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Until I choose to ...

Published Jul 09, 2012 04:59pm


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-Photo Illustration by Faraz Aamer Khan.

“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.

Faiza Mirza
The writer is a Reporter at


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (34) Closed

TeeKay Jul 09, 2012 12:20pm
Quiet honestly, even as a Pakistani, I don't see why a girl in Pakistan would even want to get married. We keep whining about how in the US, 50% of the marriages end up in failure, yet overlook the fact that even though marriages remain intact in Pakistan, women go through hell. Every day is a struggle. No wonder Pakistan is the third worst place for women in the world.
Ranveer Jul 09, 2012 11:42am
hahah... just loved this narration. Bitter truth though !
akbar Jul 10, 2012 07:54am
Agree with you on the point that girls should have the freedom to concentrate on their careers rather being victimised . But girls who are qualified and have a career at some time in their lives realise that their life is not complete and they want to settle down .
McKrack Jul 10, 2012 01:14pm
Unfortunately, we live in a society where the people are intolerant and judgmental.Unfortunately, we live in a society where the people are intolerant and judgmental. People tend to find a reason and enjoy criticizing others for no particular reason and women is no exception. In my opinion, the educational status of parents and parenting and brought up of a woman in a family plays a pivotal role. It is this support from family which may undermine her confidence or make her confident in her abilities ability to deal with societal affairs. You cannot change the way people think.
Ali Haider Jul 12, 2012 01:54am
Its amazing that neither the author or the commentators have taken into consideration that as humans (male or female) we have natural urges and if marriage is delayed too much it will create many problems in society. I think our older structure of early marriage + parents supporting kids after marriage (with one child eventually taking care of the parents) is the best and most harmonious with Islam. It is also amazing that no one in the discussion brought up the issue of what Islam says? Must we be either "Mulla" or "Secular" -- Is there no middle ground?
McKrack Jul 10, 2012 09:05am
Unfortunately, we live in a society where the people are intolerant and judgmental. People tend to find a reason and enjoy criticizing others for no particular reason and women is no exception. In my opinion, the educational status of parents and parenting and brought up of a woman in a family plays a pivotal role. It is this support from family which may undermine her confidence or make her confident in her abilities ability to deal with societal affairs. You cannot change the way people think.
Faroha Jul 09, 2012 12:39pm
Well, this is exactly how the 'aunties' react :) In our society, it is very hard to steer out of the well-trodden path and if you do, rest assured you are going to be an outcast. A pity, but the bitter truth.
Farah R Jul 09, 2012 11:02am
Our society revolves around the notion that marriage is the 'be all and end all' of life. This was such a well written article. It echos my exact sentiment at this point in time (triggered by a friends wedding I attended last night). Marriage is a union between two adults who are fond of each other. There is no such thing as the 'right time' or the 'right age'. It happens when it has to happen, no amount of nagging from meddling aunties can make it happen any sooner!
single Jul 10, 2012 04:07am
Everyone, male or female, is having the right to stay single for as long as you want. Don't jump blind into marriage on someone else's insistence, because living with someone incompatible is like hell and far worse than being married. Have the courage to say NO and hell with other peoples opinions. Who cares what someone thinks? It is your life that is at stake.
Haniya Jul 09, 2012 11:06am
I sincerely hope people learn something from this article
Igloo Jul 09, 2012 05:48pm
Third worst place in the world for women?! Granted life is a real struggle for most pakistanis and vulnerable groups suffer more in such an environment (women, children, minorities, disabled etc). Granted Pakistan is way behind the Europeans. But why would you fall for this kind of propaganda? More importantly why would you repeat it? You can fight for women's rights without regurgatating stuff like this.
Omar Jul 09, 2012 05:18pm
@Farook Is the sole point of marriage procreation alone? A big reason for the higher divorce rate in the West is because women can (and do) choose to walk out of an abusive or unsatisfying marriage. That option is not available to the vast majority of Pakistani women due to economic, cultural or societal pressures.
Saqib Jul 09, 2012 05:13pm
Don't you remember " wise is the lady who marries as soon as possible and wise is the man who delays marriage as long as possible".
Srini Jul 09, 2012 05:10pm
