaz – is emerging within the PML-N, which has been known for its conservatism.

Maryam Nawaz. PHOTO: FILE

With a narrative building around feminism being taken seriously, Pakistan has a rising number of men who identify as male feminists, like Anthony Permal, a marketer by profession. “Male feminism, to me, is about standing alongside women in their daily existence, not ahead or behind and certainly not ‘for’. Women, like men, are their own masters.”

Yet, Permal recognises that leave alone male feminists, even women in Pakistan sometimes have a knee-jerk reaction to the term, seeing it as a borrowed Western concept. “Our deeply patriarchal society has so pressed misogyny into the bare bones of the populace that even many women are anti-feminist, allowing their religio-cultural dogmas to supersede the support of their own gender,” says Permal.


Fortunately, women like Suniya Sadullah are blazing the trail for others. In Suniya’s family, the only professions considered respectable were becoming doctors or teachers. But she had other ideas when, at the age of 12, she watched her first ever motor race on TV. Her aim in life there onwards became to be a part of a Formula 1 team. She has succeeded in pushing the boundaries of the norms of a traditional Pathan family and realised her dream: this motorsport engineer is the first female Pakistani to have worked for the Williams Formula 1 team. “I’ve had an unconventional career route for a girl from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa,” she tells The Express Tribune.

Suniya Sadullah. PHOTO: twitter/ Suniya Sadullah Khan

Suniya shares how her support has been the men in her life but her role models have been women. Her mother wanted to put her in a co-education school, a decision her father supported. “I was one of the first girls in my family to study in such a school,” says Suniya. After working with Williams for some three years, she is presently pursuing a PhD in Aerospace in Pakistan. “My husband has been extremely supportive. We actually had a long distance marriage for about eight months while I decided whether to continue working in Formula 1 or pursue my next goal, which was a PhD.”

According to Rumi, the real change taking place in Pakistan is within the higher education sector. “Nearly half of public sector universities comprise women [in the] student body. Their entrance into such places happens due to increased mobility as well as superior performance in academics.”

Globally, too, the importance of bringing men on board for empowerment of women has gained momentum, and though feminism started out as a movement by women for women, men are now seen as part of the synergy. “HeForShe”, a solidarity campaign for gender equality initiated by UN Women, popularised the thought further.

End violence against women: ‘We all stand to gain from empowering women’


HeForShe started a campaign with the goal of engaging one million men and boys by July 2015. They may have failed to meet the goal, but supportive men are not as rare as they once were.

Love in War – The love story of a Syrian refugee

Published: December 20, 2015

Tracey and Ahmed are waiting to begin a new life in Sweden once Ahmed gets legal residency in the country. PHOTOSCOURTESY: TRACEY SHELTON

Tracey and Ahmed are waiting to begin a new life in Sweden once Ahmed gets legal residency in the country. PHOTOSCOURTESY: TRACEY SHELTON

He is thousands of miles away from his home in Aleppo, Syria, in a refugee camp in Bastad, Sweden. The Nordic winter is bitterly harsh here in December. The journey as a refugee has been long and winding. “We travelled mostly on foot; it was dangerous,” says Ahmad Al Haj, one of the more than four million Syrian refugees who have had to leave home in quest of safety. But Ahmad says it was all worth it in the end, as in the midst of war and displacement he found the love of his life.

For Tracey Shelton, now Ahmad’s wife, the wait for her husband to get legal residency in Sweden is not easy. “It has been really tough being forced to stay apart for so long, but hopefully it will be coming to an end soon. His asylum has been approved; we are now undergoing what seems like an endless wait for them to issue his papers,” says the Australian journalist and photographer who has spent years covering conflict in volatile regions, including Iraq, Libya, Syria and Lebanon. She is presently living in Istanbul, Turkey, in what she calls a “limbo”, waiting to move to Sweden to start a new life with Ahmad.

Families grieving outside a hospital in Aleppo province after identifying the bodies of their loved ones following a government airstrike that killed civilians.

