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Don’t just educate your daughters, liberate them!

Her consistent Whatsapp messages about how she is having suicidal thoughts made me feel like banging my head against the wall. She had received quality education and spent a semester abroad. She has all that it takes to be labeled as a modern Pakistani woman with more freedom – but not really. Not after I realized that the cause of her suicidal thoughts is her marriage.

Fatima graduated from a renowned university in Lahore and as it generally happens, a guy saw her at a wedding and sent a marriage proposal. She liked her classmate at that time but she took the rational decision, ended things and moved to a more stable and secure life. Moved to the States with a guy who fell in love with her the first time he saw her – so deeply in love that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.

Three years later, all that is left in her ‘happily ever after’ is suicidal thoughts. She has two kids and several medical problems to worry about. She is not happy with her marriage but she has to stay with her husband because her mom told her that she had suffered a lot more with her in-laws than her daughter. She has to bear his psychological torture because he is struggling in his career. She has to stay with him because she is financially dependent on him. She has to stay with him because he threatened her that if she leaves, he would kill himself. She has to stay with him because he once loved her.

There are a million reasons to stay with someone your parents picked for you! Don’t get me wrong, love marriages can go equally wrong. It is not about who you marry, it is more about when you get married. Parents in our society think they deserve a medal for sending their daughters to renowned schools and then finding decent marriage proposals for them. Unlike men, women do not wait to kick off their careers or to be able to make a good living before getting settled and I wonder why? Why is it that education for women in the middle-class is more important than empowerment? Why do they get so used to being provided by their parents and then their husbands that the mere fact of getting a job and separating paths from the person who does not love them back is frightening. They fight and cry and then eventually find peace by devoting their lives to raising kids and hoping to find a glimpse of the love and affection they saw in the early days of their marriage.

One doesn’t have to go too far to find inspiration. The women in our lower-class do not have much education but they still clean houses just to make a living and support their kids. My maid’s husband ran away with her sister. She cried for a while but then said, “Baji, I will never go back to my parents’ house. I don’t want to become a burden. Allah has given me the physical strength to do hard labor and earn for myself and my kids.” Rukhsana passed away last year. I was abroad and hadn’t seen her in a year but I cried a river. She only worked in our house for two years but her courage to live an independent life always inspired me. She didn’t want to stay with an abusive man. She had the guts to struggle and live alone with her kids. I wish I could see more Rukhsanas in the middle-class. I wish I could shake my friends and tell them to take control of their lives. Thirty years from now, they will look back and regret not living their life for themselves. It is the 21st century for God’s sake, and by that I mean it is difficult to be a single or divorced woman in our society but it is not impossible anymore!

I am no expert on relationships or marriage, but what I feel right now is that we are doing it all wrong. Why has marriage become more important than our peace of mind? Why has marriage become the most important thing to do in life? Do we have to be married to find happiness? I am not against marriage, but I am certainly against letting someone hurt you over and again just because he or she happens to be your spouse. If there is one thing I want to scream out loud to all the parents today, it would be to not just educate your daughters, empower them!

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