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Not enough daycare facilities

The need is real but compared with population increase and urbanisation, there are not enough daycare centres

Not enough daycare facilities

A half of Pakistan’s population is female. An increasing number of females, especially in urban Pakistan, are working professionally as the second earner, and even sometimes the first, whether it is in the formal or informal sector.

Women also are the ones who bear children breastfeed them, and wean them off to solid food. The initial years in particular are the years in which children need constant monitoring and vigilant care. This is where the need for daycare centres comes in.

By law, all organisations across the board in Pakistan are supposed to have daycare arrangements to enable working mothers, and even fathers, to join work after maternity and paternity leave, but very few abide by the laws.

Farhat Parveen, Executive Director at National Organisation for Working Communities (NOWCommunities), explains how the provision for a nursery or daycare for children in law has been there since long in the Factories Act 1934 (now the Act of 2018).

This provision should be there for children as young as infants to the age of six years. “While things are getting better and some public educational institutes like Karachi University and some private organisations like Aga Khan University (AKU), PILER, HANDS, and many corporate organisations have some facilities in this regard, it is not enough,” says Parveen.

With not enough daycare facilities available in-house in organisations, the centres in the private sector are most sought after. Ayesha Amin, a working mother of a four-year-old, has had a good experience with them and has utilised these facilities, especially for summer camps, but regrets that in Pakistan there aren’t enough daycare facilities, especially in urban areas. “There are not enough options for lower income groups from what I know; but then there may be more family support in joint family systems. The more affluent the grandparents and family are, the busier and more social they are too.”

In less affluent areas, working mothers are not less in number, whether they go out to work as salesperson or domestic house help. In the absence of any proper daycare centres, women in these localities leave their children with relatives or neighbours who can keep an eye on the children till they come back from work, and pay them agreed upon sums as remuneration. Others bring back teenage siblings or cousins from villages for a few months, giving them food, lodging and some pocket money to see over their children.

In Amin’s opinion, there is a greater need for in-house daycares which Pakistani organisations lack. “If they really want women to work, then it is pretty inconvenient for a parent to first drop a child to a school and go to their own workplace, pick the child from school and then drop to daycare and collect again in the evening, especially in a city like Karachi where commute and traffic is a huge factor in planning anything,” she says, speaking for many working parents.

Fariduddin Siddique, an engineer by training, established “Bright Minds Learning Hub and Daycare,” along with his wife, some two years ago in the upscale Clifton locality of Karachi. They accept children from ages four months to six years. “Me and my wife were both working parents, and we realised the need for centres that provide quality daycare facilities,” he says. In Siddique’s experience, couples in Pakistan usually have support from their families, but that is not always the case.

In less affluent areas, working mothers are not less in number, whether they go out to work as salesperson or domestic house help. In the absence of any proper daycare centres, women in these localities leave their children with relatives or neighbours.

He adds that for a mother to leave her career for an extended period of time creates a gap in her work trajectory which is not good for her career prospects. “The key priorities at daycare centres for children are giving them a hygienic environment, a healthy routine, extreme care and love, as well as opportunities for learning and development according to the child’s age.”.

For Siddiqui and his team, it has been a journey of learning. At this centre, parents have to send food from home. The fee structure is the same for all age groups, and parents have to pay based on whether they leave the child for half a day or full day.

For summer camps, upscale daycare centres charge anywhere between Rs12-18000 a month. A well-known daycare centre (name withheld) charges Rs19000 per month, and this includes a lunch meal, while their hourly rates are Rs350 for the first hour and Rs300 for each subsequent hour.

For parents working in the corporate or business sector, with both husband and wife working, this might be affordable. But for lower income or lower middle income groups, this might be too steep. Prices get steeper depending on the area where the daycare centre is based.

Running since 2007 with three successful branches, Dr Sofia’s Daycare & Learning School charges between rupees eight to ten thousand for a full day and four to six thousand for half day. “Dr Sofia Rahman, the founder, felt an urgent need of a daycare when she herself faced difficulty in raising her kids while doing a job. Her main idea was to help working women so that they could pursue their dreams,” says Hina Fahd from the daycare management. They accept children from age brackets three months to ten years. “The older children usually come to us after having attended school in the morning,” she says, adding that daycares are a better option than leaving children with grandparents as with grandparents children may not be as disciplined in terms of routine and learning reinforcement.

