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Are Pakistan’s “still unmarried” women the leftovers?

Published: April 15, 2016

A painting by Cynthia Angeles titled Grief

The best ones get taken first. The ones that are second choice get taken next. Those who are still not taken are considered ‘left overs’ – something must be lacking. No we are not talking about the kurtas on sale at a pret store, nor the shoes on the rack of an international shoe store. We are talking about women. Talented, smart, intelligent Pakistani women, each uniquely beautiful, irrespective of whether she is poised to be a home maker or a working woman. It is shameful that this is how society perceives them if they are still unmarried.

Being engaged or ‘in a relationship’ buys one a little time before the pressure begins to build up. But this is not just about the pressure on single women in Pakistan to get married. This is more about the blows to their self-esteem when the world seems like a market place (excuse the crass but apt analogy), and if no suitor has expressed a desire to marry you, you are a lesser being – the unwanted woman.

I got married young, so I never faced the unwanted stigma. But even then, one question used to spring up in conversations; shaadi se pehle kitnay rishtay aaye the? (How many proposalsdid you get before you got married?). Your worth, somehow, is associated with how many men wanted to make you their life partner, or how many mothers saw potential in you.

Sadly not much has changed; intelligent, enterprising and highly educated Pakistani women find themselves in a lurch. The late 20s, early 30s women who spent a lot of time in education, once done with their studies, find themselves in a tricky spot, especially if they studied abroad, and now have too much self-worth to allow themselves to be showcased. It is a shock to them that years later, social attitudes in Pakistan are still the same. Many of them go back abroad as the constant judgment that comes with being single is too much to take.

Every action has a reaction. The culture of measuring a woman by the number of proposalsshe receives has ignited a strong reaction within women; one that makes them sick to the idea of marriage. The trend is not a healthy effect, and we may call it a side-effect of women gaining too much independence, but decades of harming women’s self-esteem is the real cause.

A collective sentiment that may not be pronounced as yet, but is slowly and steadily growing among Pakistan’s urban and financially independent women are ‘why marry at all if one has to go through so much scrutiny, humiliation and even rejection?’

Which raises other valid questions like: Why should it be the woman who serves the tea trolley when the potential suitors and their families come to see her? Why should she face the rejection; and on what basis?

Asian cultures across the continent are jarringly similar. A recent advertisement in China aimed at empowering women has gone viral. It talks about how young single Chinese women are literally called the leftovers.

Pakistan may not have a specific word for it, but this is what is implied. And in the rishta (proposal) market, the most valuable currency is, of course, the physical aspect.

A multitude of TV ads perpetuate the same sickening thought process: Be thinner if you want to marry, be fairer if you want to marry, use bleach creams, and have flowing dead straight hair, look and dress a certain way if you want to marry.

If a man in his 30s is unmarried, nobody will blame his paunch, thinning gray hairline or his height, weight or complexion. He will be given the benefit of doubt and excuses will be made FOR him – he was busy studying because he is so brilliant; he was busy building a career because he is so responsible; he was waiting for his sisters to get married because he is so noble.

But for a woman, it seems how her outward appearance is all that she is worth. She must be young enough to bear children and good looking enough to appease the man. Come to urban Pakistan and in addition to this, she should ideally also have a degree from a decent university – a degree which, in all probability, she may not ever use.

Marriage is a very important milestone in a person’s life. It is a promise of a long term partnership and a more well-rounded life, and is something most men and women aim for. It is a commitment that needs adjustment, it’s not a fairy tale, but is worth the trouble. Having said that, no one deserves to be made to feel inferior for not having been chosen by suitors.

Today’s single Pakistani women are not necessarily leftovers – many of them simply don’t want a man who is shallow enough to choose or reject them, only on the basis of how they look. They feel they are better off being without such a man. So spare a woman the pity when you see her happening, single and in her 30s. She doesn’t need it.

