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By Zephaniah - Founder, Zephaniah Free Academy, Pakistan. March 2013.

Poverty and Dependence in Pakistan

Naima is sitting here with me: she is 34 years old and has been worrying that she is still not married. The reason is the same as for many women in our country: poverty.

Naima has worked as a maid in a home for many years; she is paid $20 a month for her work. She could not complete her education. She loves to learn English, but she gets tired from working all day, and neither she nor her two sisters are able to come to me to study.

Forced Marriage

After a long wait, someone has now sent a marriage proposal to Naima.

For many years, Naima has been dreaming of marriage and a good life.

She thinks her new life is going to begin, but I feel her new struggle for life is going to start now.

She has not seen the man yet, because according to custom she does not have that right, but she feels it is enough that she will have a home and a man who will love her, who will protect her, and who will respect her; this is what she is dreaming of nowadays.

If she asks to see her fiancé once before getting married, it will be an issue of honour for her brother who, she says, never asked her, “How are you my sister?” 

She does not want to see her future husband before the wedding –  not because she does not want to see him, but because she knows she cannot go against what her family has decided, even if she doesn't like him –  because she does not have the right to choose her life partner herself.

And now she is is struggling to arrange her wedding ceremony and finance it, as she has to do it all at her own, as well as continuing to support her mother.

The amount of dowry she can provide may affect the level of respect she gets from her future inlaws. Wedding clothes and 'fake' jewelry are also important to her - particularly as she is marrying a man who has never seen her. Then she also needs to provide food for around 200 wedding guests.

Yet she is stepping towards a very uncertain future.

Prioritising Sons

In her family there are three sisters and one brother; all of the sisters had been struggling all their lives to make a home for the brother as he is considered the future of their generations.  However, he moved out when he got married and does not speak to his mother and sisters now.

Her brother does not even talk to her, but she never complains because at least they have a brother – her mom has a son at least, and they are happy about this.

They become happy with very small things –  their dreams are very small, and after Naima's wedding, her mother - who is 80 years old, will live with her or alone.

Her mother felt she was very lucky to have a son; she did not provide her daughters with an education, and they are not skilled. They do not have their own home. They do not know what a career means or how to plan one.

Still it is thought that a son is the only source of happiness.

My Vision for Women and Girls

This is a story I see every day around me. I have a dream for women of this world.

Where women will be safe, they will be respected as human beings. Where they will have equal rights with men. Where they will be educated, be skilled, learn to drive.

A world where they will be pilots, astronauts, doctors and engineers.

Where they will be treated in the home and outside the home like boys are being treated. 

Where they will not be forced into child marriage, where they will not be accepted and loved not on the basis of their dowry, but as a life partner by a man whose expectations will not be for his wife only to produce children, but to give a shape to this world for a peaceful planet.

She will be a sports person, she will be an administrator, she will have a right to own property, and she will have a right to decide what she wants to do with her life.

She will not have to suffer for small things for life; she will not live like the slave of a man.  It will be a world where no one will rape her, where anyone who hurts her will be punished, where she will not have a fear to walk on a road alone, where she will not have to be dependent on a man – because she will be able to take care of herself.

It will be a society where she will not have to bear every cruelty just for food and a shelter. It will be a world where she will be able to sing and dance and enjoy her life, where she will not have to her life only for others –  but for herself, too.

I want such society for women, where men and women will have equal rights and responsibilities.

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Disclaimer: Views here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent an official standpoint of Safe World for Women, as an organisation.