When Empowerment Means Imprisonment

Thursday, July 23, 2020

As a Pakistani woman, I am aware of many cultural issues that form a cage around my freedom. Others, including women, will tell me that I can just say no and escape the situation and that will make me empowered. But empowerment is not as easy as just saying no. There isn't just one shackle that needs to be broken and some become so entangled and entwined that a lot of energy and help may be needed to truly escape the burdens of cultural expectations. 

    Saying no or pushing back from a norm developed around you and sustained for several decades or centuries, will result in some form of isolation. Sure you can disagree to not marry early and focus on your career but what do you do when you are ready to find a life partner and most of the eligible bachelors are taken? Or you can disagree continuing to remain in a toxic marriage but are unable to find someone who matches with you because you are blacklisted? The consequence of defiance is loneliness and when extreme, ostracisation. This is not easy to overcome along with the insecurities or training received during childhood. This is not a one-step process. How do I learn to differentiate what is abuse and what isn't when I did not learn to differentiate those things at any point in my life? 

    Making change requires a group effort and professional support otherwise there is nowhere to go for the women fighting for their rights. There is a lot to learn in order to become independent or strong enough to be able to make these decisions for a future that seems so uncertain. There is a desire for a community where one can feel a sense of belonging and departing from that safety, even when it is harmful, is so difficult. The community and family have been my home as long as I remember so how I will continue my life or bring up my children without them? Having to make new friends or retaining friends and family who are understanding will limit me severely especially if I don't find them around me. 

    I was groomed from an early age to be obedient yet proactive, skilled yet willing to give up said skill if not needed by others, educated but unopinionated. Do you see the contradictions? I needed to be assertive out in society but obedient towards elders, my in-laws, and my husband. However, in school, my parents pushed me to be assertive and active so that I would gain experience and positive feedback that would pad my career and marriage resume. As the oldest child, I learned to run the errands originally meant for a son but not given the same freedom as one. This is because, at the end of the day, I was a girl whose chastity or virginity needed to be protected by the male lead of the house. 

    Watching my parents, aunts, and uncles, I would see toxic relationships in which the goal was to stay until death do them apart. There would be abuse, affairs, untreated depression, dissonance, and incompatibility but it was important to stay together for the children. The children grow up observing and learning these behaviours with some imitating or projecting the untreated psychological trauma on their partners and children. But society dictates this is better than parents separating and moving forward improving their mental health. 

    In order to encourage women empowerment, all women need to band together to protect each other and help. Doing this alone can mean suffering for the few who are isolated or have nowhere to turn. This will also not happen overnight and require the sacrifice of a generation or two. This is why we need to be mindful of our fellow sisters. However, there will be no change to your life if you are not willing to make a change even if it feels out of character in terms of society or religion. Religion might not even be dictating what you think it is and being the suffering hero will not make you into a saint. Your children will not look up to you sacrificing your life at the hands of other humans and learn not to make the mistakes you did if you leave this up to fate. 

    Challenging my role in society does not mean I do not accept the differences between the sexes. It just means there are ways to find a balance in which both can work together harmoniously without fighting for power or domination. Not everyone is meant to fit the exact same mould and it is this individuality that makes each human precious and unique like the beauty and individuality found in every flower. No two are the exact same in scent, colour or bloom yet each catches my eye with its dazzling colourful display and perhaps fresh or seductive scent. This is you as well. Sure you are beautiful and alluring but you are also intelligent, quick thinking, well versed, educated, and opinionated. 

    What you choose to do with your life should be inherently your decision with the guidance and support provided by those around you whom you trust. And if you are that lucky girl or woman who already is encouraged in such a way, your position is powerful. You can use this to help inspire those who are not there yet or even those who are not prepared to have this conversation because you are a pioneer of your time. Your happiness and stability will emanate towards your spouse and children who will also learn this behaviour from you and flourish in your guidance. 

Until Next Time,

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