It’s a joyous occasion when a boy is born. The reception for a girl is somewhat muted. A boy will grow up to be the heir of the family. A girl’s final and proper place is with her future husband. She is thus a burden on her immediate family. She has to be shielded from society. She cannot converse with any male with whom marriage is possible. Only then can she preserve her honor.
A boy can go outside and play various sports. A girl is confined to home and can play with other girls when they come over. The parents allocate education money for the young nawab but the girl is lucky if she reaches the eighth grade. What purpose would it serve to provide a girl with a high school education?
A boy has little limits to what he can wear. It’s a girl’s duty to respect the parda. She must cover her entire body with, preferably, black cloth. Public places such as schools, mosques, hospitals, are segregated by gender. Sometimes strict parents enforce this segregation in their homes. The sons and daughters have their own respective rooms and bathrooms.
The teenage years are frustrating for girls. Boys play sports after, and sometimes during, school. On weekends, they can watch a new movie in the cinema, race in their foreign cars, play pool, or simply hang out. Girls are denied these options. The punishments for breaking these rules can be severe. A girl risks losing her friends and her TV and phone privileges forever if she is seen leaving the house alone. She risks her life if she is caught with another boy.
The jubilant time comes to marry off the girl. It’s usually the prospective boy’s family who do the searching. The mother, sisters, and aunts join in and go to different homes and take a peek at the bride. They also do a little research on the side. “What is the reputation of that family?” they ask of the neighbors. “Do you think she is a well-behaved girl?” they ask the servant.
The prospective family looks for two main features: fair skin and honor. Often with abundant choice, dark-skinned girls are rejected immediately. Ultimately, public reputation is what matters. A girl has little to no choice in choosing her husband. It’s the families that decide.
The girl is now a woman. She is married and her job is to provide the husband with an heir. She is unfortunate to have a husband who is the oldest in his family. That implies that her mother-in-law lives with them. Such is the life of an average Pakistani woman.
Her husband gets a job in Saudi Arabia. He can only take his wife. She is elated. The husband spends most of the day in the workplace. After a few weeks in Saudi Arabia, she feels lonely. She doesn’t speak much Arabic. Even if she did, she couldn’t go out alone in Saudi Arabia. She must have a male companion with her. Her husband is the only male she knows in Saudi Arabia and he is tired after work. Thus, she spends entire weekdays indoors. She leaves the TV on to keep her company. Only on weekends does she get a merciful respite in the desert while covered in the black abaya.
A few months pass and she gives birth to their first daughter. Her life is now about taking care of the little angel. Two years later, she gives birth to another daughter, and her joy multiplies. Then unfortunate news comes from Pakistan. Her mother has passed away. She can’t go alone with the daughters to Pakistan. By Saudi law, she needs a male companion. She pleads with her husband to come with her. He can’t. Too much work at the office. The small window of time closes. She mourns alone and has no choice but to accept his harsh and inconsiderate judgment.
The next five years provide her with two more daughters. After the birth of their fourth daughter, his job in Saudi Arabia is done. All six of them go home. The mother-in-law is unhappy with the absence of grandsons. Then, good news comes as she is pregnant again. The mother-in-law arranges for a visit to the hospital. Modern technology can determine the sex of the unborn. The new child will be a female. Under pressure, she aborts her. She feels sorrow and guilt. Few months later, she is pregnant again. Her sorrow diminishes. But once again, she has to abort the unborn girl.
The mother-in-law has had enough. She tells her son to get a second wife since the present one is barren. The first wife understands. The family must have a son. She is treated nicely and her husband has enough money for a second wife. Why not? Her husband fulfills his mother’s wishes. He now spends practically all his time with the new wife. The first wife spends her time with her daughters. Her task is now to raise each one as an honorable woman. Just like her.