Asia-Pacific, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights

WOMEN’S DAY: Pakistan Is Not for Single Women

Zofeen Ebrahim

KARACHI, Mar 8 2011 (IPS) - Sobia Aslam, in her forties and twice divorced, often feels she should get married a third time.

“Our society is tuned to a family system. There is no provision for being single,” says Aslam, talking to IPS. She stresses that it’s a double whammy when you are a single mother.

After a certain age, men and women are supposed to be seen as a family with “spouses and at least two kids”, Aslam says.

The whole society is geared for that. Everything from meal discounts in fancy restaurants, to airfares – ‘two for the price of one’ – to cookery shows on various TV channels to advertisements, there is nothing that promotes or celebrates being single.

Aslam, who works in a multi-national company, in the southern port city of Karachi, has a teenage daughter and knows what it entails juggling housework, raising a child and working – all single-handedly.

Aslam’s friends suggest that she remarry. “I have not completely abandoned the idea, but no one recommends or volunteers to marry a divorced woman in her forties!” she says.

To fight the negativity surrounding being single here, apart from being financially strong and having family support, education is the only real armour.

“I would not have been so confident or survived had I not completed my education,” Nuzhat Riaz, 46, tells IPS. She got a good piece of advice from a neighbour after the death of her husband – to arm herself with education if she “wanted to live independently, away from the shadow of her father and brothers”. And so she did – she first completed her post-graduate studies and went on to do her masters’. Later she received a diploma in library science.

The sudden death of her husband seventeen years ago turned Riaz’s fairyland “topsy turvy”, she says. “His death brought me back to the real world and all the problems.” The Filipino maid had to be let go as well as the lifestyle of leisure and fun. From learning to write a cheque, taking care of the household budget, and driving a car, Riaz learnt to become a workingwoman as a school librarian, in a private school in Karachi.

“But bringing up three kids on my own was the most difficult,” Riaz acknowledges.

While Aslam’s case is slightly different from Riaz’s, she stresses that it is considered “quite normal” to remain in a bad marriage. There is a stigma attached to being single.

Most single women here say they are often pitied – though pity is mixed with suspicion. “They think that the man must have left you for your questionable character, or that you were too headstrong to live with a husband and in- laws,” says Aslam.

Tania Qazi, a divorcee of 36, who works in a non-governmental organisation, in the federal capital, Islamabad, tells IPS that to live as a single woman in Pakistan requires true grit and “a hell of a lot of tact”.

Along with the everyday issues that have to be dealt with, she says, many like her, have to keep at bay, advances by men, especially married men. “Men just automatically believe that you are there for the taking or that you are interested,” she says.

Javeria Tariq, 45, also a widow, found to her horror that many of her husband’s close friends, made advances towards her. “That really hurt!” she says.

Tariq’s husband, a dental surgeon, in Karachi, died ten years ago leaving her to take care of a mother-in-law, two sons and a clinic she had no expertise in running.

“Even taking the car for repairs was a chore,” Tariq explained. “I’d tell the mechanic I’d get back to him after discussing what he’d suggested with my husband! I didn’t want him to know there was no husband.”

Aslam feels that she has to keep her double bed. “The various handy men who come to your house for odd jobs think that there is a husband on the scene but possibly working abroad or just not at home at that particular point,” she said.

For many single women, mobility is another factor that poses a problem.

“There are nosy people all around you who keep an eye on your comings and goings,” says Aslam.

“It’s difficult to go out alone after dark,” agrees 27-year-old Sana Mansoor, talking to IPS over phone, who lived abroad for a few years before moving back to Pakistan. She is unmarried and now lives on her own in Islamabad, working as a researcher in an organisation.

Finding good, safe and affordable accommodation is also a challenge for single women.

“Most people who may want to rent out a portion of their house are deterred by your single status,” says Aslam.

Mansoor and another young woman had a hard time finding an apartment in the federal capital. “The owner was very uncomfortable, and we had to put him at ease by promising him that we would not be inviting male colleagues, friends or even cousins to our apartment,” she says.

“Education is the only weapon,” insists Qazi.

But argues Mansoor, she has many educated, unmarried friends who want to live on their own but are not allowed to do so.

Republish | | Print |

Related Tags