Images of those affected by the Syria crisis and painful headlines about the spillover effects of it tell much about the situation on ground, but millions of stories behind the images and headlines remain untold. Ahmad and Tracey’s love story is one of them.“Her work and her understanding of the situation in my region,” is one of the things Ahmad mentions when asked what drew him to her. By reporting on conflict and internal displacement, mostly within the Middle East, an affinity with Ahmad came naturally to Tracey. “After six years of working largely on frontlines and with Arab families, it’s hard for me to fit back into life in a Western country,” says Tracey.

The couple met socially when Tracey was living in Syria. “We met through a mutual friend. Ahmad and I got along really well from the beginning and became close friends. Things developed from there,” explains Tracey, adding that one of the reasons Ahmad took the trip to Europe was so that they could establish a life together.

Getting married was another obstacle for the two of them. Here were two people wanting to start a life together, and the proverbial man-made laws restricting them from doing so. “In Turkey it is illegal for a Sheikh (Muslim clergyman) to perform a nikaah (religious marriage) without a legal marriage so we couldn’t find anyone to do it there,” says Tracey. “Although in Islam, marriage between a Christian woman and a Muslim man is permitted, the Sheikhs did not want to accept the responsibility. We eventually found someone (to perform the nikaah) in Sweden, but we are still waiting for our marriage to be registered.” After trying for six months, the couple got married in June this year.

Protest against the Syrian government during a rally in Syria.

The couple has been living apart since Ahmad left Turkey for Europe earlier this year; they only get to meet sporadically when Tracey visits him. “Since he’s been in the camp, it’s harder for me to visit.”

While Ahmad has dreams of a secure future with Tracey, the ordeal has been traumatic. “Life was normal in Syria before the revolution. I never thought I’d be a refugee one day. I was still studying at the time and thought I’d go on to develop my career in IT,” reminisces Ahmad, son of a civil engineer and businessman and the eldest among three brothers and a sister. “The fighting in our area turned intense. It became hopeless to stay there. It was difficult to even get food and medicine. Our entire family left Syria together,” he recalls.

The Al Haj family, today, is spread all over, and none of them have yet acquired asylum anywhere. Ahmad’s father returned to Syria to try to sell some of his property, while his mother, brothers and sister are in Southern Turkey. “The displacement affected us in every way possible. I don’t have any legal status anywhere. On paper, technically, I didn’t exist. You have no rights, no identity, no work, and no way to study again,” says Ahmad, who now spends most of his time in the camp fixing everyone’s phones and laptops.

A boy holds up a piece of shrapnel during a protest in the town of Kureen in Syria.

Despite the situational difficulties and a mostly long distance relationship, the two of them lighten up when asked about each other. “He is intelligent, funny, cool, sweet and charming. He cares about me and looks after me in a way I never dreamt of. He is also excellent with languages. He speaks three languages expertly,” says Tracey. Ahmad’s easygoing charm worked on her, as he was easy to talk to, she shares. “He has a lot of knowledge and a deep understanding of things. I love talking with him and listening to his ideas.” For Ahmad, what attracted him to her was “how she treats people. Her personality. And her beautiful eyes”.Tracey recalls when she met him twice en route to Greece and Serbia. “The soles of his feet were just two huge blisters from walking, just cushions of liquid. I don’t know how he managed to walk on them. But from there they had to keep walking through to Hungary.”

According to Sweden’s migration agency Migrationsverket, the applications for asylum received by Sweden in January 2015 were 4,896. By November 2015, the number rose to 36,741, and more than 25,000 of these are males. So far this year, more than 120,000 people have applied for asylum in Sweden.