The need for daycare centres is real, and is on its way up, but when compared with population increase and urbanisation, they are simply not enough. Parveen shares that the very government departments in Sindh that are responsible for making sure these facilities exist, like the Labour Department, do not generally have nurseries or facilities for children of employees, and are also ineffective in terms of fulfilling duties of inspection. “The laws are all there, but there is no implementation.”

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/enough-daycare-facilities/#.XKW9EJgzbIU

Pakistan’s fast changing kitchen-scape

Hiring cooks does not mean women, or men, are not homely any more. It is a social change, one that we must accept, and see cooking as an emerging, respected profession

The fast changing kitchen-scape

Once upon a time I used to cook up things like a mean deg of nihari, loads of bihari kabab, and the genuinely ghutta hua haleem for a dinner for 30 people quite frequently and without panicking. If I had a helper to cut up the onions and vegetables and wash the meat and do the dishes, I was good to go, taking smugly all the compliments that came my way.

But somewhere along the road, priorities changed. It was not just the fact that I became more invested in my profession. It was also not just me. The emergence of “cooks” came to the fore.

No, these were not the live-in Khan-e-Samaan breed of cooks that our mothers and grandmothers had who used to manage the entire kitchen and cater to all food-based needs of big families. These are part-timers. A few hours a day or a week. Neatly stacked storage boxes of salan and kabab split into portions in the fridge and freezer, also labelled for convenience. This is what the modern-day cooks on urban Pakistan are like.

Often one doesn’t have one but actually many. I have one in my list of contacts in my phone that is for usual day-to-day cooking — the chawal, daal, sabzi, qeema type of stuff. Then there’s the one you call when there is a dinner at home — biryani, kabab, qorma and the likes of these. But then there’s the super fancy one — the CV or intro says, “can make Chinese, Thai and oriental food”. I have not utilised services of all but there is a comfort in knowing they are there.

In a fast-changing social landscape, the larger joint families have been replaced by nuclear families. In these urban families crunching under inflation, the woman no longer has time to deliberate about the daily menu, then cook it, and then serve it. She is as much an earning member of the household as her husband. Many a times, even the children, once they are young adults, are working part-time.

The good thing that has come out of this is that unnatural expectations from women to focus their lives only around the kitchen and its periphery are decreasing. But that also means cooks are an integral part of life. However, full-time cooks are expensive in more ways than one. Not only is it the salary, but it is also the unsaid pressure to get food cooked daily in order to justify why you have that full-time cook.

It is an expensive proposition to house domestic staff. Thus, part-time cooks seem like a great option — both for the employer and the employee. For the employee as being able to work in more than one house allows him or her more flexibility of timings, and is mostly a more lucrative option.

The good thing that has come out of this is that unnatural expectations from women to focus their lives only around the kitchen and its periphery are decreasing. But that also means cooks are an integral part of life.

A faster-paced lifestyle also means we are less discerning about many things — we don’t get our masalas pounded at home; we are ready to buy ‘heat and eat’ items, and we use a lot of easy-to-cook meat options, mainly poultry. Fried onion packets have found a way in our homes, as have frozen chopped vegetables. Plus we eat out way more than our counterparts a few generations ago.

Pakistanis are serious about their food so it is not that cooking has taken a back seat. However, other more pressing things have taken precedence. We still cook, but now it is more sporadic, and limited to certain specialties to remind our families and ourselves that we still have not forgotten how to make food. Hiring cooks does not mean women, or men, are not homely any more. It is a social change, one that we must accept, and see cooking as an emerging, respected profession.

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/fast-changing-kitchen-scape/?fbclid=IwAR164tl3DjPcZGwjGbfv9XCe6Cp6k8fkmpwmFfbRDZZ9CCDSbphQ1zCj-BA#.XAJZic1oQ1l

Ralli-ing together

A traditional art form has become an unlikely symbol of women empowerment and inter-generational love

Ralli-ing together
Ralli-making (also known as Rilli) comes from the word “ral” which means to mingle. This traditional art form provides women an activity that transforms their homes into women-friendly spaces where women gather and sew bits and pieces of fabric into a quilt. It is a test of creativity, turning whatever pieces life has left them into a thing of beauty and utility – from nothing into something. Even today, if you go to interior Sindh, the lady of the house will spread out her best Ralli on the charpoy and motion you to make yourself comfortable.

