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OPINION

Mothers Seeking Careers Struggle to Maintain Identity

Career gives women a sense of being and purpose

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Mariam* reminisces of her hurriedly typed assignments with merely an hour’s deadline for submission. She has recently completed a 2 year program for a Masters in Human Resource Management. Being a student enrolled in a Virtual University, she had the facility to view lectures, submit assignments and attempt quizzes online using her laptop from home. However, married life with four kids made these tasks tedious for her. Always juggling between household work, parental duties and social responsibilities, Mariam struggled on a daily basis to complete her second Masters degree. “When I got married 20 years ago, I had already completed my Masters in Mass Communications with an interest in Public Relations and Advertising,” shares Mariam. “After marriage, we moved to a city which was not very modern. I also had a fear that my in laws may not like the idea of me working anywhere. It was a typical marriage, the life of an ordinary girl turning into a house maker followed by travels, charms, luxuries and motherhood. So the personality, if it ever existed, now revolves around home and kids.”

An Identity Crisis
Like Mariam, many other married women in Pakistan and around the world, tend to feel a loss of purpose in their lives when they are unable to perform tasks other than their daily household chores. In 1963, Betty Friedan, an American psychologist was perplexed by an unusual mental condition that she found was quite widespread, mostly among married women. They complained of depression, of being unable to focus on things, of bursting into tears without reason, sleeping a lot and feeling unusually tired. This feeling of unhappiness was there despite the women having secure marriages, children, financial security and social networks. In her book titled “The Feminine Mystique”, Freidan wrote that these women did not face any hormonal or psychological issue. She realised that the source of these women’s condition was an identity crisis. A woman told her that she had everything – a husband moving up in his career, a lovely home, yet when she woke up in the morning there was nothing to look forward to. One question summed up her feelings: Is this all there is in life?

Half a century later, the situation is still the same for many women today. With better social and education standards, the impact of modernity brings with it a new brand of identity crisis in the women. “I got a bit stuck in a question I ask myself again and again, that am I of any worth?” shares Mariam. “Can I be of some use apart from daily house chores?” she says.

Amna*, who has prior work experience in banking, advertising and electronic media, also felt a vacuum in her life, until recently being hired in a local school. “Initially I felt bad for not being able to go back to work or do something I was good at,” she says. “Later I realized it was not easy with three kids. Time has changed now, the news industry has evolved so much.” she laments. Nevertheless, she still feels happy that she would be able to utilise some time of her day in a useful manner, no matter that the work would not be associated with that of her prior experience.

The Time Factor
In the Asian culture, tradition remains strong and dictates many aspects of the society. Psychologists have observed that as young girls grow into adolescence and womanhood, they comply more and more with the feminine roles demanded of them. Some studies even suggested that women are subtly conditioned to feel that over-achievement is an “unfeminine” trait. Those who do become part of the workforce, face difficulties in moving up the corporate ladder, especially if they are married.

Surprisingly, women may face a similar situation even in the West, where despite a more liberal approach being practiced towards life, they may still be expected to eventually contribute to raising a family. In 2017,New Zealand’s current prime minister Jacinda Ardern was drawn into a sexism row when she was the opposition leader. She was asked if having a baby would affect her chances of becoming a prime minister. “It is totally unacceptable in 2017 to say that women should have to answer that question in the workplace,” Arden had then responded, saying it was a dilemma lots of working women faced. Jacinda went on to become the prime minister of her nation and became the second woman to give birth to a child while holding that office.

According to the Denver Women’s Commission, most women who work outside their homes are still the primary caregivers for their young children as well as elderly relatives. For some, the option of hiring a nanny or a close relative taking care of offsprings is available, for others it is either not there or not preferred, hence the burden falling on the woman. Consequently, many women can only pursue their careers on a part-time basis, resulting in fewer promotion opportunities. They consider the ages of their children and the amount of time they have available before they decide to pursue a career path. “I wanted to join the corporate world so badly but a 9-5 job was not a workable option for me,“ says Uzma*, an MBA degree holder with a major in Marketing and now a mother of two. “I didn’t want to waste my studies, so I opted to join a school which was an 8-2 job.”

Not Losing Hope
Taking out lesser time from their household routine still does not deter women from pursuing a career. Although many of them would still not be satisfied until they can fully participate in a working field and are eager to reach a top position, most feel that as long as there is an outlet for them to experience creativity, management skills and independence, working for fewer hours is actually not that bad. “Apart from teaching, I also started a small scale home based baking business and later on, started an event management business along with two friends,” says Uzma. “I was able to give time to my family as well and was a working woman side by side. It was easy to balance both sides due to less working hours.” she explains.

Amna always pursued a career option. “I’m very busy with my 3 kids and honestly I’m loving it,” she responds. “But sometimes you want to do something extra with your life. As I see my kids growing, they need my time and attention more then ever, but it is not very difficult to start working again. A lot of my friends are working moms and they are doing a great job. Nothing is difficult if you know the art of time management,” expresses Amna. She now looks forward to her new job starting late in summer.