While the future looks bleak for Syrian refugees, they have certain advantages, according to Tania Karas, an Athens-based journalist covering migration and refugee issues. “Syrians in particular tend to be middle-class, educated and technologically literate,” she says, adding that while this may be a slight generalisation, it does mean that Syrians, more than other refugees, have an easier time navigating their journeys and assimilating into European society. “Another advantage is that Syrians are considered ‘prima facie’ refugees because there’s an active war going on in their country so they are highly likely to be granted refugee status,” says Karas, who has been actively working with Syrian refugees in the Greek island of Lesbos. More than half of the refugees and migrants who have reached Greece this year have landed at Lesbos. Some 3,460 lives have been lost crossing the Mediterranean, reveals data provided by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

The number of Syrians arriving in Europe seeking international protection continues to increase. However, according to the UNHCR, it remains low compared to Syria’s neighbouring countries, with slightly more than 10% of those who have fled the conflict seeking safety in Europe. Sweden which has had a very relaxed system in the past, where refugees could enter the country unobstructed, is now introducing border checks. The laissez-faire might not be feasible for Sweden any more, considering the very real security threats following the attacks in Paris. The situation, thus, seems poised to make life even tougher for the refugees. And a solution seems nowhere in sight.

An earlier photograph of Syrian rebel fighters praying before launching an anti-government attack near Idlib city.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres acknowledges that this is the biggest refugee population from a single conflict in a generation. “It is a population that needs the support of the world but is instead living in dire conditions and sinking deeper into poverty,” Guterres says. According to the UNHCR, Syrians in exile face trials such as living in sub-standard shelters and below the poverty line in countries like Jordan and Lebanon. “Having to leave behind their family and friends and not knowing when they will see them again or whether they will see them alive are the prime difficulties Syrian refugees face,” says Argentina-based correspondent Kamilia Lahrichi. It’s tough for refugees to adapt to a new culture because of cultural barriers, she adds.While Ahmad appreciates European countries opening their gates for the refugees, and acknowledges that they try their best to help refugees and keep them comfortable, he is very clear when asked what he sees as a solution to the Syria crisis. “All of the outside countries — USA, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia — need to back off and let us solve our own problems. Foreign powers have made Syria their playground, trying to prove their strength,” he says. Tracey echoes the sentiment and expresses dismay at what started as a revolution has escalated into a regional proxy war. “Everything in Syria has become so complicated with too many players. I honestly don’t know what the solution is anymore.”

But for Ahmad, “the most difficult thing is being apart from Tracey” at the moment. “Until Ahmad’s final residency decision, everything is up in the air. Once it’s finalised Ahmad can start working here in Sweden and I can join him. We hope to start a family too,” says Tracey. Till then, love must wait.

Farahnaz Zahidi works as a senior subeditor at The Express Tribune. She tweets @FarahnazZahidi

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 20th, 2015.

Friends: The inner circle

I am a heavily-friended person. I have scores of friends, but they are all in different categories. There are those in my extended circle of relatives or colleagues who I bump into on Facebook or at Sunday bazaar or the doctor’s office or a wedding, observe niceties and do as much gup shup as time allows.There are those whom I meet once in months, go out for coffee with, touch base with, laugh till giddy, share many things but not everything, have fun and then disappear again for months.

Then there are those whom I can’t do without. I don’t mind if they see me on a bad hair day in crumpled clothes. It doesn’t bother me if they see my kitchen trash bin full of garbage. They’ll stick by me even if I am cranky and unreasonable. I will call them on unglamourous occasions like when I have to go the doc to get my cast removed after a fracture, and will tell them to make their own tea when they come to my house. I can tell them almost everything. Surprisingly, people in all of three categories, to me, are friends.

In his article “Acquaintances, Friends & Close Friends” (, Paul Kasuda says My differentiation among the people I know falls into three categories. Acquaintances are those with whom I’ve come into contact with from time to time but whose names I either don’t know or don’t remember. Friends are those I’ve known usually for a long time, I like them, enjoy their company and look forward to talking with them about all kinds of things. Close friends are those I’ve come to trust with everything I have. I’d have no trouble lending them our car, giving them our key to the house, or even making decisions (if needed) as to whether I should or should not be resuscitated if I were in a moribund state.”