The art of quilt-making is, thus, metaphorical in many ways. Women create homes out of small and big things gathered and assembled together as a labour of love. It requires accuracy, patience and hard work. Making a quilt is similar.

When Samiah Ahsan Zia and Samina Qureshi co-founded a group for women in 2008 with a passion for quilting, little did they know that more than a dozen passionate quilters would join hands with them. “The Piecemakers’ Guild”, as the group is named, recently held its 4th exhibition in Karachi. With quilts on display and on sale, the work of these women is nothing short of art.

The love for quilting took time to grow on Zeba Rehman, one of the group’s earliest members. Her eye-catching quilt with shades of white and indigo is on display. “I now spend days sitting near the window in the sunlight, sewing each piece carefully, with my glasses on. When I am working on a quilt, I can go on working non-stop for hours,” adds Rehman.

“We are 16 members, all very committed, who meet every fortnight. Senior quilters train new quilters. We use varied techniques,” says Samina Qureshi. Her piece was the winner of the Mughal Art Challenge this year, in which she has used many mediums like applique, block-printing, sequence and thread embroidery, and even printing. “I find quilt-making therapeutic; it has a calming effect,” adds Qureshi.

Samiah Ahsan Zia echoes Qureshi’s sentiment. “It keeps the mind and hands busy and offers an avenue to express one’s creativity. Patchwork and quilting has been practiced world over since time immemorial. Modern tools have added new dimensions to it,” she says.

The art of quilt-making is metaphorical in many ways. Women create homes out of small and big things gathered and assembled together as a labour of love.

For Nida Huq, another member of the Guild, the inspiration came from her mother who has passed away. “It was my way of remembering my mother as she used to sew,” she says. Huq finds the activity very effective for stress management. For her, the most rewarding piece has been the raffle quilt which has been completed by the team to fund-raise for a good cause.

“The money from the raffle quilt will be donated to the Child Aid Association which operates from the National Institute of Child Health and treats children suffering from cancer. We treat quilting not just as a hobby but try to use it for social activism for causes close to our hearts,” says Zia.

The group was also invited to participate in the Karachi Biennale 2017, and challenged to convert a discarded electric cable reel into an art installation. “Our reel, titled ‘Heroines not victims’ was designed to be a tribute to Pakistani women and their resilient spirit, highlighting their achievements despite immense socioeconomic challenges and rampant misogyny,” says Zia. The group has also intermittently worked with groups of women from interior Sindh to help hone the skills of rural women in the art of ralli-making. “We hope that while staying true to their age-old craft, their work would become more contemporary and hence more marketable.”

For Rehman, a mother of two sons, the aim is “to leave one quilt each for my two future daughters-in-law as a personalized family heirloom”.

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/ralli-ing-together/#.W3UvjegzbIV

 

‘Real’ women weigh in

As a woman what would you like to hear — “You look amazing” or “You are amazing”?

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/real-women-weigh/#.WtxBBohubIV

‘Real’ women weigh in
The catwalk is where you see ‘beautiful’ women. Thin, young, unblemished, unwrinkled women. Because that is our criteria of beauty. The fashion arena has no place for cellulite and scars, nor does it welcome aging.

But a recent fashion show by designer Cheena Chhapra in Pakistan Fashion Week (PFW) in Karachi was clearly thinking outside the box. These were, what the designer called in her Instagram post, “real women”. There were white-haired women and over-sized women and women of all ages and sizes… including pregnant women. They were real alright. But were they beautiful?

50 is the new…?

The pressure on women is immense. ‘Kill me but make me young’ is the silent but definite mantra. The compliment a woman is conditioned to receive as the biggest compliment is this: “Oh my God, you look so young, I thought your daughter was your sister!” It started with ‘40 is the new 30’. You had to look a decade younger. Now it’s 60 is the new 40’, and the yawning gap that women must cover up has reached about 20 years.

Even the most honest of women who don’t lie about anything else will be found sneakily hiding a few years from their age. The white hair near the forehead are not welcome for a woman; neither is the frizz or the thinning of hair in the front of the crown. It is a much tougher deal for a woman if, because of any reasons, chemotherapy for example, she loses hair.

But men are ok even if they are bald, and in fact are considered more “distinguished looking” if they have gray or silver hair.