How Emotional Neglect Is Turning Too Many Of Pakistan’s Boys Into Criminals

While conflict and terror rise alarmingly around the world, it’s time to ask ourselves: could lives be saved if we got better at raising boys?

http://www.buzzfeed.com/farahnazzahidi/the-neglected-sons-of-pakistan#.jlPyOq14p

Rebecca Hendin / BuzzFeed

Editor’s note: Some names have been changed to protect the identity of people interviewed for this story.

When Zafar was young, he wanted to become a professional footballer. Now, at 38, he recruits young men for his brother, who is one of several warlords in Lyari, a densely populated neighbourhood in Karachi, Pakistan. Lyari is as famous for its talented football players and rich culture as it is infamous for gang warfare and targeted killings.

“I am a victim of this system,” Zafar says, referring to his inability to isolate himself from a life crime. “Time in jail can transform innocent people into criminals.”

Zafar describes himself as non-violent. He spends some of his time managing a confectionery shop as a side-business. “I’m not involved in anything wrong,” he insists. His friends, sitting around him, laugh as a rejection of this claim.

We’re sitting inside journalist Saeed Baloch’s house inside the town. As an active member of the community in Lyari, Baloch has seen many young men stray down violent paths, going on to lead lives of crime and imprisonment. “Neglect leads to boys becoming militant,” he explains.

According to Baloch, as many as 3,000 young Lyari men — many of whom had committed crimes — have been killed in encounters by law enforcement agencies between 2013 and 2015.

March, 2014: Lyari residents protest after gang violence killed 16 people. ASIF HASSAN / Getty Images

Between 2003 and 2015, Pakistan has lost more than 20,000 civilians to acts of terrorism alone, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP). The average age of men involved in crime and militancy remains dangerously low. According to Saeed, they often start being recruited when they turn 13.

“Young boys see the good life of gang leaders – their money and power leaves even community elders awestruck,” Baloch says. “When boys have no productive activity, they loiter around. Once they get inducted into a gang, they can never leave.”

Baloch’s 17-year-old daughter Muqaddas is a student of Pre-Medical Intermediate. “Boys are generally non-serious about education and seek other outlets,” she chimes in. “For us girls, education itself is the outlet.”

And gangs are only one of several violent paths that attract Pakistan’s boys. Baloch, and several others I spoke to for this story, said that while resources are spent on fixing the problems that come from neglecting these boys – crime, violence against women, terrorism, gang wars — not enough emphasis is placed on finding solutions to the neglect that leads them down those paths to begin with.

While opportunities for acquiring literacy and education may be available to young men, very few initiatives focus on counseling and mentoring them through adolescence.

“We have already lost too many boys due to negligence, too many chances at a good life missed out on,” says Mossarat Qadeem, a peace activist who works to bring back young men from militancy in Pakistan’s north-western province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P).

According to Mossarat, 35% of the population in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are between the ages of 15 to 30 — and they don’t have access to a single university.

“We have no institutions that would help channel the energy of youth,” Mossarat adds. “This has left a huge gap and that gap is being filled by the wrong people.”

April, 2012: Plain-clothed police commandos take positions during an operation against gangs in Lyari. ASIF HASSAN / Getty Images

Mossarat’s organization, PAIMAN, reaches out to conflict-prone districts of K-P and FATA, hoping to counter the impacts of radicalisation and extremism. Mossarat and her team have helped rehabilitate some 1,230 boys since the organization first started in 2004. That’s a drop in the ocean.

There’s a correlation between high proportions of 15 to 29-year-olds in a population and a greater incidence of civil conflict, according to a UNFPA study, which means as the proportion of young people in a society increases, so does their likelihood to get in trouble, unless they’re provided with enough access to educations and honest livelihoods.

And nowhere is this need more dire than in South Asia. India has 356 million, the world’s highest number, of people aged between 10 to 24. Pakistan has 59 million and Bangladesh has 48 million.

“This dividend has turned into a demographic disaster,” says Dr. Farid Midhet, a demographer and director of Jhpiego, which focuses on maternal and reproductive health issues and adolescents, for Pakistan. “In coming decades, this problem will become very serious and possibly uncontrollable in the absence of a good education system for the poor urban and rural boys, an extensive system for vocational training including counseling and social training, social support and social security.”