I am not referring to this particular issue. But in general, when Pakistanis talk about a issue it is a "South Asian issue". When they talk about an achievement it is a "Pakistani Muslim" achievement. Please grow up and own up to your issues and problems. Don't look at what others have or not have. Their government is probably working harder than your government to provide a better life to their citizens, while you hide behind a non-existant proud Islamic history.
Ranjan Jul 10, 2012 09:13am
This article has treaded the way more on "the effect" , rather than on "the cause of the ill". Hence,it is worthwhile to anyalise & realise ,the "root cause" to this "evil". The Socio Economic condition prevelant in entire " South Asia" is the reason behind such prevalent issue.First of all it is important to analyse the State's role /policy to provide quality education to it's citizen.The reality check indicates "significant failure" in this area.Hence,the first basic step to uproot this evil has to emerge from providing "neccessary infrastructure" for health , Education. There will be impediments on the way ,"social taboos",will block every move to provide neccessary health & education to the needy..It may call for high investment in this sector, but that's where the " NGO"s chips in .Govt has to ensure proper implementation , by giving proper direction to the " NGO"s. In the conclusion , I'd like to say , it all depends on proper leadership, which we are lacking. Where are the leaders ?????
Farook Jul 09, 2012 10:47am
I think what we should be going for, is a society where there is 80% divorce rate, and people marry so late that it gets medically difficult to conceive.
shafi Jul 10, 2012 08:04am
In Pakistan how much this article applies...? a single man or woman need someone to be its part and feel alive with..
TeeKay Jul 11, 2012 08:36pm
@ahmad butt: I quiet agree with you and that is why I'm for love marriage too. Arranged marriage just kills the whole concept of a marriage. When the right girl comes along, YOU'RE supposed to know, not your parents. That being said, love marriages fail too. @Igloo: Alright, I do agree with you. There are MANY countries in the world where women don't get to wear well or feed themselves in Pakistan. My point however was that even though Somalian women might be hungrier and are weak, from a marital POV, Pakistani women are probably the most dominated in the world.
Syed Saqib Jul 10, 2012 08:41am
Faiza I always enjoy reading your articles as you pin down the social subjects which no one else bothers to focus. Most important part of your articles are the comments. Readers are like waiting for a channel to express their sufferings in the hands of "appropriate police" in the forms of these "Good for nothing aunties" and other Kith & kin. These are the problems of every individual Irrespective of economic class and social strata they belong to.
ahmad butt Jul 09, 2012 09:39am
Good article, but i want to say that if a girl delays her marriage, she will find it harder eventually to find a suitable partner in this male dominated society , where would be saas utter "mujhe chand jaisi bahu chahiye" , totally disregarding that ageing is a natural process and wedding a less mature girl is not the best idea, and people who fear an independent career minded girl . i also want to point out that the dilemma facing the male counterparts as well. The idea of boys marrying after being career secure is also putting them under immense pressure to find the right girl . Unfortunately, in Pakistan, men cannot survive or bear the expenses in early part of their careers and the pressure of raising a new family and managing existing one is a daunting task. Thus, a lot of men become more secure and independent, and if they go overseas they get a world of exposure and their expectations of finding a bride that shall match it rises. This is unfair, a lot of youth wait for the right one, and the compatible one is already married. I wish Pakistan as a society matures, where the youth can decently single and chose their own ideal partner, and our shaadi process is in the back-burner once and for all. I dont like the current setup where single women are frowned up and single men are ridiculed over whats the wait about.
Farooq Jul 09, 2012 08:26am
Excellent article....very well articulated
Rabia Jul 09, 2012 08:27am
such perfect words. Marriage is not the ultimate destination of a person either girl or boy and girls should certainly be spared of the futile exercise of presenting themselves to the so-called proposals sitting in their drawing rooms to enjoy lavish tea sessions focusing more on house interiors than the girl
ahmad butt Jul 10, 2012 09:00am