These judgments are not just coming from men. They are coming from women against other women too. Our remarks, attitudes and body language end up impacting other women in terms of how they look at themselves. Thus the increased emphasis on invasive procedures to make lips look plumper, skin look more stretched, the nose look less droopy, and the face look unwrinkled. There are even more invasive procedures for many body parts, better left unsaid.

Sized up

Each one of us, at some stage in life, has heard comments about our weight and size and body type. “You look too thin; are you ill?” if you have lost weight, interspersed with unasked for suggestions to put on thora sa (a little bit). Or “You’ve put on haven’t you? I know a great Zumba instructor”. When women go looking for girls for their sons or brothers, they want the “slim, fair” variety. It is as if society measures you up in kilogrammes instead of talents and values. Fat shaming is not always verbal or direct. It can be done in a subtle manner, making the other person feel lesser because of the extra weight.

While fitness is important, both in terms of health as well as well-being, we are born with certain genetic dispositions when it comes to our body types — the pear shape, the apple shape, the hour glass shape. We don’t really have a choice in that.

Women’s bodies undergo multiple changes over time due to hormonal ups and downs, childbirth, or simply age. You cannot and will not have a body of a 25 year old if you are 45, but you can be fit and healthy if you work at it.

It started with ‘40 is the new 30’. You had to look a decade younger. Now it’s 60 is the new 40’, and the yawning gap that women must cover up has reached about 20 years.

We, the objects

The problem lies in women being reduced to “objects” of beauty, of desire, and of attraction. This is done not just by men, nor just by women, but by societies as a whole. We almost see women in inanimate terms. This era of hyper-sexualisation leaves women of no age — little girls, young women, middle-aged women or even elderly women. It seems we took Keats’ “A thing of beauty is a joy forever” quite literally, often seeing this timeless line of poetry as an implication towards women being a ‘thing’ of beauty. As women, don’t we recognise that this objectification dehumanises us somewhere? But we are as much a part of the problem as men.

Big women on the small catwalk

Why initiatives such as Chappra’s show are important is because they can go a long way in modifying, if not completely altering, perceptions about what comprises a beautiful woman. But such initiatives do not go down well with everyone. The show got mixed feedback. Some appreciated it as a game-changer, while others said these big women on the small catwalk did not belong there.

For women, it is important to take stock of themselves and ask themselves the question, “What is it that defines me?” If it is what you look like, and if that is the source of the highs and lows of your self-esteem, then clearly there is a problem. It is also important to honestly ask ourselves how we look at other women — do we value them on the basis of how they weigh, dress and look, or on the basis of who they are and what they do.

Change trickles in slowly, and it takes forever to change mindsets. But unless we, as women, start the change from within, we cannot expect society to change from without. So the next time you compliment a woman, let it be about more than “You look amazing”, and move it to “You are amazing”.

Women on the go – How information technology has helped Pakistani women’s mobility

Access to smart phones and internet has played a major role in adding to the mobility of women

Women on the go

It takes 34-years-old Afshan Babar some 90 minutes to reach from her home in Surjani Town to the training centre run by TAF Foundation (TAFF) where she is enrolled in the Cooking and Housekeeping course at TAFF-VTI.  There was a time when she could not have imagined stepping out of the house alone.

Now, the ability to reach from point A to point B has changed her life. “Watching others use public transport is what encouraged and motivated me,” says Babar. She has now joined the millions of Pakistani women, particularly in urban Pakistan, who are daring to be mobile on their own.

The credit for this acceleration in the number of women daring to go where no woman from their family had gone before goes, according to experts, to access to information technology and cellular mobile phones.

For Amber Zulfiqar, a Food and Travel Influencer & Digital PR Consultant, services like smart phone taxi services have eased up travelling for women. “Women are taking inspiration from other women — it grows like a chain. When a woman lets go of her fears of travelling alone, it is because she has heard stories of her friends using it or read encouraging material online.”

Most gender experts like Mahnaz Rahman, Director, Sindh chapter of the Aurat Foundation, agree that cellular phone access is a blessing for Pakistani women. “Technology has shown women a path that is a means to an end. Sitting at home, many women have become entrepreneurs with the help of social media,” says Rahman, adding that as ours is a patriarchal society, men have better access to information technology as more men than women have cellular phones, especially smart phones.

“Nonetheless, access to information technology has helped women get exposure to the world and step outside their cocoons, not just physically but also intellectually,” she says.

