The Honorable Woman

January 21, 2017
Zara Maqbool


By: Zara Maqbool

Last week I found out that my cook is involved with a married woman of three kids and wants to marry her. Sumera ran away from her home and came to my house leaving her kids behind. Her husband had verbally divorced her and then married her to his brother for ‘nikkah halala’. According to Sharia, a couple that gets divorced cannot remarry unless the woman marries another man and consummates the marriage when the second husband dies or divorces her. I, the progressive feminist reacted like a typical conventional woman of our society carrying the stereotypes passed on by my mother and so on and discouraged her and my cook from marrying each other. I convinced her to go back to her husband for the sake of her kids, shocked by her indifference for her children.

In the heat of the moment, none of my feminist progressive traits came in play and I became a traditional person who felt scandalized by the whole idea and being a mother myself shamed her into even considering the option of leaving her children for her affections for another man.

Later as I reflected on how I had reacted, it made me realize that if I have behaved in this manner how can I question the more backward people especially in our rural areas to accept such matters. We as a society have hardly moved forward where it comes to rights of women. Yes there is growth but deep down the thinking remains the same.

Watching Bin Roye last week where Mahira Khan’s character as a wife is told to be mindful of her husband’s needs, I realized how deeply rooted the traditional role of a female is in the Indo-Pak subcontinent and how old-fashioned the expectations from the women.

Why do our dramas and movies continue to portray women in the same way again and again? Because the idea of a woman being shown as empowered qualifies as her being selfish and that makes us uncomfortable. We all silently identify with ‘Saba’ as she awaits ‘Irtaza’ like a good wife in Bin Roye. This is what an honorable woman qualifies as in our books.

Even now when a woman who is divorced or is a widow wants to remarry, a few eyebrows are raised especially if the lady has children. After becoming a mother, a woman is expected to forget that she is an individual. In most cases the custody of the children is revoked in case the mother remarries especially if she has a daughter incorporating the factor of the stepfather being a ‘non-mehram’. I exactly remember my words when I discouraged the girl who wanted to leave her children. “You are a mother first and a person later.”

I really wonder what the blocks are that doesn’t allow this change in the mindset. Have we swallowed these absolute truths without processing them and simply passing them from generation to generation? Why is a man encouraged to remarry immediately post a break up of a relationship and a woman shamed into even considering the option. The dilemma is that this attitude is not limited to the illiterate class only. We the patrons of enlightened thinking still involuntary react the same way, very few that have broken the chain of stereotypical philosophy.

We can be the change if we want to. No matter how tough it is to swim against the tide, the risk has to be taken. I did post my initial reservation, supported the girl and my cook but unfortunately when their life was threatened I had to backtrack. But it was shocking to experience the possibility of ‘honor killing’ firsthand and realize what it really meant. I truly hope that one day we can all look at a woman as an individual first and later cast her in various roles of a daughter, sister, mother and wife according to a pre-defined script.

Published in Notes, Opinion

Story first published: 21st January 2017




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