By: Nidha Khan, IATG Contributor April 11, 2016
I can feel her staring at me. Who is she? Does she know me? Did we meet when I was younger? I begin mulling these thoughts over and then turn around and politely smile at her. She smiles too. She says nothing. Still nothing.
I turn back around. However, I can't help wanting to look at her again. So I do. She is still staring, but this time, she isn't the only one. Four other women are now huddled around her, whispering, nodding, and smiling at me. My face flushes and I become extremely uncomfortable knowing that I was being so carefully analyzed, but before I can move the youngest woman in the group makes her way to me, sits down, and begins to speak.
The first question she asks is whether I'm engaged or married. And the rest is routine: what degree do you have? What's your father's name? What area are you from? After she got all the information she needed, she left.
While being asked to fill out a verbal questionnaire in order to deem whether I'm a good enough candidate for their young male relative is irritating, I'm just relieved that she isn’t as bad as the elderly lady from the day before. The other woman was stalker-level crazy - I was chased around the venue for my home address and cellphone number. She even began to look for my mother. The only way I could escape her was to throw myself into my car and go home.
In the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region of Pakistan, if you're a girl, privacy is a luxury. Even schools, universities, and workplaces are not considered “out of bound places” for harassing us. For example, when my Aunty was younger, she and her friends were frequently removed from their school classes by mothers who were on the hunt for potential daughter-in-laws. While my cousin and her friends now resort to wearing face masks while working at their teaching hospital in order to protect themselves from the “fake patients” who admit themselves with the sole purpose of finding an attractive, educated, and single girl.
And if these proposals are refused by the older girls (28-29 years old), mainly because they want to continue pursuing an education or a career, they are subjected to a great deal of stigma. They are instantly labelled as “ignorant,” “'rebellious,” or “undesirable” and become the center of gossip. In order to avoid this, many families then turn to pressuring their young ambitious girls into marriage.
This has to stop.
These behaviours violate our basic human right to an education and perpetuates gender inequality by teaching girls that marriage is more important than any of our other life aspirations. It makes the case that our main “duty” to the family and society is to become married and bear children while the boys our age have the opportunity to turn their dreams into reality and to carve out their own destiny, on their own terms.
What is equally infuriating is that these practices also affect our self-worth. All the snarky gossip and backlash that is generated from refusing marriage teaches us that our lives must be bound to a man’s for it to be considered acceptable or even worthy.
This unacceptable. Like food and water, education too, is an inalienable human right and it’s time for Pakistan to step up and protect its female citizens.
How does Nidha’s story change or impact your perspective about the challenges girls face around the world? Find out how you can get more involved in raising awareness about women’s rights around the globe.
A food lover who just can’t cook! When I’m not creating havoc in the kitchen, you’ll find me writing, reading, starting discussions on breaking news and human rights issues, and of course, eating.
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