Rebecca Hendin / BuzzFeed

Who’ll talk to the boys?

According to Baloch, most boys in Pakistan do not receive counseling, even from their own parents. “They simply don’t talk to each other,” he says. “Poverty is so all-consuming and keeps the parents so busy that they cannot focus on keeping their interest for education alive.”

Aman Tech, an initiative of Aman Foundation in Pakistan, is addressing this need. In addition to the hard skills and vocational training it gives to young men, it has made “soft skills” a part of its curriculum. This includes not just grooming and image-building exercises but also communication and social skills.

“When they come to us, it is amazing how out-of-touch with themselves these young men are,” says Mahida Baig, the departmental head of Soft Skills at Aman Tech. She says many young men who come there lack self-awareness and do not know how to encash themselves.

“The biggest reason is that they have not emotionally engaged with their parents, especially their fathers,” Baig says. “It’s just something that is not done in our culture.”

Baig says that when Aman Tech identifies a boy as aggressive, they provide one-on-one counseling. Instructors, who are approachable, act as mentors and guide students who confide in them about relationships and life decisions.

But according to Baig, a central challenge in the counseling process is combating the stereotypes of masculinity that South Asian boys grow up around.

In 2002, Promundo, an NGO focusing on promoting gender justice, launched a program called Program H, which primarily targets men between the ages of 15 to 24, and encourages critical reflection about rigid norms related to manhood. Promundo reports that after participating in their Program H activities, positive changes were seen in these young men. With sensitization that made them rethink gender roles, these boys had better attitudes towards relationships and family planning, participation in domestic work, not indulging in sexually harassment, and not perpetrating domestic violence.

Rebecca Hendin / BuzzFeed

A lop-sided focus on girls?

According to the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (PDHS) 2012-2013, only 16% of men have completed more than secondary level of education.

Unlike many of the young men, the girls in Lyari are focused and are better students, says Nadeem Ghazi, a peace activist from the area who works on peace-building through education from the forum of his organization Peace Education Welfare Organization(PEWO). “Girls are more motivated to get an education,” he says. “Boys come under a lot of unhealthy outside influence.”

If boys are a problem, they must be engaged as part of the solution, says Rujuta Teredesai, co-founder and executive director of a social enterprise called Equal Community Foundation (ECF) dedicated to engaging men to end violence and discrimination against women.

According to Teredesai, development projects are focusing on girls because girls are not able to access enough opportunities for education and training. “However, if we exclude boys, we are not addressing some of the root causes; we might be creating a bigger problem.”

Experts say that a lack of focus on young men will actually set back the programs that focus on empowering women.

“All of the gains we have made for women and children can be reversed if we don’t pay attention to what is happening, or not happening, to young men,” says Leith Greenslade, vice chair, MDG Health Alliance and Office of the UN Special Envoy for Financing the Health MDGs. Greenslade says rising numbers of young, uneducated men without job prospects can be distracted by violent, anti-woman ideologies. “These ideologies can lead to civil unrest that can destabilize entire societies. Once the level of violence rises to these levels, we see the gains for women and girls unravel quickly.”

Rebecca Hendin / BuzzFeed

Talking solutions

Teredesai says that work with boys should be done in three major areas: Engaging them as allies, providing them with opportunity to learn about these issues, and catering to their needs.

“None of these approaches can work in isolation,” she says.

And according to Mossarat, the answer to how young men can be mitigated from being recruited into violence and radicalization lies in preventive measures taken before the damage is done.

“We need vigilant communities in society. We need the media to play its role to spread awareness. And we need parents to allow their sons to talk to them about everything,” Mossarat says.

“Because once they get inducted into violence, get radicalized and are caught in that web, it is a tumultuous task to bring them back.”