“The first step for women is to step out of their homes. Exposure helps them evolve and grow. This mobility is not just travelling from point A to point B — it is also about joining the workforce,” says Sibtain Naqvi, Head of Public Affairs at Careem.

Naqvi echoes the opinion that mobility is a serious challenge in Pakistan. “A mega city like Karachi is without a serving metro system. And the challenge is bigger for women. Even privileged women are dependent on males of the family to go out; women from the middle class who are educated are expected to sit at home simply because getting to work poses a challenge. The vans that women use to get to office and go back home do not provide personal mobility,” he adds.

A woman’s needs are beyond just getting to work or dropping and picking her children, and the urban woman has a lot on her plate owing to fast-paced lifestyles of both spouses. Taxis are prohibitively expensive, often not maintained, with rash drivers and security issues; rickshaws pose their own sets of problems.

Even privileged women are dependent on males of the family to go out; women from the middle class who are educated are expected to sit at home simply because getting to work poses a challenge.

Once urban women of Pakistan got access to cellular technology, smart phone taxi services began to fill the gap. “We are happy to share that 70 per cent of Careem’s customers who ride are females — females from all areas and all economic strata. What apps have done is that they have empowered women to make their own choices — something they do not get to exercise beyond the kitchen,” he says.

The impact of women’s access to technology is not just limited to riding with the help of such apps, but goes beyond. For Quratulain Tejani, for example, being a digital strategist and entrepreneur would not have been possible without access to a smart phone. “A few apps and tools have changed my life completely. Google Maps have made mobility so much easier and convenient. I can go from one corner of the city to another, knowing that I can find my routes easily. Even when I’m driving around and get lost, all I need is 3G and Google Maps to help me find my way,” she says, adding that Google Drive and WhatsApp have facilitated her in her professional life.

For the 200 plus female captains in Careem and for the female entrepreneurs behind the thousands of home-based small entrepreneurships that rely on social media for their marketing, cellular technology is providing opportunities of work.

These impacts are not limited to just upper tiers of society. In TAFF, one of the projects includes training and placement of women from underserved backgrounds in the Domestic Help industry.

“I’ve witnessed a dramatic transformation in students who graduate from our programme. Women who had never stepped out of their houses are now riding buses around the town to reach their workplaces on time. These are women who overcame their fears, including that of travelling on public transport to earn living incomes for their families.

“Most of them are also now part of WhatsApp groups created by TAFF-VTI to stay in touch with both students and alumni which is a testimony that technology is not only being introduced to but utilised as well by our students and graduates,” says Hammad Mateen, Programme Head at TAFF-VTI.

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The mobility, then, is more than just physical. Naqvi observes that generally, technology is associated with the male gender, especially in South Asia; while girls are encouraged to join Fine Arts and Humanities, boys are encouraged to work in the field of IT. But smartphones may have broken this technological barrier for women.

“We are seeing an interplay between women and technology. Even my mother has now moved to a smart phone so that she no longer has to wait for me to take her somewhere — she can just call a smart phone taxi service. This is true both for generations of technology immigrants as well as technology natives like the youth. This change is not just of physical mobility. It is sociologic as well as demographic,” he says.

However, experts like Uzma Quresh, Social Development Specialist with the World Bank Group warn against the vulnerabilities that women are exposed to due to being active on social media and using information technology. She cites examples of cyber harassment and also mentions cases of honour killings where a girl was killed because of having access to a phone or the internet.

“Virtual mobility gives women job opportunities. E-commerce portals and IT-related skills are profitable avenues for women and also give them exposure,” she says, but adds that society has to work not just on facilitating physical mobility of women but also ensure that virtual mobility does not lead to irreversible repercussions and safety threats for women.

“It is not enough to give women access to information technology and social media; we have to work on changing mindsets,” she says. The need, then, is that the collective social thought-process moves from being restrictive to being enabling for women. That, perhaps, will be real mobility for the women of Pakistan.

International Women’s Day: The tough but unpaid work women do at home

 Published: March 8, 2018

The time has come that not just men, but also women, start recognising the immense contribution of women in the survival of a family and a society. PHOTO: ISTOCK

“So do you work or are you just a housewife?”

I remember being asked this question many times by people I was meeting for the first time. I also remember asking other women the same insensitive question, simply because I too, like so many of us, had been conditioned to only value work that gets remuneration in return.

Looking back, the years during which I took a hiatus from work as a journalist, because I was looking after a home and my family, were the years I perhaps worked the hardest. Even physically.

