A while ago I came across some very disturbing news on TV. The leader of Pakistan’s Council of Islamic Ideology proposed a bill regarding how men were allowed to deal with ‘their’ women. The proposal was to make it legal for husbands to “lightly beat” their wives if needed and prohibit the mixing of genders in schools, hospitals, and offices.
According to the proposed bill, a husband should be allowed to lightly beat his wife if she defies his commands and refuses to dress up as per his desires, turns down demand of intercourse without any religious excuse or does not take bath after intercourse or menstrual periods. The bill was apparently proposed to supposedly keep wives in line, and to instill a sense of fear in women, after a progressive anti-domestic violence law was passed earlier this year.
And what’s alarming is that despite much ridicule and revulsion, and protests from women, the council has refused to back down. What is it about being a woman that calls for this ridiculous treatment? I spoke to some women from all walks of life to find out how they are being given special treatment just because they are women, and how they choose to stay strong, rise above, and be the best woman they can be.
Here are their anonymous confessions-
My father had cancer and I had to take him to Delhi for treatment. Being an only child, the responsibility to look after my father fell on me. And of course, I love him too much to let anyone else look after him either. But taking him to Delhi frequently for his chemotherapy sessions meant I was away from my husband and in-laws for prolonged periods. One day my sister in-law called me up, all furious and self righteous, and said that while I was giving my father a new life, her father, mother and brother were suffering because I wasn’t there to look after them. She said I had to learn to put my family first and not let them get sidelined by ‘others’. My father was the ‘other’ here. When I mentioned this to my in-laws, all they did was shrug and say that maybe their daughter felt bad seeing them work at home while the daughter-in-law was out traveling. Yes, traveling.
Why is it that once a woman is married her entire universe shifts while nothing changes for the man? As we take up our husbands’ names, why are we expected to leave our identities and families behind? Why does the society expect us to make a family out of people who will always treat us like outsiders while creating distance with those who gave birth to us and brought us up with love and care? I, for one, refuse to accept this. My husband’s family is his responsibility, not mine, just like my parents have never been his responsibility. I will care for them when they need my help but my parents will always come first. The society cannot take that away from me.
-A married woman who will always put her parents first
Neighbors are nosy beings. Yes, even in today’s day and age. And if you have just married, then all eyes are on you. Recently, my husband’s next-door neighbor commented on how he rarely saw me. That was okay. I smiled and said I had recently spoken to his daughter-in-law. Then, he went on to say that he never saw me sweeping the premises and tending the garden which was why he thought I was hardly home. It was amazing how he felt that these were duties of a married woman, especially a newly married woman. If my husband’s mother were working in the garden, then I’d have to drop everything I was doing and help her. That was the general understanding.
Then this other time, another loud neighbor commented on how I could not be the daughter-in-law because I wore shorts and sleeveless tops and not cotton dhotis and saris. Even when women have progressed so much, our society tends to pull them back based on senseless things like these. I have made it very clear to my husband that if his mother needs help around the house he is the one who has to attend to the chore. I will not start doing things I never did in my 30+ years just because I chose to get married.
-A married woman who still wears shorts
I was in an abusive relationship for five years before I decided to file for divorce. My husband used to beat me for such silly reasons that I had almost started anticipating slaps if I dropped a spoon in the kitchen or if my phone rang while he was on the phone. The reason I stayed in the relationship was because I had nowhere to go. A year after the beatings started – I had been married for two years – I told my parents about it and though they were not happy they wanted me to work it out and not leave him. I tried for a year just because they told me to and when I couldn’t take it anymore, I went back to my parents. At this point, they refused to have me at home fearing what the neighbors and relatives would say once they found out I was back for good.
I stayed for another two years but things had gone so bad that I had become scared of even speaking, not knowing what would trigger his rage. He wasn’t always like that. When I first met him, he was a shy kind of person who appeared gentle and soft. But I guess, everyone is a lion at home and for men, like my now ex-husband, who have grown up being told by their mothers that they are princes and kings, dominating women by force comes easy.
I chose to file for divorce. It wasn’t easy. But the alternative was worse. I still get threatening calls every now and then but that’s few and far between as compared to the beatings. And I think I can live with that.
-A recently divorced, single yet happy woman
My mother-in-law always tells me that I have to treat her like I treat my own mother. This is after she taunts me in front of her relatives saying she would have found someone better for her son had she had it her way, after she questions my upbringing if I don’t make it to the kitchen before she does, and after she has been rude to my sisters and brothers every time they have come over.
My sister-in-law, though she claims to be on my side, tells me to put up with her mother because she is a widow and deserves a little extra attention from her daughter-in-law. My sister-in-law is settled in Australia and doesn’t want to come back home to Nepal despite much insistence from her husband and his family because that means she would be living with her in-laws.
My mother’s sister (who is also my mother-in-law’s best friend) keeps advising me to occasionally shower my mother-in-law with gifts, take her out, and spend time with her when I get home after a long day at work. This apparently well meaning aunt never got along with her own mother-in-law and she and her husband moved out in less than six months post marriage.
It baffles me how all these women are such hypocrites and try to dominate other women while setting themselves above the ‘rules’ they preach. The sad thing about our society is that women dominate other women and call it a male dominated society.
-A woman dominated by other women