A common man’s obituary: The saviour of Chawkandi tombs

Published: January 21, 2016
http://tribune.com.pk/story/1031397/a-common-mans-obituary-the-saviour-of-chawkandi-tombs/
Ali Dino Mallah wanted to take this photograph against the backdrop of the oil tankers, hoping the authorities would remove them from the vicinity. PHOTOS: EXPRESS

Ali Dino Mallah wanted to take this photograph against the backdrop of the oil tankers, hoping the authorities would remove them from the vicinity. PHOTOS: EXPRESS

KARACHI: “Big money, big tomb. Small money, small tomb. No money no tomb.”

Ali Dino Mallah, the caretaker of the Chawkandi tombs on the outskirts of Karachi, uttered these words in a thick Sindhi accent in an attempt to share the few sentences of English that he had mastered over the decades. I met him in December last year, a week before he died.

Sporting an ajrak wrapped as a turban and an oversized waistcoat worn over a sweater and shalwar kameez, Ali Dino appeared much older than what I remembered of him from our last meeting more than two years ago.

He walked around the ornately carved graves inside the Chawkandi cemetery, shooing away potential vandals with his walking stick. He would stop frequently to catch his breath and take out the tiniest possible water bottle from a gigantic but otherwise empty pocket to take measured sips, a habit he said he had learnt by observing foreigners who visited the cemetery.

“I have a pacemaker in my heart you see,” he explained. “Do you want me to request people to help with your treatment or write about it?” I had asked after he told me that his family had spent thousands on his treatment even at the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases (NICVD), a government-run facility that supposedly treats the poor free of charge. “Don’t waste words writing about my illness. I don’t have much time left,” he told me, before urging me to write about what really mattered to him. “Write about these tombs. Please. Maybe someone will read it and expedite the restoration.”

Exploring Sindh: King of the road

Even if his faith in the restoration work was far-fetched, Ali Dino was right when he said he did not have much time left. He died on December 29 on his way to the hospital sitting behind a relative on a motorcycle. “He was the heart of Chawkandi. I have nothing left now,” wept his widow, Rehmat Bibi. The family, comprising his widow and six children, continues to live in the small quarters adjacent to the graveyard and are in need of financial help. “He was like an angel and died an easy death. Like an angel was taken away.”

The old caretaker of the tombs hailed from Khairpur district in Sindh and was a common man. This is a common man’s obituary. And the obituary of a historic, priceless heritage site of the province of Sindh that is crumbling away.

Intricately carved sandstone tombs that are masterpieces of funerary art and rich in symbolism are now mostly half broken. Blocks and bits of these tombs have been stolen by vandals over the years, and now grace the drawing rooms of affluent art collectors in Pakistan and abroad, Ali Dino had shared.

“The commissioner [Shoaib Siddiqui] had promised me that tankers would be removed from this area, security walls would be erected around the graveyard and pickets would be established,” Ali Dino recalled his conversation with the commissioner before he got distracted by the camera. “Listen, take my photo with these oil tankers in the background. And choose an angle smartly. If there is harsh sunlight in the background, the photograph will not come out well,” he said.

After more than 30 years of service as a guide and caretaker of these tombs, Ali Dino had posed with thousands of visitors to know that the play of shadow and light was key to good photography, without ever holding a decent camera in his hands. Many of these visitors were high-ranking government officials and bureaucrats who had given hope to the old man that one day, this spectacular heritage site would get the attention it deserves.  Soon after we met, the commissioner of Karachi was transferred from the post. Perhaps, his replacement will be able to remove the gravel, sand, trucks and tankers, unwanted encroachments, and put a stop to illegal burial in the centuries-old graveyard.

Ali Dino, the man who spent his life trying to safeguard our heritage and tell us tales hidden in the carvings on those tombs, was buried in the same graveyard, among the very tombs he spent his life looking after. The restoration and protection of Chawkandi tombs should be considered a dying man’s last wish. If fulfilled, he will rest in peace.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 21st, 2016.

