Dear South-Asian culture,
My earliest memory of being engrossed in you is when I would visit Pakistan as child and be surrounded by so many relatives: grandparents; aunties; uncles and cousins. I felt a big connection to you because there were things in Pakistan that I would not be able to have in the UK. When I would return back to the UK, I was often welcomed by cloudy and rainy skies. I associated you with warmth, colour and love and I looked forward to being around you again.
I began to despise you was when I was becoming a young woman. Going through puberty often made families panic as they were unsure how to help their daughters. Mood swings were often mistaken as disobedience which resulted in curfews and a bird-eye’s view of every aspect of your social life. I blame the norms which you make people follow. You caused parents to fear for their daughters, particularly in the West. You made the relatives back home believe that girls brought up in the West were less chaste, too outspoken (like it’s a bad thing) and do not uphold the values of the culture. So no wonder parents feel the need to overcompensate. To make your children feel as if they are Pakistani more than they are British.
“Why are divorced men seen to be sad bachelors, but divorced women are made to see as cursed homewreckers?”
We are hidden away as children. I describe my childhood as being extremely sheltered. It can be a good thing too at times. However, as they say ‘absence makes the heart fonder’, curfews and restrictions put in place in fear of raising “too-Western” or “angrezi” (English) daughters ends up fuelling rebellious and risk taking decisions. As someone who went to an all-girl school throughout secondary school, I can say that it can often cause a lot more harm than good for girls.
Body image. Ah. One of the worst things about you is the unfair expectations that women must be fair-skinned, tall with long, thick hair, not too fat but not too thin, tall but not short, modern but not too modern, educated but still be a homemaker who can cook, clean and take care of others. I’d see family members using skin bleaching creams, whitening serums and harsh exfoliants in an effort to rid their skin of pigment and appear to be fairer than they were.
Growing up you’re often told to not to engage in any conversation with boys however, when those same girls get to their mid-twenties and are still unmarried, they are reprimanded by family why they have not found someone for themselves. Because of this girls are often unable to communicate with men or if they have been taught to stay away from men as they may cause trouble in your life. Furthermore, a lack of understanding of the opposite gender leads to many women making a wrong decision when picking a spouse. This also occurs due to years of observing abuse carried out by misogynist family members and extended family. We feel as if this behaviour is normal and that the problem lies with us and how much we are willing to endure.
When getting married why is that the girls have to move in with the guy’s side of the family? Why is it expected from a daughter-in-law to drop everything in her past life and adjust almost instantly to this change. This norm has no religious basis and can often be the reasons why tensions arise between families. But in south-Asian cultures such a big move is expected and necessary. You must gain the approval of the in laws and prove your worth before you consider having a place of your own. Marriage is between two but is also between two families. There are many that can live with their in laws and actually enjoy the extended family. But placing this an obligation and not as an option nearly always causes conflict.
Research has looked at the factors that can lead to women (particularly Pakistani) developing depression. These include the gender of their child, ‘conflicts arising from integration of eastern and western cultures’ , extended family and inter-generational conflicts.(Fazil & Cochrane, 1998)
Providing male offspring is another pressure that I have observed women going through. My mother can recall hearing a woman in her labour ward crying hysterically after giving birth to her 5th daughter. She told my mum that her husband was threatening to find another wife to increase the chances of him having a son to continue his family’s lineage, and that her mother in law despised her. These expectations, again, have no basis in Islam but sadly are so widespread. Daughters are a blessing yet are made to seem as if they are a burden before they even enter the world. Families with many sons often display pride, whereas parents of many girls are often met with empathy, assuming that they are misfortuned.
Why is it that when a guy wants to marry someone he found himself, the process for him is a lot easier than it is for women? Often girls are discouraged from returning home if ever faced with issues in their marriage and this is particularly worse if the girl had a ‘love marriage’ or found someone themselves. Doors are often closed to girls and are again left feeling isolated. Why should families shun their daughters for the sake of their honour? For this reason women often feel the need to remain in abusive relationships as they no longer have a safe haven. You never stop being a parent, even when your children have families of their own.
Women that are divorced are made outcasts in the community. Often made to feel like damaged goods and the ones to blame for the fall in their marriage. Perhaps they did not dress up for their husbands, spend enough time with them, be obedient, cook meals or clean for them. These are the few of many excuses heard to justify divorcee men. Why are divorced men seen to be sad bachelors, but divorced women are made to see as cursed homewreckers?
I feel as though we are a long way away from changing our culture and the norms we have grown up with. I do believe that we are getting better as a society, change in the west for women’s rights is influencing cultural norms in the subcontinent. The Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements have impacted the standards of beauty and highlighted issues around abuse towards women. We are slowly working towards a more equal, sensical future.
‘Aishah (May Allah be pleased with her) reported:
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “He who is involved (in the responsibility) of (bringing up) daughters, and he is benevolent towards them, they would become protection for him against Hell-fire”.[Al-Bukhari and Muslim, riyad as-salihin 268]
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