What Friedan argued in the 60s is that women be allowed and facilitated to pursue activities that enhance their identity. For many women, a career is what gives them a sense of being and purpose. With this in mind, Mariam hopes that since she has

completed her studies, she may one day be able to join a higher educational institution as a lecturer. “Some still laugh at me and I also question myself what’s the use after all these years,” she admits. “ But then I say that just for the sake of myself, I have to do something.”

*Names of case studies have been changed to protect identities.

The writer is a broadcast journalist and freelance writer. She has keen interest in issues concerning women, religion and foreign affairs.

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OPINION

Some progress in Pakistan this week

From many perspectives, this was an eventful week for Pakistan

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As the monsoon rains lashed across the country, amid pounding inflation and protesting traders, Pakistan witnessed important developments this week. Though most incidents will have long term impacts which are expected to unfold with time, their significance at present can also be not denied.

ICJ orders consular access to Yadav, rejects Indian plea: (more…)

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CULTURE & ARTS

The Mystery Colour Pink Beholds

Colour stereotype is creation of our own societal values

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Pink has long been associated with girls, so where does this association come from?

Everything for a girl is pink, or will have at least a hint of pink. Starting from her nursery, toys, dresses to lunch box, school bag, pink is bombarded on girls.

There are a number of ways through which colours are imposed upon children. It begins when the baby is not even born. The phenomenal advancement in technology and prenatal testing, now makes it possible for parents to find out the sex of their still-not-born babies. This allows parents to decorate the nurseries in colours that they think are best suited with their newborn’s gender. It is the first step towards colour imposition.

It won’t be wrong to say that a baby girl is born in a pink world. It is this colour that she would find all around her after she opens her eyes for the first time. The room shading, dresses that she wears, toys she plays with and even birthday cakes she gets, are all pink. It’s not the parents only, this colour specification has become so real that new born gifts also comply with it. Visit a store for newborn accessories and the first question that is asked is about the gender of the baby. Even story books and children’s cartoons do their best to teach individuals gender specific behaviour . Barbie, Hello Kitty, My Little Pony n Friend are all girls’ favourite cartoons, painted in pink. Even the adventurous Dora wears a pink tee. Watching them, young girls associate themselves with the colour.

Marketing strategies that brands use further establish the colour identification for gender. It’s a psychological factor that brands exploit to leap their sales. They strictly follow with ‘pink for girls and blue for boys’ rule and make sure their customers comply.

Studies show that after the age of two, children begin to understand gender specific roles and girls choose pink over other colours to identify theirs. Professor of Gender and Culture at the UK’s Leeds University, Ruth Holliday, states that “Even very young girls understand that pink things are for them. In experiments where guns were painted pink and My Little Ponies were painted black and made to look spiky, three-year-old children assumed the gun was a girls’ toy and the pony a boys’ one. The colour rather than the function determined gender appeal.”

Colour preference isn’t biological, it’s more of a human made marvel. Girls and boys are both born with the similar arrangement of biological composition, the only difference being X & Y chromosomes. It’s not that girls have a pink chromosome or a pink strand of DNA that compels them to like pink more. And if we look at historical perspective, the findings are interesting.

History suggests that before the 1900s, babies were usually dressed in white regardless of gender. There were no differentiation amongst them on the basis of their colour preferences. If there was any, it was quite opposite from what it is today. An article in the 1918 issue of Ladies Home Journal reads that “the generally accepted rule is pink for boys and blue for girls; the reason is that pink being a decided and stronger colour is more suitable for boys, while blue which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girls”. Then what brought the switch over?

Anya Helbert, a researcher at University of Newcastle, proposed that women prefer hues of red more because traditionally they have been more exposed to the colour by gathering fruits. Other studies regarding this topic cite some events that gave rise to the present colour enforcement. One such event is World War II, where due to the blue coloured uniform worn by soldiers, blue colour became associated with masculinity.

Similarly, in the 1940s, Think Movement tried to convince girls to embrace their feminism. This movement urged women to embrace their womanhood, with the name tag with pink, the colour naturally corresponding to women.

This colour coding creates a stereotype that stays entrenched in the minds of children even after they grow. They identify themselves with specific colour that not only limits their freedom but also bounds them to act in the ways society tells them to. This kills their imagination and creativity and limits their choices. One of the disastrous implications of this colour stereotyping is that it affects self-esteem. The very basic attributes of pink colour are that it’s pretty, polite, catchy and sensitive. When a girl is told throughout her lifetime that she has to be the manifestation of this colour to look more ‘girl like’, she tries to incorporate these attributes into her personality. The same is for boys, the tormenting and bullying that accompanies wearing pink is staggering to the point that boys, mostly avoid the colour even if they like it.

