I am English by birth, Scottish by choice and Pakistani by heritage.
Bet you didn’t know that, huh?
I’ve been going to this creative writing thing run by the Art Stop. It’s been really interesting. Recently we were discussing International Women’s Day, and the talk went to sexism. That got me thinking about a culture I haven’t been a part of for a long time, a culture that still has an impact on me.
My maternal grandparents came to Britain in the late sixties. My mother was born in this country, but she was brought up as if she were still in Pakistan. My father, however, was born and brought up in Pakistan. On my mother’s side I am what is known as the ‘second generation’ – on my father’s, I am the ‘first generation’. I was brought up with a mixed message. I don’t blame my parents. I blame my mother’s parents. And the society we were a part of.
In Pakistani society women are viewed as second class citizens. There’s little expected of us other than marrying into a respectable family, and giving birth to multiple children. There are rules and regulations which are apparently the prophet Mohammed’s words.
When I was growing up I was taught that a woman is seen and not heard. A woman does not have opinions. A woman does not question what her ‘superiors’ say. I was brought up to believe that a woman could do nothing without a man by her side. Be that her father, brother, husband or uncle. I was brought up to believe that a woman would amount to nothing without a man. A woman does precisely what her father tells her to until she marries the man he chooses. She then does exactly what her husband tells her to do, even if it goes against everything she has been brought up to believe. She needs her husbands permission to go out, to stay in, to speak. She serves her husband first. She waits for her husband to eat dinner before she can. If her husband asks for a glass of water, she is expected to hold it until he takes it from her – no placing the glass on the coffee table!
Islam talks about equality among the sexes, it talks about a woman being able to gain knowledge and travel the world if she so wishes, it talks about a woman having a choice in life. It also tells us that a man may take up to four wives, but a woman can only have one husband. It tells us that a man may marry a Christian or a Jew and convert her to Islam, but a woman may not marry a man of another faith, even if he converts to Islam to be with her. Pakistani culture takes these little things and blows them out of proportion. They tell women that they are no more than baby making machines, who have no say in life.
Thankfully, things are slowly changing. Pakistani women are gaining more independence – they are going to university, getting jobs and marrying who they wish to marry. There are still the people who wish to keep women downtrodden.
It confuses me, and irks me, and basically annoys the crap out of me. Boy am I glad I had a good reason to get the fuck away from all of it.