“You should think about your daughter and marry her off soon enough. With your husband gone, it will be difficult for you to look after her all alone,” is how Samreen remembers her father’s funeral, who passed away when she was merely aged 17, finishing school. Fortunately for Samreen, her mother was independent enough to not succumb under the mounting pressure of her immediate family and relatives.
Samreen is lucky unlike many in Pakistan.
Most of the girls living in the South Asian region can relate to Samreen’s experience in many ways. Each one of us has been subjected to societal or peer pressure and compelled to marry early.
The never-ending words of wisdom and caution from ‘society’ aunties, close friends of mothers and not-so close friends of mothers never fail to haunt girls, regardless of their outstanding academic or professional skills. Men in our society, however, are spared from all such words of advice.
Funerals and deathbeds are not the only places where girls face warnings from their immediate families and other relatives to get married before it is too late. Weddings and engagement ceremonies are known as the time when unmarried, studying or working girls come under the direct scrutiny of their aunties and mothers, who consider them ‘old maids’ regardless of their age, aspirations or inclinations.
“Marriage is very important. In fact 18 is the most appropriate age for a girl to settle down. She can adapt to the new lifestyle, treats her in-laws just as well as her parents and most importantly can give birth at a younger age. Years go by so quickly. One day you are 18 and the next, before you really know it, you are over 30 and then you only get proposals from widowers or divorced men,” is how one of my aunties, completely pleased with herself, was found flaunting at her daughter’s wedding reception and prophesying the fate of many bachelorettes who according to her were only entitled to receive ‘hand-me-downs’.
The strange idea that marrying young opens the door to eternal happiness is not only ludicrous but also against the principles of progressive societies. Marriage is a bond between two adults and can only be successful if the decision is made unanimously by the two people involved – setting restrictions and bars on age prove our moral and cognitive decline as a society.
Countless girls in Pakistan are enticed to get married before they even complete their educational degrees. Some of them are promised that their in-laws will support them in seeking further knowledge; however, very few girls later find the time to complete their degrees as domestic chores demand much of their time and attention.
A friend of mine, who was a valedictorian in school, was married to a Pakistani-American during her late teens and was looking forward to her new life where she saw herself attending an Ivy League school, which she was truly capable of. Thirteen years down the road, my friend looks after two children, her husband and in-laws.
Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with looking after one’s children and family, however, depriving someone of her aspirations and puppeteering her life is most certainly wrong.
On the other end of the social spectrum, many parents tend to reinforce the idea that their daughters are born to marry and raise children, to the point where girls start believing that their primary role in life is to set the dinner table at 8 pm and procreate. Such girls neither excel academically nor take education seriously because their aim in life is to become magna cum laude wives. Hence Bonaparte’s “give me an educated mother and I will give you an educated nation” takes a backseat.
It is also important to understand that women who want to stay unmarried and excel professionally, before choosing to tie the knot should be allowed to do as they please. Their decision to stay single, for as long as they want to should be respected, by everyone. Most importantly such girls should not be the prime targets and agenda of drawing-room discussions where old women sit together and discuss the ‘frivolous’ nature of single women.
Ironically, most of the women who are keen and ever ready to present eligible bachelors at the drop of a hat are the ones who have lived extremely unhappy married lives and at other times are found babbling about their marital woes to whoever will lend an ear.
For all the women who do not realise this act is a clear invasion of privacy, not to forget against the normal rules of etiquettes. They fail to realise that their constant meddling and taunts develop an inferiority complex in many girls, who consider themselves ‘low creatures’ just because they were unable to marry at the ‘right age’.
I still remember Samar, a mental health patient living at Dar-ul-Sukun, who stayed quiet most of the time, however, during her lucid moments, asked for bangles and a red shadi ka jora (wedding dress).
The question is why is our society so unfair to single women? Why do I not see men in psychiatric care demanding sherwanis and a bride? Is getting married a guarantee to a prosperous and better future? If we all know the answers to these burning questions then why not give women a chance to live life the way they want to?
I am not trying to say that getting married is wrong or is a clear violation of women’s independence, however, imposing wrong ideas in naïve girls or harassing them to marry is clearly wrong. A woman, just like a man, is entitled to make her own choices and should be given the freedom to decide her own fate, without coercion.
Societal pressure is not sufficient reasons to get married; in fact such marriages can turn out to be quite disastrous. Marriage is a life-long relationship which requires much mulling and commitment. It is important to understand and accommodate the reservations that some women might have before they decide to settle down.
The centuries-old practice of alienating such women from social circles needs to be stopped. Ostracising women just because they have a different view towards life is just painful unawareness.
It is time to stop treating single women as burdens on the society and provide them with dignity, and the sociocultural rights that they so justly deserve.