I interviewed Mahwish Khan. She is a 22 year-old female from Pakistan. She came here to Wichita, Kansas, in 2001 to expand her education. I intend to show you how Pakistani women have progressed and become more individualized and independent. I will show you using experiences that Mahwish shared with me about herself and women in her family. I will discuss the education and home lives of Mahwish’s grandmother, mother, and herself. I will explain to you how Mahwish and other women are treated socially, economically, and politically, in Pakistan.
I asked Mahwish the differences between rural and urban women’s status in Pakistan. She said that urban areas are more modern then rural areas. I found out that women living in rural areas do not have a lot of opportunities to become strong independent career women. They receive the minimum amount of education, and then their parents marry them off to become housewives to men that have been chosen for them. If women want to continue their education, they have to travel to an urban area where most of the universities are located.
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In the rural areas of Pakistan, boys and girls are separated; they do not even go to the same schools or do they attend the same parties. When an unfamiliar man comes to a rural family’s home, he is not even allowed in most parts of the house; like the bathroom, or the living room these rooms are considered private rooms. Pakistani’s urban women are more modernized; they have more choices as to what school they attend. If urban women want to go to a school with men, it is their choice. Urban women have more opportunities to go to college and become career women. Usually urban women start their careers, and then find a husband and start families; Verses having someone else choose your life mate for you. Mahwish’s grandmother grew up in a rural area and then married and moved with her husband to Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Islamabad is where Mahwish’s mother grew up, and started her career, and started her family.
I also asked Mahwish to give me a brief history of her grandmother and mother’s lives and what they did to make a living. She could not recall too many details of her grandmother’s history, but she would do her best. Her grandmother was born the youngest and only daughter of four children. She only had four years of education, verses the college education of her three brothers, but she had to be taught how to do housework, she would soon have to make a good wife. A few short years later, she was married to a man twice her age; she was only fourteen. Mahwish’s grandmother never had to work to make money. She taught children how to read and write though. She only taught children that could not afford schooling. Soon after marrying Mahwish’s grandfather, she started having babies; Mahwish’s grandmother had a total of nine children.
Mahwish’s mother was the oldest of the nine children. Lucky for Mahwish’s mother her father was a professor of mathematics at a university in Islamabad, he wanted all of his children to go to school and get the highest amount of education that they could. Mahwish’s mother was very bright; she went to Peshawar University the best university in Pakistan. She went all the way to receiving her master’s degree in Botany. After she graduated from the university, she began working as a teacher at a local school. After starting to work, Mahwish’s mother was married. Unlike her mother, she did not start having babies right after being married. Three years later Mahwish’s mother gave birth to Mahwish’s older brother. She continued working as a teacher even after she had Mahwish. She did not become a housewife, until Mahwish was in the first grade. She continued to teach children however, to read and write in her home. She did not make a living doing this. She only taught children that could not afford to attend public school.
I asked Mahwish if she felt her family’s history made a good representation of the progress made in women’s status in Pakistan. She responded by saying, “Yes, defiantly.” She said, “Women use to not be able to go to college or have careers when her grandmother was growing up. All women were around for was to just get married and raise children.” She said, “Look at me I am far away from home and studying to get my masters degree. Soon I will be an independent woman.”
Eventually, Mahwish and I discussed how her parents treated boys and girls in their family. Luckily they felt that boys and girls should be raised equally. Both Mahwish and her brother had chores to do. They both had to help do the cooking, and the cleaning, and the laundry. Mahwish and her brother have been expected to finish the same amount of school. They both completed ten years of early education, and they are both here at Wichita State getting their master’s degree. Mahwish said the only way females are treated differently in her family, is that women are not allowed to go outside late at night by their selves because of safety issues. I also asked Mahwish when she has children would she raise the boys and girls differently, or the same as her parents raised her and her brother. She responded by saying, “My children would be lucky to grow up in the same environment I grew up in.
Then we decided to discuss Mahwish’s education in closer detail. She told me she had completed ten years of early education, and went on to attend three years of college at the National University of Pakistan. Then in 2001 she transferred her credits to Wichita State, where she has received her bachelor’s degree in business administration. Mahwish is currently working on her masters in business administration.
We then discussed what career she wanted to peruse. She hopes to get a job with a bank, or with a pharmaceutical company, or with an insurance company. She laughed and said, “Hopefully I will be making a whole bunch of money.” Mahwish said she does not want a life centered on her family, or a husband. She does want to marry and have kids someday, but she wants to live a life of her own and get settled in a career first. When Mahwish has children she feels she will continue to work, because if she were just a housewife it would drive her crazy.
I also asked Mahwish to briefly describe women’s current status in Pakistan in terms of their participation in the social, economic, and political arenas. Socially the nature and degree of women’s oppression/subordination vary across classes, regions, and the rural/urban areas. Women that live in rural areas are still treated as secondary citizens. Men are established authority and have power over women’s lives. Women are still exchanged, sold, and bought in marriages. They are given limited opportunities to create choices for themselves. On the other hand women that live in the urban areas have increasingly greater access to education and employment opportunities and can assume greater control over their lives.
Women in Pakistan participate fully in economic activities. Women that live in the rural areas work unpaid on the family farms and raise children. The women that live in the urban areas work in low paying jobs, doing service work, and manufacturing work, and professional work. No matter what women do they are still under paid. Women still lack ownership of productive resources. Despite their legal rights to own and inherit property from their families, there are very few women who have access and control over these resources. Never the less, more and more the pressure is being put on women to contribute to the family income, due to inflation, unemployment, and increasing poverty in Pakistan.
Women’s participation in politics as voters, candidates, and political activists is increasing; however this has not led to the emergence of women as leaders in the arena of formal politics. This is so because political party structures are male-dominated. Women in political parties are not given decision-making positions within the parties and are often not fielded as candidates during elections on the pretext that they lack political skills. The traditional notion of women’s role is primarily in the family context. The nature of political parties, the criminalization of politics and, the culture of corruption that permeates public life, and the fear of character assassination, will effectively block women’s participation in government structures.
I asked Mahwish what she feels are the greatest differences between women’s roles and status in Pakistan and the United States. She said, “One thing women in Pakistan don’t do is smoke or drink, and women in the United States women smoke and drink all the time. We also dress differently then women in the US; women in the US tend to dress racier. Another thing women in Pakistan don’t do is give up on having a family so they can have careers. Lots of women in the US will just give up on the idea of having a family; they will keep putting it off until it is just too late. Then in the long run all they have to show for their life is a lot of hard work and no happiness. In the United States women are treated with more respect, than women in Pakistan.
Youthful women are more aware of their identities, their capabilities and are definitely more ambitious. The inflation and exposure through media has opened minds in the Pakistani society, where parents feel confident that their daughters can also be successful in their lives. Similarly, young men want to choose sanguine women as wives who can be more of a partner than just a glorified maid who would cook and look after kids. The time has also come to an extent when women, in some instances, themselves choose to be housewives. One thing the Pakistani women will come to enjoy is the respect and acceptance of their decision to be housewives, or when they can make the choice to work if they need to.
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