Angela Weyers, Style and Colour consultant comments that, pink is assumed as a sign of “weakness and a lack of intellectual rigour” and advises women to actually not wear it to work in the corporate world, as they are less likely to be taken seriously. This, along with other stigmas surrounding the color, make it a cliché.

Now when we have understood that colour stereotype is creation of our own societal values, we have to understand this as a societal issue. There is no such thing as real-man or real-woman. And pink has literally nothing to do with a woman. Both men and women are humans with no supernatural specifications and they should be treated that way. Parents, educational institutes and media can play their role in this regard. Rather than fabricating pink and blue norms they need to be responsible in raising individuals. Let pink and blue be treated as colours only.

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OPINION

Dismays and Delights: How Pakistan fared this week?

Such is the course of time, that humans, after mourning a loss, prepare for the next outcome.

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This week in Pakistan was disappointing, to say the least. From the fiasco in the World cup match to the murder of a blogger in Islamabad, the list of dismays is long. India’s positive response to hold talks with Pakistan seemed the only silver lining in the dark clouds of dooms, yet it was quickly rebuffed by India as “fake news”.

It pains as well as amuses me that fans of cricket in Pakistan still remain die hard to their team. Its a different thing to be a cricket buff and another to be supportive of your team, for its been a while that Pakistan’s cricket team pulled a feat worth praise.

Pakistani Cricket Team captain Sarfaraz Ahmed (L), Indian Cricket Team captain Virat Kohli

One did not even need to switch on the TV or check updates on phone on the mess which Pakistan was in its World Cup match against India. The memes did the job pretty well, an area in which Pakistanis’ talent and sense of humour is worth appreciating.

Starting from the mind boggling decision of choosing to field after winning the toss, to poor bowling and miserable fielding (as usual), I can only say that the fans of Pakistani cricket team were very courageous to stick with their support through out the match. In comparison, was the highly professional and progressive Indian team, which showed true characteristics of first class cricket. It was no surprise that Pakistani cricket icon Wasim Akram showed his confidence in India as a player even before the match started.

A Pak-India interaction on a different level received an uplift, when the re-elected Prime Minister Modi of India, finally responded in positive to a series of letters written by his Pakistani counterpart, Imran Khan.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L), Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan

Since early this year, both countries have experienced most severe ties, even reaching the brink of war. The Pulwama attack in Indian held Kashmir triggered a spate of exchanges of words as well as arms. After an informal meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), Pakistan’s allowance for India to use its airspace for Prime Minister Modi for the SCO meeting of heads of states, Modi’s preference to still fly using another, alternate route while refusing to rub shoulders with Khan at the conference, the ice seemed to thaw.

However, Pakistani media’s interpretation of Modi’s written response to Khan that India had agreed to resume dialogue, was refuted by Indian foreign ministry.

External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar

“The letters only reiterated India’s old position that it wants normal and cooperative relations with all countries in South Asia (including Pakistan) and that it was important to create an environment free of terror and violence for it. There was no mention of any sort of dialogue with Pakistan,” responded the ministry’s spokesperson to The Times of India.

A similar exchange of letters between Pakistan’s foreign minister Qureshi and his newly appointed Indian counterpart, Jaishankar, was also explained as a mere reply. The hope of resuming of dialogues between the two countries was quashed.

So was the life of Muhammad Bilal Khan, a famous 22-year-old Pakistani blogger, who was stabbed to death in Islamabad, sparking outrage among Pakistanis.

Blogger Muhammad Bilal Khan was murdered in Islamabad

Khan was known for his critical comments on religious issues. He also spoke about the disappearance of activists and journalists. Khan’s shocking death is pertinent in the context that he had a following of thousands on Twitter, YouTube as well as Facebook. Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari has assured of investigation by the government.

Perhaps, a not so highlighted and the lone positive news one could find was the approval of the initial draft of the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Bill 2019 by a Parliamentary body. The bill has recommendations for rigorous imprisonment until death for the sexual assault and murder of children.

Photo Credit: AFP

The recommendations are now to be discussed by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights. Once passed by parliament, the bill will pave way for the setting up of Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Agency (ZARRA), where missing child cases will be reported to generate an automatic alert. It will also introduce a response and recovery mechanism for missing children.

A draft of the ICT Rights of Persons with Disability Bill has also been approved with recommendations concerning the registration of people with disabilities, reforms to address their grievances and procedures to address their complaints.

While unexplained deaths and disappearances of activists remains a worrying issue, some decision making for missing and abused children as well as disabled persons is a progress in the human rights of country.

Other sectors are eagerly looked upon for some positive news. The nation’s favourite sports of cricket comes back at the turn of the week with anticipation.

The week, which started miserably with Pakistan’s loss against India in the World Cup match, has ended with hopes and fears for the next contest between Pakistan and South Africa. Such is the course of time, that humans, after mourning a loss, prepare for the next outcome. A comeback by Pakistan in the World Cup could raise hopes for optimism in the week that is to begin.

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