Does knowing the difference between which friend falls into which category make a difference? Brian Fons, President, Corporate Creations Chicago LLC, says in ‘The Three Circles of Networking’, “Effective networking requires an awareness of how you fit into a conversation, situation, or relationship. For example, when speaking to someone you just met, it may not seem appropriate to ask overly personal questions.

Conversely, if you see someone on a regular basis and know them well, you can skip many of the pleasantries that you normally exchange with someone new.” Fons finds that any network of people tends to form three circles. The outermost circle consists of the people you barely know or are just meeting for the first time. The middle circle of people consists of the people you have seen several times or on a regular basis. The inner circle of your network consists of people who actively try to help you. They can be close friends, family, or business acquaintances who have made an effort to get to know you better. “While you will usually find it easier and more enjoyable to spend time with people in the inner circle,” says Fons, “it is critical that you go out and meet people to keep the outer circle full.” This is where social networking comes in, which is why some of us can have hundreds of people in our Facebook list of “friends”, and at times we end up “de-friending” them because they are not actually in our close inner circle.

Sadaf Farooqi, free lance writer and blogger, has clear criteria about friends. “Real close friends are those who will not talk about me in a negative way nor divulge my secrets to anyone. Friends are those whom I probably know well because of a shared background (college/childhood etc.), but who cannot be completely trusted to confide personal matters to. Acquaintances are everyone else I know and talk to politely or am on good terms with, but do not know well at all. Out of all these, I’d say 1% are close friends, 63% friends and 36% acquaintances.”

Sherezade Khan, a Fashion Editor, says, “Sometimes you need to get away from family and friends and talk to complete strangers…people who don’t know you inside out. This gets you opinions without the feeling that ‘they are out to get you’ or have a hidden agenda. Every now and then, one should evaluate their circle of friends and the people they’ve let into their lives. Why are they there, and are they still as good a friend as they were a month, or a year ago? If not, you may need them more than they need you, and when that balance goes off, the power shifts, and you could end up getting hurt.”

Dr. Sarwat Imran, a dentist, feels that “the difficulty lies in identifying who goes where.” This is why in today’s era of specialisation, we have different friends for different occasions. I might choose a different friend when I am in the mood to reminisce about school or college days and laugh myself silly, but the same friend cannot necessarily be the one who will counsel me regarding a problem I have with my maid. Not every friend will be the one I can confide in about my inner fears, regrets or desires. If I want to cry on someone’s shoulder, I may not choose my ‘bestie’ because may be she’ll start crying with me instead of diverting my attention to me feel better. When I know I have made a faux pas, I know which friend will talk sense into me. For advice regarding handling work politics, my marriage or my teenage daughter….well, I think mostly I have a separate friend for each occasion. Yes, there are those rare few in my list who are for every occasion. Those are the ones that are so hard to find. Those are the ones you should hang on to.

Pakistan’s rat race: The politics of professionals

The race begins quite early. It starts with animated discussions about which school the baby-to-be will go to. One-year-olds are sent to playschools that guarantee admissions in top-of-the-line schools offering O Levels. Before admission tests, tiny tots are taken for regular visits to familiarise them with the schools they will apply for admission to, and photos of that school’s principal are lifted off the internet and repeatedly shown to the toddlers to make sure they are relaxed during the interview.

Fast-forward eight to 10 years. Mothers (and I confess to being one of them) can be seen dropping off kids to O Level exams with zeal and enthusiasm, as if the children are literally going to fight the biggest crusade of their lives. Kids are also encouraged to take part in extracurricular activities – golfing, swimming, drama, knowing an additional language or two – all this not for the joy of it, but because it makes the Curriculum Vitae of these high-achievers more impressive. They are pushed to their limits in the name of competition. All this is a means to an end – and that end is admission into a foreign university.

For years, Pakistanis have wanted their progeny to participate in the mass exodus of brainy, bright, and brilliant youngsters who want to make something of themselves and so go abroad to face life armed with a foreign degree. But a new phenomenon has risen in recent years – the flooding of the Pakistani job market with “returnees to Pakistan,” or R2Ps as they are popularly known.