Well, girls in Pakistan would want to get married ideally, as society doesnt consider single mum with a partner as an acceptable option. I know for a fact that girls who dont marry but have kids in western societies are not happy either, they are referred to as single mums and if there is no government support or law that the biological father pays child support the only thing, you would see a mess there. What keeps them ticking is that there is strict law there. But in Pakistan, there is no strict implementation of paying for spouse support, and the children usually end up with the female and her family bearing the expenses. And Western societies are open, they dont suppress human physical and emotional needs, and have relationships based to satisfy them as well. I dont see this happening and being socially acceptable in our lifetimes, though it could be occurring now as a nation of over 170 million. But you are right, the educated,independent and career oriented girls are not adamant on getting married, I know working class ladies in the urbanised cities that will only commit to mr.right and dont want to marry just anybody for the sake of marriage, thus we are getting to the process on understanding that a loveless marriage exists, it comprises of marriage of two people who are poles apart, and only bonded by a paper, and children if it comes to that stage... What also puzzles me is that Pakistani girls raised in western countries are forced by parents to come and marry back in a third world country. Not that all the prospective risthas would be bad, but I hate myself being in the shoes of a guy going to a house where a girl would serve tea in front of him and mother, and see how she is in that controlled environment. What we all can hope that in the future is the next generation allowing for their sons and daughters to chose on their own free will, and the burden of marriage rests on the individuals and not the parents.
Manahil Jul 09, 2012 08:50am
Well written and much needed in our society whcih is filled with countless such aunties who have nothing better than to match-up potential rishtas.
Zeeshan Jul 09, 2012 09:09am
The meddling doesnt really end there does it? They also get to decide who exactly you will marry and why the person you chose can not be good. So what if you've known her for 5 years, we met this girl who is your auntie's sisters best friends daughter and we knew right away she is perfect. That sort of idiotic attitude drives me up the wall. I suffered and fought against it, I wonder how many others didnt.
talha Jul 09, 2012 09:30pm
This author and many others like her assume a definition of 'success' for everybody else like they do for themselves. This makes them narrow minded and unwilling to accept the efforts and sacrifices of others who may have aspirations different from theirs.
Azhar Ayaz Jul 09, 2012 09:59pm
''Ostracising women just because they have a different view towards life is just painful unawareness.''. Fine article. well said! Hope her ideas bring some momentum to our society.
iykhan125 Jul 09, 2012 10:27pm
Naseema Perveen Jul 10, 2012 05:50am
naveedjami Jul 10, 2012 02:03pm
How can you expect a society to "give women a chance to live life the way they want to?" The writer shows a lack of knowledge about such issues in Pakistan; where wierd Karokari, honour killings go on, can we talk about what women want, or maybe things have changed since I physically lived in my country.
azharali Jul 10, 2012 05:41am
These women! they will never stop complaining.
Kamran syed Jul 10, 2012 06:41am
tremendous article and there are really good comments as well. Why we are just thinking about being single of a man and a woman. A family(wife and husband) can also work together after their marriage life though it is difficult where we have the chants of chand si dulhan and where the bhabis and sisters await for the new comer that how will she does the khimat of her saas and sussar but for a successful life both of them have to work hard to meet the both ends. A male has also the pressure of society as female has but of different kind and of different nature. A wife and a husband can also work together and manage things together instead of facing societal problems being lonely or alone.
Sahil Jul 10, 2012 06:49am
Aslam u Alaikum Very well written but madam for God's sake don't follow the western style. We are Muslims, we should follow our own traditions. No doubt our parents compel us to marry early in this society but if their decisions are wise enough than we are comfortable otherwise girls find the ways to be comfortable through compromising on some issues and they ease their lives. but what is happening outside????? when independence is give, i like u, u like me, we marry, and hardy after just few years, i dislike u or u dislike me, we get divorce. the point of making u understand is that we r a bit immature than our parents, what they have seen, we haven't still. So in the long run their decisions to get ur children marry and specially the female r proven to be fruitful. I must recall the statement of my dearest mother that she says sometime when i argue with her on any issue " You don't realize now, but when u will reach to our stage than u will understand" :-) The need of the time is not the freedom of women, it is to raise our moral values and that is only possible with educating the new generation with religious values, so that they can be good humans first, good doctors,engineers, CAs' etc etc. instead of giving the nation corruption lot. May be Im wrong but i must quote the dialogue of a film here in the end. "Agar hum apne kam aqal aoulad ko har faisla un ke apne marzi pe karne den aur un ka har galat aur sahee faisla maanne lage tou hum is muaashre(Society) ko ba-shaur nahen bal k ek aawara nasal he den ge" :-)
Sadia Jul 17, 2012 09:36pm
I agree with each n every word of yours. I really appreciate someone wrote on this topic too.