It is Uzma’s 35th birthday. Sitting in front of a mirror, apparently, she is looking at her reflection; but her mind is voyaging through the various phases of her life. Life has been kind to her. She has a loving family and good friends’ circle. Bright and bold, Uzma wants to live an independent and happy life.
However, in her mid-thirties, she feels as an old spinster with recurring depression spells. Most of her friends have got married, busy in their lives, with children. Some even pursue their careers after marriage. However. Uzma is still single with a challenging career path.
There are many educated girls like Uzma who have become the victims of double standards in Pakistani society. While modern age advocates equal rights to education, work, and life for women; learned and career-oriented females are usually labeled as being difficult, mean and strong-headed when it comes to the selection of life partner.
Mostly “domestically trained (salikamand) beauties” with Bachelor’s degree and sound background are “in high demand” in the marriage market, said Mrs. Azmat, a seasoned matchmaker based in Karachi. The ideal marriage age for girls is defined between 18 and 25. Obviously, many girls cross the age bar while pursuing higher education and professional path. “For them, finding a suitable match is a challenge if they opt for arranged marriages, “she added.
Besides, the rigid standards of beauty defined by boys and their families such as a fair damsel (Gori Chitti Larki) with big eyes, roman features, slender figure and long hair, are simply unrealistic.
Mrs. Tariq, a renowned matchmaker said, “Beauty is the primary criterion for the acceptance of a girl. They are mostly rejected on the ground of appearance and looks”.
When girls reach the marital age, they have to go through frequent “drawing room tests’ to pageant themselves. In the name of matchmaking or `bur dekhawwa’, they are ruthlessly displayed and regularly rejected unless chosen by appropriate suitors and their families. Demands of boys’ families increase in the direct proportion to their financial status and degrees. Especially if a boy is having a foreign degree, job or nationality, he and his family is looking for a highly qualified ‘hoor paree’, exceptionally created for him.
No one, except a girl, can understand how this painful parade shatters her personality and shakes her confidence. Regardless of the socio-economic background, most of the girls have to go through this humiliating phase.
It seems that the sole purpose of a girl’s life is to get married and bear children. So those who get a good match ‘rishta’ at an appropriate age are considered blessed. While others consider a liability, no matter how independent and talented they are.
The hypocritical standards related to family honour and women’s modesty affect every aspect of women’s lives. From the childhood, daughters are trained to behave, hide their emotions and avoid interaction with men. There is a constant surveillance and stricter rules for girls as compared to boys in general.
“We are brought up with the fairy tales, propagating ideals such as “good girls never express their feelings” and they must wait for their “prince charming to come and salvage them”, Sana (30+ single) commented scornfully. However, many-a-times, their dreams are never realized, especially if they are average-looking with a modest background.
As a girl gets older and chances of her arranged marriage are being diminished, same parents encourage their daughter to give her guards and choose a life partner of her choice. Many single girls in their thirties are often inquired about their potential colleagues, old class fellows and distant cousins. But their guardians often don’t realize the fact that by that time it’s very hard for their daughters to change their deep-rooted notions and find a prince charming on their own.
Amira, a psychiatrist, said that many unmarried girls experience “self-pity, depression and anxiety” as they cross 30 due to undue family pressure and social expectations
Career is crucial for girls since it provides them social security and financial independence. So many educated girls give priority to their profession. However, there are still many families where girls are discouraged to work as it is believed that it makes them less eligible for marriage.
It is a bitter reality that educated, career-oriented women are never considered a good match in our society. Even highly qualified boys prefer modern, qualified housewives. Those, who can accompany them in social gatherings, bear and rear their children and look after their homes, with no personal ambitions.
So many talented, qualified and ambitious girls in our society end up as spinsters. They are often made to choose between marriage and career. As Uzma commented bitterly, “I have reached the age where I don’t wish to marry anymore. I just want to be independent, adopt a child and live life to its fullest. Is our society ready to let me live my life on my own terms?”