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Growing up in Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan, and belonging to a well-educated family, I believe that I have led a very privileged life than most of the women of my country. However, being a woman nonetheless, much like the others, I was expected to conform to a certain set of societal norms and traditions. I felt that I was programmed to believe from a very young age that the only way to become a successful and respectable woman in our society was by becoming a doctor. Not because it is a noble profession, but because becoming a doctor is what “completes” a woman and makes her the perfect potential bride and homemaker, which is defined to be the ultimate goal for most of the Pakistani women to this date. So naturally, I inherited the same life agenda and submitted to these predetermined goals set for myself, in pursuit of becoming the “perfect” woman. I mindlessly went on struggling with pre-medical subjects up until my A levels. Fortunately, as I now believe, I received an appalling result and fell into a complete existential crisis. However, that was the first time I got in touch with my inner self and mustered the audacity to think that just maybe, I wasn’t meant to be a doctor. My parents suggested I apply for social sciences as that is usually the fate of the ‘incompetent’ ones who don’t make it in the field of the “real” sciences (medical) and so I did.
This marked the biggest turning point in my life as it opened my eyes to an entirely new reality that, all my life, I had been completely oblivious to. I started my undergraduate in International Relations and it broadened my thinking capacity and diversified my worldview to an extent I had never imagined. I started working at the Pakistan Red Crescent Society as a volunteer during the disastrous flood wave that had hit Pakistan in 2010 and I started to participate in the Model United Nation Conferences in my school. I worked for a renowned think tank and got a chance to be a part of discussions and discourse with the most accomplished intellectuals of the country. Not long after, I came to the U.S for my Masters in Political Science, started working as a Graduate Assistant and for the first time in my life, the world seemed limitless to me.
Yet there was a part of me that told me I haven’t yet accomplished anything. I started contemplating and I concluded, that this wasn’t fair. I couldn’t be happy for myself, knowing that millions of women back home continue to fight against those stringent patriarchal structures and struggle to find their identity while being crushed under the weight of society’s expectations of them. What made me feel worse was that, my struggle seemed like only a minor inconvenience when compared with the struggle of the women living in the rural parts of the country. I realized that perhaps, when I was whining to get my first toy kitchen set, somewhere in the country, a 15 year old girl already had a baby on the way and was responsible for feeding an entire household. When I was whining about the amount of homework that I had for the day, a girl was probably begging her parents to let her stay in school and not sell her off to a man twice her age in exchange for paying off a debt. When I was complaining about not looking pretty enough for going to a party, a woman’s face was being scorched by acid, thrown by a vindictive ex-husband. These realities continue to haunt me and they continue to make me realize that being a human and being a woman, my first and foremost duty is to help these women. Because growing up in such a society, education isn’t just a privilege, but a responsibility. I am bound to use all possible resources at hand and do my part to help emancipate these women.
Living in the city, I myself have had my fair share of being cat-called at in the streets, groped in public places, been told that my education is only useful for home schooling my future kids, and been harassed at work places; but these issues and these practices are what slowly build up into exasperating misogyny to the level that women are socially and psychologically, in some cases, even physically incriminated, merely because of their biological existence. Lately, there has been a wave of awareness amongst the women in the major cities of Pakistan and I couldn’t be more ecstatic for what they have achieved so far; however, the impact is largely restricted to the urban population. In the rural areas of Pakistan, it appears that the majority of the women have silently submitted to their fate and have accepted their defeat without even putting up a fight. More so, because many are made to believe that there is no alternative to the life that they’re used to living. And I believe it is our responsibility, us who have a voice, to lend them our voice and put an end to this silence. It is our responsibility to tell them that being a woman is not a crime, that they are not a burden on the society but an essential component of it, that they do not have to go on living their lives in fear. Because fear is what stops you from recognizing your true potential, your passions, your dreams and your right to live. I have taken up this fight, not only against the authorities but the myopic and barbaric mindsets of the people in the country. A fight against the perverted understandings of the religion of Islam which proposes nothing but liberty for women. My dream is to bring about a revolution that restructures people’s mindsets and belief systems. A revolution that empowers women to wipe away the pre-established, baseless institutions and build new ones that give them the freedom to live their lives the way they want to and make people realize that women are God’s most precious gift to this world.