The reasons why an increasing number of youngsters who have been educated abroad are choosing to return to Pakistan are understandable. Stricter immigration laws are making work visas next to impossible to obtain. Hostility towards Muslims the world over makes living and working abroad a formidable proposition. A global recession means there are fewer jobs in the international market. Many young people also feel that no matter what they achieve abroad, they will still be considered immigrants, whereas in Pakistan they can enjoy a sense of ownership. A ‘paradise for the mediocre,’ as some call Pakistan, is an easier place to shine through and become a mini-celebrity.

More frequent homecomings mean scores of foreign graduates are now working alongside graduates from local universities, may they be from government colleges or more upscale, private institutions such as LUMS. The result? An understated but very real rivalry between foreign and local graduates in the workplace.

Local grads are more ‘with it’ in terms of local know-how and a familiarity with the Pakistani way of doing things. Employers describe such local products as street smart and comment on their well-established social and professional networks. They can often work better with people from different backgrounds and classes. Having lived in Pakistan, they are less naïve and don’t offer the retort that foreign graduates treat like a mantra, “but this is how we do it back there.”

Graduates from foreign universities, on the other hand, have better interpersonal, writing, and presentation skills, and in some cases, a stronger work ethic. Travel has made them world-wise, aware, and confident. They are often ambitious and driven in ways their compatriots are not, and are in a position to put their career above all other social or familial obligations. As a result, they are available to pull long hours, and can be handed responsibility for high-stakes projects.

In some organisations, one group is preferred, promoted, and hob-nobbed with, while in others the reverse will be true. Asha’ar Saeed, the HR director at Reckitt Benckiser Pakistan Limited, feels that, “the edge foreign graduates have is their ability to work with people from diverse backgrounds, and slightly better ethics. Local ones have the advantage of having know-how of local business dynamics. However, in terms of writing skills, presentations skills and networking, anyone can be superior to the other. I have seen some brilliant graduates of Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan, and Bahria University, Karachi, who can compete against the best.”

With these comparisons being made by those who make hiring decisions, the rivalry between local and foreign graduates is a real issue, bringing complications and stresses for youngsters on both sides of the divide. Saadia Muslim, 23, is a strategic planner at an advertising agency who graduated from a Canadian university. She confesses that “the move back home was not exactly smooth-sailing. Even though I grew up and lived in Pakistan for most of my life, it is quite easy to become spoilt and get used to the good life.” Muslim found adjusting to the work environment and corporate culture in Pakistan to be quite tricky, as there were many office politics and a prevalent ‘seth’ culture.

Muslim admits that her boss not-so-subtly hinted that she was hired because of her foreign college education. “That worked both ways. It felt good to be given importance, but I was extremely wary of colleagues thinking that I was snobby or arrogant.” Muslim also felt that local graduates were at an advantage as it took her some time to relate what she had learnt in college to the local industry. She did not know any famous executives from multinationals who had taught her in college, like her colleagues did, so her networking was also initially poor.

On the other hand, Fahad Naveed, a student at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, feels that “foreign graduates get a definite and sometimes unfair edge, even if they studied at some unknown, mediocre university abroad.”

Does that lead to strained relations at work? Cyma Hasan, a business manager has been lucky. “Foreign and local grads are treated the same way [in my office]. In fact, local grads at times have an advantage, in my experience.”

As an inherent part of the culture of the Indian subcontinent, the class and caste system still prevails in Pakistan. We compartmentalise people into Punjabis and Sindhis, Sunnis and Shias, Clifton-wallahs and Nazimabad-wallahs. Diversity is not celebrated; it becomes a reason for strife and an excuse to undermine each other. Foreign versus local graduates is yet another kind of compartmentalisation in our society. Instead of learning from each other, youngsters are using this distinction to give rise to petty politics in a professional context. It is time everyone moved beyond this immaturity and saw that the two groups can be complements – not adversaries – to each other in the road to success.


