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What it means to be a woman in Karachi

January 15, 2013

IT has been two years since I have been to Pakistan. There is a longing to go back; it is as if the smell of rain, pakoras and chai beckon me to my motherland. Yet, I undergo a feeling of intense fear every time the thought of going back recurs.

Growing up in a posh area of the city of Karachi as a girl was a bittersweet experience. On the one side, I was expected to be the glamorous hip girl going to parties in Defence, and, on the other, I was the frightened girl dodging bullets as I made my way to my grandmother’s house in Gulshan-i-Iqbal. Looking back at it now, it seems as if I lived two entirely different lives. I remember the striking contrast between the environment inside homes and outside on the streets.

Today, violence is blaring in the faces of moderate Karachiites. It is still hard to imagine: how did it get so bad? It seems while we were living our perfect lives, with our one-dish parties and fine dining at restaurants, the world outside was gradually changing. Deaths were taking place in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region, and there was a war going on in Swat. But Karachiites were not affected by it.

However, the deaths have come closer. They are no longer detached from us; they are happening to people within our community; people we actually know. The recent killing of Shahzeb Khan seems to have jolted the youths of Karachi who now realise that it can happen to any of us.

We hear of five to 10 targeted deaths every week on an average in Karachi. Violence seems to be going out of hand. In addition to the already-present fear, Interior Minister Rahman Malik says that attacks would be carried out in Karachi during Jumma prayers and bans the use of mobile phones, thrusting us back into the seventh century. How can an ordinary civilian survive without a mobile phone in Karachi? It is beyond my comprehension.

There seems to be no end to the troubles.

A girl was recently gang-raped and dumped naked on the sidewalk in Delhi. Hundreds of sexual assaults and rape cases in Karachi go unreported every month. Let’s be honest: I have had my bottom groped at least six times when I was in Karachi, and this was all before I turned 14 while living in Defence. I cannot imagine what girls living in other localities of Karachi have to go through every day.

The Taliban have started targeting specific women that it deems harmful to its beliefs and preaching. Recently six women volunteers were murdered in cold blood by the Taliban in different cities of the country. The attack on Malala Yousufzai highlights the tactics that the Taliban are now employing: the targeting of young female activists. Young women who dare to raise their voices have become a threat to them, and the only way they can keep blocking any sort of change from taking place is to eliminate these specific women activists.

Yes, I am scared to return. I do not know what my fate will be when I return to volunteer for an NGO in Karachi this summer. I do not know how many more assaults I will experience, or how many power outages I will have to sit through. I do not know how many bullets I will dodge and how many more men I will hate. I do know one thing though: growing up in Karachi has taught me to be stronger than titanium. “What does not kill you only makes you stronger.”

Karachiites are people filled with courage and patriotism. I know deep down there is hope for Karachi and Pakistan because its people are committed, patriotic and do not give up easily. The pride and the stories of struggle during Pakistan’s independence in 1947 and earlier by our ancestors are too strong in our hearts to give up on Pakistan that easily and allow the world to call it a failed state.

I believe in staying safe, but I also believe in fate and I know death will come when it has to come. At least I would have done my share to change the world just that little bit when it does come. As Malala said, “No, I am not afraid of anyone.”

RABEYA JAWAID Middlebury, Vermont, USA