Imagine for a moment that the women all around us – the mothers, the wives, the daughters and daughters-in-law, the sisters and the sisters-in-law – demanded they be paid for the care and services they provide to their families. Imagine what their bank statement would look like at the end of the year!

Let’s look at the numbers. Around the world, women spend two to 10 times more time on unpaid care work and domestic work than men – work that is not often counted in labour statistics. Countries have valued unpaid care work between 15% and 39% of national GDP. Data shows that women often have a higher total work burden than men when paid and unpaid work is combined.

On March 7, 2018, Data2X launched a new report –“Invisible No More? A Methodology and Policy Review of How Time Use Surveys Measure Unpaid Work” –  with 18 case studies of countries that have started harnessing time use (TU) surveys to measure unpaid work and generate policy change regarding many issues relevant to social development. This is, in turn, making the world look at the tangible value of unpaid care and household work.

The report defines unpaid care and household work as work done by people to take care of their households and others – everyday unsung chores like cooking, cleaning, caring for children, the ill, and the elderly, and many other important tasks.

So many women among us are super women, literally. They do the jobs of cooks, cleaners, drivers, nurses, tuition teachers, psychological counsellors. They manage homes, finances and relationships. Any study of geriatrics shows that it is mostly, if not always, daughters who can be seen serving old parents and even parents-in-law.

TU surveys are important tools to understand where we, as members of the society, spend our most valuable asset – time. TU surveys, as the aforementioned report states, are quantitative summaries of how people spend their time over a specific period and how much time is spent doing each activity. These surveys help collect data that can be used to improve economic and social policies and have been used to advocate for policies that reduce the care burden, including expanding care for preschool children, elderly people, and people with disabilities. They inform and promote child protection policies by highlighting child labour and promoting broader child welfare systems. They help countries better value the contribution of unpaid care work to an economy, relative to GDP. Once we know who is spending time doing what in a society, countries can drive public campaigns to promote shared responsibilities in the home.

Today, we are celebrating International Women’s Day. And these issues can no longer be avoided. In rural areas, the load of carrying water still disproportionately falls on the women of the world because men, traditionally, do work that gets financial support for the family. But imagine if the women in rural Pakistan started charging for carrying the water back home. After all, this disparity does not only cost women time but also energy, and caloric requirements of water-fetchers increase – a requirement which is often not met for women. This is why now emphasis is being placed on highlighting the importance of men sharing the load of household chores with their women.

But what happens practically? The lion’s share of the food is given to the man because, hey, he is the one who earns. Managing a home, giving birth to children and then feeding them – it is a lot of unsung heroic work – one that needs to be appreciated. It’s high time.

As the Data2X report mentions, it is encouraging to see that slowly but surely, measuring reliably and comprehensively the unpaid household and care work traditionally performed by women has risen in prominence as a major challenge for official statistics.

Last year, in an encouraging initiative, the government of Sindh stood poised to adopt a policy for home-based workers (HBWs), making it the first province in the country to implement such a policy. Nonetheless, the fact remains that the list of home-based workers generally does not include the work women do at home.

Data2X’s new report mentions that in 2017, India’s Ministry of Labour and Employment’s Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act recognising women’s time spent in care work, went into effect. Such policies are needed in all developing countries.

The time has come that not just men, but also women, start recognising the immense contribution of women in the survival of a family and a society. Every woman works, even though she may not get paid for it. So let’s not dismiss their contribution, for they are the axis around which a society revolves.

Do you think women should be paid for household chores and care work?

  •  Yes, about time
  •  No, it’s part of their responsibilities

     View Results

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz is a writer and editor, and has worked as the Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works in the fields of communications and media training. She loves literature and traveling. She tweets as @FarahnazZahidi. Her work can be seen at chaaidaani.wordpress.com/

Life after the partner – Being a widow in Pakistan

 http://tns.thenews.com.pk/life-partner/#.WqJpYehubIU

Today a widow is not ready to accept her traditional role in society of being dependent on others for everything in life

Life after the partner

Every family had a few such widows — some young and others older. Their presence was not considered auspicious, and they were supposed to lead listless sedentary lives devoid of any hope for a better future, waiting for stipends and hand-me-downs, with a looming sense of guilt as if that woman was somehow responsible for the death of her husband.