Farah Zahidi Moazzam is a freelance writer.Illustration by Eefa Khalid/

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Matchmaking in the modern era

Enough bloggers have written about the weddings around which Pakistani society revolves year round. But few have considered how we get to that much sought after point of holy matrimony. Is every wedding we attend preceded by tireless efforts to match-make? How are matches being arranged nowadays? Who is the most active and instrumental match-maker? And what difference have new technologies such as iChat and Facebook made to the ancient art of rishta scouting? Or is the real game changer the fact that an increasing number of women are in jobs and meeting members of the opposite sex at their workplaces?

A recent experience of trying to match-make led me down this train of thought, and reminded me that the way we do things has altered since the bygone era. My mother continues to point out how, back then, the boy in the initial stage of choosing a prospective bride never came to see the girl; that privilege remained with his mother and sisters and aunts. Once they approved of the girl, more liberal families allowed the groom-to-be to come meet his prospective bride – at most, a fleeting glance. Otherwise, voila! Come the wedding day and the couple would first see each other’s reflections in a mirror as part of theaarsee mashaf ritual.

But let’s step back a bit – how did the bride and groom’s families come to know of each other in the first place? Enter the matchmaker. At any given time, in history, around the world, matchmakers have been social busybodies, making it their business to know who is doing what with whom. On the rare occasion, the matchmaker can also be a sincere, well-meaning person who happens to find herself (or, it is known to happen, himself) in the midst of a probable match, for which s/he acts as a liaison.

Different religions and cultures have had different types of matchmakers. Some people, for example, assigned astrologers the dual role of serving as matchmakers since they believed that stars sanctify the matches that parents arrange. No wonder then, over time, matchmaking became a respectable profession, with those who managed to arrange successful matches walking off with their fair share of gold coins (or US dollars). Now, in an age of information technology, traditional matchmakers find themselves competing against websites and online dating services. In Singapore, a government-sponsored system providing professional counsel and dating technologies is available to the public.

As the art of matchmaking evolves, one wonders if the criteria of traditional matchmaking will also be updated. Until recently, families made basic queries. The girl’s family would ask about the boy’s age, education, salary, family structure (joint or nuclear), dependants, and area of residence. The boy’s family, meanwhile, would only be interested in the girl’s looks. And if she passed certain standards, then other matters could be negotiated.

Today’s emancipated girls, however, are probably less willing to be judged on the basis of looks alone. They may argue, isn’t it equally important for the girl to approve of what the boy, or man, looks like? When will gender bias in matchmaking end? When will boys be forced to wheel in the tea trolley when the girl’s family pays a visit?

Changing gender dynamics aside, matchmaking has become trickier owing to new communications technologies. But endless trysts on Facebook, online chatting, or even dating cannot ensure that a couple truly knows each other.

The truth is, matchmaking has never been an exact science because people have the tendency to evolve. You start going out with a boy, he later transforms into a man, and over time you find yourself dealing with your father-in-law! In the meantime, you yourself begin to resemble your mother a little more with each passing day. No matter how hard a matchmaker works, s/he cannot predict how a man will react when he loses his car keys or is hungry, or how a woman will behave towards her mother-in-law. Time has already shown that an arranged marriage may carry on successfully, while a marriage of choice may not, and vice versa.

Despite the prevalence of this knowledge about the unpredictability of marriage, in today’s scientific era, genetic matchmaking is also taking place (a new high in the practice, or is it a low?). Some couple’s run a battery of tests to make sure the next generation is close to perfect.

A friend recently told  me that her family rejected a near-perfect proposal for a girl the boy’s family asked her to have her blood tested since her prospective husband was vulnerable to Thalassaemia. In another case, the girl’s side requested that the boy be screened for STDs, a request the boy’s side turned down. Indeed, marriage and matchmaking have become exceedingly complicated.