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.

farah80

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

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.

http://www.dawn.com/news/813267/the-politics-of-professionals

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)

farah80

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: 

http://www.dawn.com/news/813237/matchmaking-in-the-modern-era

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: http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/30678/is-paternity-leave-a-classic-case-of-reverse-discrimination-thank-you-mark-zuckberg-for-standing-up-for-father-to-be/

Dear Pakistanis, why has the #earthquake2015 not moved u like the 2005 earthquake & 2010 floods did?

Earthquake 200(1)5: Are Pakistanis mobilised best when calamities are of colossal magnitudes?

Residents walk past the rubble of a house after it was damaged by an earthquake in Mingora, Swat. PHOTO: REUTERS

A 100 plus schools and almost 9,000 houses have been demolished in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) alone, and even official figures show that the death toll is bordering on 300 people.

Calculating the number of the injured and incapacitated is not difficult to calculate. The earthquake that shook Pakistan on October 26th was not a small calamity by any means. Yet, apart from sporadic sightings of a couple of relief camps, Pakistanis are not mobilised like they were at the time of natural calamities that hit the country in the past.

The initial wave of sympathy seems to have dissipated sooner than usual. The very nation which prides itself on being charitable and unified in times of crises seems to be sitting tight on the whole, barring some exceptions.

What went wrong this time? Or did something go right?

The first reason is a no brainer. Fortunately, the numbers of casualties and people affected are much lower, though each life is precious. Comparing 80,000 deaths and 3.5 million homeless in the 2005 earthquake, and the 2,000 deaths and 20 million affected in the 2010 floods, the numbers this time are drastically less impactful. It seems, thus, that Pakistanis are mobilised best when calamities are of gargantuan proportions. The flip side of the fact that we are a nation that is resilient is that it requires something enormous to move us.

While during the 2005 earthquake Pervez Musharraf was at the helm of affairs, there was a general despondency when it came to reliance on the government, perhaps due to a merger of a leader from the armed forces into the political realm. But in all fairness, the government of the time would have tried its best to mobilise relief and rehabilitation work, yet the tragedy was too huge to grapple with, and the people of every age and from every walk of life stepped up. We saw unification like never before, and Pakistanis were at their effective best.

Comparing the scenario at the time of the 2010 floods and now, one difference is key and glares back at you. In 2010, it was Asif Ali Zardari at centre stage. While it was a democratically elected government, it was practically non-existent in terms of governance. Nothing moved Zardari and the gang it seemed, and he refused to show up even for face saving. Thus, images of the homeless, starving people standing up to their midriffs in the stagnating  flood waters, fighting water borne diseases, and people wailing and crying after their children and cattle were swept away, moved the people. The collective sentiment was that it was time that matters were taken into our own hands. ‘Abb khud kuch karna paray ga’ (now we will have to do something ourselves) was the general feeling.

The 2005 earthquake and the 2010 floods resulted in the creation of scores of small non-profit initiatives on both individual and collective levels. Many of the philanthropic organisations that were created back then are still working on ground to help those affected by the 2015 earthquake.

Fast forward to October 2015.

The times have changed, somewhat. Social media is much more mainstream than it was, and even the media as a whole does not fail to put the spotlight on any bit of news, which means the leaders have to show up or they will not be forgiven. Hence, giving credit where due, no one has really been missing in action. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has flown back from UK cutting short his trip. Imran Khan, as Chairman of the party that rules K-P, which is the most affected province, has reached.

Both the provincial and federal governments are showing up. Most of all, the armed forces are active as usual in the relief work as well, and the people, willingly or unconsciously, rely on them to take charge of the situation. Thus, while the sympathy is there, the urgency to help is missing, and a sort of complacency has set in.

But the fact remains that this is a country where the infrastructure in the mountainous northern areas is already precariously weak. Our public health facilities are not reliable enough. Winter has set in and as a result of that earthquake, thousands are out in the open in the freezing cold weather, homeless and devastated. Ownership must be taken today as well, irrespective of what the government or the armed forces are doing or not to help the helpless.

Time, yet again, to put in our share.

We owe it.