Choosing to be Subservient
Hana Shams Ahmed
Although many women today are getting a complete education and rightfully making their own living, to think that they get the respect they deserve is still a complete delusion.
During her school years and before getting married a woman's respect in society remains mostly equivalent to that of her male counterpart's, where her education is treated as the most important part of her growing up, but come that 'marriageable' age and things start changing overnight. If she's not one of the lucky ones who gets to choose her own partner she will have to go through a series of 'viewing' sessions where she is subjected to the most humiliating comments by the prospective groom's family. It is very important for the bride to be tall, fair-skinned and adequately educated while the only quality the groom requires is to be financially established. If these qualities are not met, the bride is 'rejected' with the most disrespectful comments about her physical 'inadequacies'. So even after so much education, equipping her to become independent, she still allows herself to be exposed to such degradation.
Thirty-two-year-old Ruma, who is working at a local bank thinks that the only reason she is still unmarried is because she is very dark. "I'm not really worried but my family seems unable to rest and they give away my pictures to whoever is looking for a bride. And every time I get rejected my family gets upset. The rejection seems more important to them than my humiliation." The process of bride viewing has a strange similarity with buying a cow. Everything has to be just right about the subject in question.
Sometimes these 'unwanted' not-so-pretty women have to be married off with hush-hush dowry when there are no other alternatives available. These include cars, a job, a big amount of land or flat or even money. The person getting married usually has no say on these matters, because what is being done is 'for her good'.
Even after getting married, the wife usually lets the husband have the last word on everything. For example, it seems fashionable for the man to criticise his wife's cooking in front of everyone. It's implausible to think that he will ever help her with the cooking; on the contrary he seldom even shows his appreciation.
At home a woman sometimes even accepts physical abuse from her husband as he is the korta (head) of the house. Breaking household goods, throwing things in anger, an occasional slap to relieve his frustration is not such a big deal because he works at his big office all day and brings in the money that pays all the bills. The wife's job is only of secondary importance (if she's lucky enough to be still allowed to work with two kids at home).
A man and a woman's role in the family is divided, the unfairness of which is taken for granted. "My husband was feeding our two-year-old daughter one day," says 30-year-old Tasin, "and my sister-in-law came and saw it. She appeared to be shocked and asked me why I was making her brother do 'my' job". So even if a man considers it his duty to feed his own child, another woman comes and claims that it is somehow inferior for him to do so.
It is obvious from the established and accepted family structure that all laws regarding the family were set by men who were more concerned about getting their own way rather than thinking from the point of view of all the parties in question. Why else is it that even after carrying a baby in her womb for nine long months and taking unconditional care of it afterwards, not only is the baby not named after the mother, he/she is apparently not even the mother's legal heir.
It's a real shame that women are still not strong enough to ignore the social pressures imposed on them. Sometimes she is forced to have a child just to please her in-laws. A woman in our society is considered 'abnormal' if she does not wish to have children. Even having one child is sometimes not good enough. The whisperings start again after a few years that 'it's about time she took her second child'. Women also face the ire of her in-laws if she does not produce a male heir as if it is her fault that she only has daughters. Most of the time a woman will never speak for her right and say that to have or not to have a child is her decision entirely.
At the end of the day unless the woman is strong and vocal, society will continue to abuse it's power and take advantage of the vulnerable situation she is in. Education has to start early. Besides getting text-book education, girls should be brought up in a way to be self-confident and tough to face the abuse and discrimination of everyday life.
(R) thedailystar.net 2006