But in the end, the success of a marriage boils down to destiny and how hard the couple is willing to work on their marriage. Check out what you can, rule out the negatives, and weigh the pros and cons. Eventually, though, you realise that the future is not entirely in your hands.

(Photo illustration by Eefa Khalid)


Farah Zahidi Moazzam is a freelance writer.The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Originally published here:

I Study, Therefore I Am

Last summer, multi-tasking breathlessly between free-lance writing, part-time teaching and being on my daughter’s case, I met a friend who, when I asked her the ritual “what’s up”, told me smugly that she was preparing for her Masters exams from Karachi University. My interest peaked instantly, as I badgered her with her questions: Why, how, what, when, and where. She is the same age as me, same profile, married, teenage kids, happily into the home-maker zone, with a stint or two on the side to ward away boredom for the thrill of it.

“Studying? Now?” I confess, was my response too. Books? Notes? Being thick-skinned and wanting to give exams that require coffee to keep you awake at night and have ink-stained fingers during the day? Between playing mommie, wifey, taking care of elderly parents, the socializing, the cooking, the groceries, the rounds to the tailor, maintaining a home … the best I can do is catch a show on TV, read or write for mental stimulus, and use Facebook to catch up with friends. Studying seemed a far cry. But something on her face told me she was enjoying every minute, even though she complained of exhaustion. She had the glow of forbidden excitement all over her face – an excitement that we often write off way too early in our lives. The feverish thrill of challenging yourself, of having a new dream and the anticipation of accomplishing something you as well as others think you can’t do!

On way home, I kept thinking about it. My inner soliloquies were never-ending. Somewhere after my graduation as a position-holding student with Business Studies and Economics as majors, I had figured out that Business Studies had never been my calling. I was “prone” to literature; it made me happy, while writing provided me with Catharsis and purging of emotions. But back then, we did not have career-counselors, a choice to mix up subjects of Sciences and Social Sciences, and movies like “3 Idiots” telling us that the world is your oyster.

But today, I had a choice to make a more informed decision. And so Masters in English Literature was my new goal in life. Little did I know that this would be a great learning experience, teaching me more than what the Greats have written. My husband was all for it, saying he believes that the role of a parent, a spouse or a friend is to let each other grow, and support them to fulfill their dreams.

The general reaction I got was “Why?”, and “What are you going to do after that?” But then those friends who believed in following dreams encouraged me in ways that I had never imagined – dropping by cooked food, picking up my daughter, leaving a pack of groceries and offering to lend me their driver so I wouldn’t have to drive to the University. In many of my girlfriends, I saw a feeling of living their dream through me.

Standing in queues for the admission process wasn’t easy. I had forgotten how to rough it out in a government institution. No concessions were made for me by the multitudes of students, even though I was older than most of them by a decade. The ride in the rickshaw the day of my first exam when my car broke down wasn’t a joyride. Neither were the long walks to the centre when I missed the university shuttle. The lecherous innuendos of a particular bored male invigilator were disturbing, specially the fact that whenever any student asked him for a B copy, he would say, “fikar mut karo gurya, mein hoon na!” Yet most of the invigilators were cooperative and respectful.

The Masters syllabus was tougher than I had anticipated, and acquiring the prescribed books was not easy. One particular day, after endless trips to Urdu bazaar and still not finding the books I needed, I landed up at Karachi University’s English Faculty’s Photostat shop. Standing in lines in the sweltering May heat, I sent an sms to my daughter saying I think I want to give up, to which she replied, “Come on mom, it’s all worth it in the end.”

From the day I filled out the form, a plethora of happenings has impacted the way I think. I have seen the brightest students coming from the humblest backgrounds. I have sensed how invigorating being competitive is, something that a comfortable and complacent life takes away. I have felt charged by the viable energy that seems to flood an educational institute. I have pushed myself to the limit of physical and mental endurance by studying till late night and waking up at five in the morning and writing till my fingers ached, in a bout of flu. Above all, I am a richer person in terms of knowledge, as a profound study of literature teaches you much about yourself and humanity in general. I fell in love everyday with a new writer. One day it was Keats with his Odes, the other day it was Marlowe dancing his way into my heart with “Dr Faustus”, and yet another day Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” would make me understand life much better.