More than a decade and a half since we entered the third millennium, the widowed women of Pakistan find themselves a little ahead of where they once stood on the social ladder yet are still entangled in some deep-rooted traditions, stigmas and restrictions.

More than a decade and a half since we entered the third millennium, the widowed women of Pakistan find themselves a little ahead of where they once stood on the social ladder yet are still entangled in some deep-rooted traditions, stigmas and restrictions.

Farah Kamal, an education and development consultant, describes her journey decade by decade: she grew up in the 80s, got married in the 90s, and became a widow in the new millennium. “For those girls who grew up when I did, we were not raised to lead independent lives. When I became a widow, I suddenly found myself alone. And independent. Thus, for me, the societal attitudes posed the biggest challenge, more than the financial challenge as I was already a working woman and could support myself financially.”

With the loss of her husband, Farah was encouraged by people to start living with her parents and siblings or to get a relative to live with them, a suggestion she did not accept. “We have the stereotypical image of a widow. She should be depressed, subdued, dressed in sober clothes. But today’s widow is not going to sit in a corner dressed in white, dependent on others to give her charity.”

Read also: Journey to legal rights

It is not just the woman who has lost her husband that suffers the impact of social stigma that surrounds a widow. It is also her children. While Ahmer Ali was an adult when he lost his father five years ago, his experience and observing as a son what his mother has gone through has taught him a lot about the plight of a widow. “For my mother and my siblings, both finances as well as the emotional trauma were huge challenges, as were the social taboos. Take a small example that in our society a widow is supposed to dress as soberly as she can. My mother loves to wear bright colors but after my father passed away I observed she begun to avoid clothes of colour. However, I ensured that she wore what she liked,” he says.

Commenting on social attitudes, Ahmer confesses that if the prospect of his mother remarrying would have come up soon after his father passed away, he may or may not have been able to accept it. “Five years down the lane, I say to myself ‘why not?’. People need to understand that widows also have a right to lead their lives as they wish, and have a right to start afresh if they like. In Islam, there is no obstacle in a widow’s remarriage; it is in fact encouraged. The clergy needs to spread awareness about this. But instead of encouraging the widow to move on with her life, people make the one who is mourning cry more. Social attitudes towards widows need to change. It is time.”

For Nazia* (name changed on request), the experience was not entirely negative when it came to how people acted towards her after she lost her husband. “My friends and family were quite empathetic and helpful when it happened,” she says, but adds that the experience has been mixed, “Because on my husband’s first death anniversary, my relatives, and that too close ones, called and expected me to be crying and be really sad. Incidentally, my daughter got engaged two years later on the same date that my husband had died, and even my closest of kin said, ‘why did you do it on the same date?’ I got tired explaining that the boy’s sister was leaving the next day so I did not have an option,” she says. “To date, I feel people observe me intently, and expect me to be sad and depressed,” she adds.

Yet, life has not allowed her that liberty. Gaping challenges faced this mother of two when her husband passed away, leaving them in the midst of financial challenges. “I didn’t really get any time to mourn. I was out of the house on the fourth day for the death certificate. Who else was there to support me and my girls?” As her family did not own a house, Nazia had to arrange a place to live soon after becoming a widow, and started working full-time to support herself and her daughters. “I heard comments like ‘haan haan tum to buhut independent ho, tumhain kisi ki zaroorat nahin (You are a very independent woman, seems you need no one)’.” But she did what she had to in order to survive. “In so many ways, I have become a stronger woman since I lost my husband,” she says.

Another social attitude is the assumption that widowed women are on the lookout for a man to remarry. “My male colleagues stopped visiting me [even for work] because their wives did not want their husbands to interact with me,” says Farah. She poignantly describes the experience of being widowed: “It was like being off-loaded on a dark highway in the middle of a journey.” Her being a financially empowered single woman has proven to be another challenge, as men see such a woman as a lucrative prospect.

Advising young girls, Farah says girls need to be independent and educated to be able to support themselves if such a situation in life arises. She is also of the opinion that girls should weigh carefully factors like health and lifestyle of a man before marrying, because unhealthy lifestyles or diseases of a man may result in his prematurely leaving this world, and the widow being left to suffer.

“I hate when in the ‘marital status’ column, I am asked to write ‘widow’,” Farah says. “This status does not identify who I am. I have also realised that my happiness is my own responsibility, as is my survival. This trial has made me stronger as a woman.”