Things started changing soon after marriage. Shameer wanted Sheema to take her career casually and give priority to home, and it became a constant struggle for Sheema to balance her demanding professional and domestic responsibilities without family support. While expecting her first child, she faced pressure from her in-laws and husband to take a break. Sheema had no option but to quit her job. Sheema isn’t the only woman who is facing the dilemma in our country. Most qualified and career-oriented women are pushed to choose between career and family in the first few years of their marital life. Ghazala married her cousin when she was doing her house job. He and his family wanted a wife and daughter-in-law who worked as a doctor. However, a few months after marriage, they had objections at her odd duty timings, late working hours and dedication to higher studies. The tension grew to such an extent that Ghazala had to move to her parents’ home. She was divorced within a year as she refused to give up her medical career. She is often blamed for ruining her own life. Yet, she has no regrets and believes she did what is right. According to the Pakistan Labour Force Statistics (PLFS) 2012-2013, of the country’s estimated 180 million people, only 12.5 million women of various ages are in employment of some sort. Working women can be divided into four major categories: employers, self-employed individuals, unpaid family helpers and employees. Women employers were just 0.1pc of the total 1.3pc. Self-employed comprised 15.7pc. While the number of unpaid family helpers shows a rising trend, reaching 60.5pc by 2012-13. This indicates that more women were pushed to work without payments. The trend reflects gender discrimination against female employees in our job market. The major factors contributing to poor employment trends for women in our country include low literacy rates, lack of mobility, social and cultural taboos, family norms and lack of support system that impede their active participation in the national economic activity. Youmna, a journalism graduate, and a housewife with a daughter, said, “It’s mainly because of the mindset. One thing any Asian man can’t handle is ‘zamana’ (society). He is more concerned about what people would think about him if his wife would go out to earn a living and he would be seen supporting her in the household chores and childcare, than anything else. Besides doctor-bahu (daughter-in-law), women with MBA, pharmacy, engineering and masters’ degrees in diverse disciplines are the most sought after nowadays. Does it mean our society has become progressive when it comes to women’s rights? Amna, a house wife, said that educated girls are preferred because most families realise that when a woman is educated, the children will be educated. Nazish, a TV anchor and reporter, is of the opinion that “a majority of Pakistani men wish to have educated life partners, whom they can proudly introduce and brag about in their circle. At the same time, they expect their wives to serve them the same way they have seen in their families for generations. A professor at Karachi University adds that men can’t tolerate successful wives, and are just looking for ways to bring them down. “Most of the women who reach the top are single, lamented Ms Kazi. There is, however, another side of the story. As Anum and Rabia, two recently married pharmacy graduates, endorsed, “Not all men have and orthodox orientation. Social attitudes are changing, especially in the educated urban class. Nowadays, most young men have no objection to their wives’ careers. They are rather supportive and encouraging. Asim, an online news editor, is of the opinion that “a majority of Pakistani women prefers to stay at home after marriage and waste their time in front of the TV. Professional life demands hard work and dedication, and with children and household chores, women don’t want to take up dual responsibilities. Anum endorsed the fact that most educated girls opt to discontinue their careers because of their changed roles and increasing domestic responsibilities as wives, daughter-in-laws and mothers. “Only two kinds of women pursue careers after marriage in Pakistan, those who are passionate or needy. Generally there are typical mindsets regarding female employment in Pakistani society. In the upper and middle-classes, most families prefer qualified, homemakers girls who can bear and rear their future generation progressively and might share financial responsibilities in case of a crisis. As Amber, a faculty member at a leading business university, commented, “It is the hunting and controlling mentality. Go after the best in the ‘herd’. Having a highly educated woman completely in control, I suppose, would give the man ‘hunter’ a satisfaction. On the other hand, there are families who prefer working girls, mostly in the lower, lower-middle and labour classes, so that they can support their husbands and their family with their income alongside their household role with little or no support. In both cases, women often have little or no say to choose if they like to work or stay at home. Pursuing a career at one’s own will is rather a distant dream for Pakistani women. And the price of this dream is often, if not always, a single, isolated life. There are, however, some exceptions, such as Aima. She is one of those few lucky girls who are able to pursue her film-making career. Initially with her parents’ encouragement and later in-law’s and husband’s support, she was able to make her mark and follow a distinguished career of her own choice. However, exceptions are no rule. Pakistan is still witnessing a high rate of female unemployment, poor job opportunities, lower wages and low female representation in professional jobs and senior positions. One can identify social injustice, declining socioeconomic conditions, high rate of illiteracy and tribal mindset as the major causes of discrimination against women in our society. The status of female employment and empowerment remains low despite hollow claims and half-heated initiatives for years. Most employed women are identified as “skilled agricultural and fisheries workers. Around 63.8pc of the total 37.6pc female workforce belongs to this group. It is evident that most Pakistani female workers serve in low-paid and low-status jobs. The category most accommodating of female workers is elementary, unskilled occupations, where their ratio is 25pc of the total number of the workers employed. As the PLFS estimated: “In 2001-02 women managers and officials at senior levels were only 1.9pc out of the total 11.6pc in the group. The number of women in the same group declined to 1.6pc by 2012-13. Some researches strengthened the traditional mindset while stating that “marriage and family work the best when a person is taking care of them full time and in our society that person is supposed to be the woman. In the absence of a support system at home and at workplace (quality daycare centres, flexible working hours and maternity leaves) only a small number of girls prefer to take the burden of a dual-career marriage than the challenge of a stay-at-home-spousedom. Women hold half the sky and deserve equal working opportunities without any fear and compromise. Unless we are able to change our thinking and provide a conducive environment to them, Pakistan’s economic growth and development will remain a distant dream.

Dawn 2016