It is fascinating to learn that a growing trend world-over is people going back to school at any stage. Mental idleness leads to aimlessness and eventually despondency. To be a contented and creatively-active person, one has to keep doing something that keeps your zest for life alive and inspires you. For me it was a study program. For another, it might be learning a new language, baking or venturing into something entrepreneurial. Who knows whether I clear all the papers this year or not, but I hope to persevere till I do. After that? Well, maybe learning product photography professionally. Whatever makes me feel alive.


Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam is a freelance writer.The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Why aren’t Pakistani men given paternity leave?

Published: December 6, 2015

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan Zuckerberg with daughter Max. PHOTO: AP

“We are pregnant.”  

That is such a wonderful way of announcing the happy news that a couple is expecting a baby. While it is by natural default that the woman is destined to bear the bigger physical brunt by carrying the child to term and going through the delivery ordeal, there is no dearth of good daddies who take pride and ownership in the role.

The more evolved men of today take the paternal instinct very seriously. They are involved in active parenting. And so many of them – like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg – want to spend some uninterrupted time with their new-born. The purpose is multi-fold: help the mother, bond with the baby in what is perhaps the most inexplicably beautiful time of a parent’s life, and play your part in arguably the most important job life has given you. Yet, not every daddy-to-be owns Facebook, or works in companies that show such empathy.

Facebook employees are lucky; soon after Zuckerberg said he would take two months of paternity leave, the social media company announced that it is extending its parental leave policy to full-time employees outside the US.

Now that Zuckerberg’s daughter, Max, has arrived, he has given her a beautiful welcome by committing 99 per cent of the Facebook shares to charity. He even wrote a letter to his new-born baby girl where he vows to change the world by eliminating inequality and giving every child a chance at education.

While critics may call it “philanthrocapitalism” and worry about the shares currently valued at $45 billion, it is a heart-warming welcome nonetheless. But for the daughter, the two months daddy is taking off from work may go a longer way.

Looking at international labour laws, maternity leave is finally and thankfully given due importance. But paternity leave is a classic case of reverse discrimination, where we see the gender gap tilting in favour of the woman. While due to physical reasons, maternity leave is unavoidable, the paternity leave debate needs to be fuelled yet again. Zuckerberg may have given the subject the much needed impetus.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines the leave as,

“A leave period – paid or unpaid – reserved for fathers in relation to childbirth or leave that can be used exclusively by fathers as paternity leave. It does not include parental leave provisions that can be used by the father or mother or parts of maternity leave entitlements that the mother can transfer to the father. It includes ‘special leave’ provisions in addition to annual leave that may be used by fathers at the time of birth, but which are not strictly ‘paternity leave’.”

An ILO study released last year shows that in addition to maternity leave legislation, many countries also have measures to support working fathers. Of 167 countries studied, 78 stipulate a statutory right to paternity leave, mostly paid. Yet, leave provisions for fathers vary country and culture wise.

On an ILO map showing paternity leave allowed by law in each country, when one swipes the cursor over Pakistan, the words “0 leaves” pop up. The government of Punjab, earlier in this decade, notified male employees that they could avail a paternity leave up to seven days for a total of two times in their entire service. Many corporate houses all over Pakistan allow leave on the same pretext.

The days of paternity leave are still too little and the subject is not discussed enough, yet there is a definitely encouraging upswing trend of more involved fatherhood. More and more fathers wholeheartedly and lovingly take part in changing diapers, preparing the baby’s feeds and walking around with the baby on their shoulder till he/she has burped. Parenting is a joy shared by two, from babyhood to your child’s adulthood. It is time that fathers get some time off legitimately when this journey starts for them.

Pakistan’s legislators and policy makers, are you listening?

Originally published here: