2015 changed my life forever.
For better or worse, only time will tell. From leading a comfortable family life, I was suddenly thrown into the world of a single mother. That started a new journey for me, and over the last two years, changed my views on many things in life. My efforts to look for a job and to try to be financially independent made me realize so many things, and made me question the choices I had made…
A woman who has not worked in a long time, has been a housewife for the longest, who might not even hold a professional degree, who is not even familiar with the basic skills of creating a digital presentation, is expected to suddenly turn into this confident, sharp, ambitious, and independent individual, to go to work and get a job to support her family.
Even if she had a really fabulous career 10 years ago, even if she holds a professional degree, (but she hasn’t worked in the last few years), it is very, very hard to land a job in this highly competitive and already over-supplied market? Some people do get a job. I am not generalizing, but the majority of women face extreme difficulties.
Stop for a minute and think. How will she manage the children and job simultaneously? Maybe her kids need her the most right now? How hard is it for a woman who is used to a comfortable and protective family life to go out and face the corporate world? How hard is it to change your entire frame of mind? Is it easy to start from scratch, to be working at entry level, is it easy to report to people much younger than you? … and to top it all, the financial compensation might not even be enough to cover for all her expenses and sacrificing time with her children, who need her now.
So am I saying that all women should work? Am I against housewives? NO…
Working or staying at home can be a personal choice or can be driven by multiple reasons. I made that choice when my first daughter was born – to stay at home. It was okay because maybe, culturally, this is how we are conditioned. This was the success formula followed by our elders and older generations – to give importance to family life over pursuing a career. Maybe your husband does not need that financial support and sacrifice from you, and maybe his career can bring more stability for the entire family.
But what happens the minute the situation changes in a woman’s life? The minute she loses a husband, or a brother, or a father?
It doesn’t take long for expectations to change. The in-laws who wanted her to stay at home and be a sughar biwi and bahu, despite having an MBA or a doctorate, now want their widowed bahu to take care of herself and the family. Now they have absolutely no problem that she steps out of the house and does a job to support herself and her children.
The husband who (very conveniently), asked his wife to sacrifice her career for his, now, after divorcing her, leaves her without financial support (or battles it out in court to pay for child maintenance). The very degree that he perceived of lesser value than his own, now takes on immense value and should magically grant her a job so she is no longer his responsibility or headache.
The father and the brother who had lovingly asked you to enjoy your life and take it easy: “Why study so much or why work?” (when you have a husband to look after you) … are now worried and deeply concerned as to how will you take care of yourself. The father worries – what will happen to you after he is no longer there?
All those friends and relatives who approved of your choice to stay home and lauded your role as a great bahu, daughter or biwi, now have only one advice for you: “bus jo hona the ho gaya, bus ab tum apnay paaoon per khari ho or apnee or apnay bachon ki life bunaao…”.
Life has no guarantees.
Maybe it’s time, we all start thinking about this. We cannot predict what will happen … because the future is not in our control.
But there is something that is in our control and that is, the manner in which we bring up our daughters.
Our mindset, our approach towards life matters, and we can transform it. Because at the end of the day, life is tough and anything, just anything can happen. We can’t prevent it, but we can be prepared for it.
We need to strike a balance between developing skill sets for a woman and being the mother or wife she is required to be.
To a husband I would say: Presently you are in love with your wife and children, but no one knows what tomorrow will bring. So please make sure you enable her with enough skills and confidence that tomorrow, if you are not in this world, she can survive and take care of your family. If you divorce her for some reason, she is still able to go on in life and doesn’t have to be dependent on you … if anything, this will ease your financial burdens. So do it for your own sake if not for hers.
What if tomorrow you become critically ill and the responsibility falls on her shoulders?
To a father I would say, educate your daughters with the best degrees and let them work. Even after they get married, support the idea of them working or doing something on their own which can add value and skill. So when and if, they are in a difficult situation, they are not lost and return to your home in helplessness.
They can proudly and confidently start again. It can be working part-time, it can working from home, it can be studying from time to time, or it can even be volunteering … support them, make it easy for them, share their responsibilities, stand up with them against everyone who wants them to give up their passions, hobbies and career.
Inculcate the importance of independence in your daughters.
To a brother I would say: ghairat ko chor ker future ka socho. The very sister whom you don’t want to step out without a dupatta, (or maybe you are one who doesn’t care about the dupatta) the sister you adore and for whom you pray for a happy, comfortable life as long as she is with you, might have to face challenges you had not foreseen.
This protective attitude can cost her her confidence, her key to a successful future and ability to face the world with the required skills. So let her study, let her fly, let her gain the work experience. Give her the confidence that you will stand with her to ensure that she is equipped with all the right skills even after she is married.
To a woman like me, who chose to stay at home despite having a professional degree and work experience, I would say:
“I respect your choice, but believe me if tomorrow you have to become the breadwinner for the family, this very sacrifice will be your downfall. Trust me when I say, you will be all on your own.”
I do not mean to be disrespectful towards the millions of fathers and brothers and families who do support their daughters, sisters or friends in such situations. But to the women, I have to say: It will be your pride, your self esteem, your desire to not to be dependent on anyone that will make you seek a way to support your self.
Or sadly, you can be one of those who might not have the support. So in either case remember, it’s going to be YOUR battle, your children will have to be protected, and no one can fight this battle for you even if they want to. So take a minute and think about it, because at that time you won’t have a choice. You will have to take that first step, so wouldn’t you rather be ready for it?
To the friends, relatives and to the entire society I would say:
It’s time to change. If you can’t be the change then at least support the change, at least don’t go against the change. Can you do that?
Can we try to stop being judgmental about women who decide to pursue a career despite having family? Can we try to encourage women to work? Can we try to believe that a woman’s career is as important as a man’s? Can we try to accept and recognize that a woman doesn’t have to stay home to be a good wife and mother? Can we try to support the concept that if you can’t work presently, acquire a skill at least. All I ask is, that you must try. If each one of us can try to pick up any of the above and do that … maybe we can be the change makers.
Rabia stays involved in various social causes. Believing in creating equal opportunities for underprivileged kids, she helps The Citizens’ Foundation, Pakistan, to create awareness of the need for providing quality education to children. At the same time, she is also involved with Singapore-based VWO, 4PM’s Ramadan on Wheels project by supporting it through the FUCHSIA platform. At FUCHSIA, Rabia oversees the Marketing and Public Relations work. She is also part of the Editing Team in conceptualising articles and monthly issues.