Society and Norms: Gender Roles - Women

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Though Pakistan at times is more lax on its ideas about feminine roles, they are still significantly affected by Islamic ideas about how women should act. The practice of guarding females from the outside world is seen as a caring act that preserves her honor and that of her family’s. Women generally marry young, have several babies, and generally do not work outside the home. They can be restricted to socializing with female relatives only. The average age at marriage is 21 but can be as young as 15 years old [6].

However, within the household, women wield much power and influence in the decision making. The head matriarch is often the person who selects the brides for the family’s sons and holds authority over younger wives. Nomadic women have far greater control over domestic affairs and the family finances than their village (or city) counterparts. Nomadic women have to take care of all family business while their husbands and sons are away for months at a time tending the herds. In all cases, females are highly deferential to all male family members.

For all Pakistani women, maintaining a good reputation is a lifelong demand. Behavior like promiscuity, rape, and divorce all tarnish a woman’s reputation.  Once tarnished, a woman’s reputation is no longer respectable and that respect cannot be re-attained. Pakistani society also regards unmarried women over the age of 25 and divorced women with disapproval. There is great pressure put on women to stay in marriages. If they return home they will be stigmatized as social pariahs and alienated from the community. There is no dishonor in being widowed. Though, young widows are pressured to get quickly remarried. However, for financial reasons, a brother or father of the deceased husband will often take the widow as another wife or otherwise provide for her [7].

Women generally receive less education than men. However, this practice is beginning to change with the institutionalization of compulsory education and the realization by parents that their children’s education is critical for the future welfare of their family and the country. Girls are usually segregated into different schools which provides them freedom and comfort to learn without feeling hindered by the presence of boys [8]. With education, women’s roles have expanded to other nurturing roles such as school teachers and nurses. Recently, women are making inroads into government, law, medicine, military, and service sectors. For example, Pakistan had a female Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, from 1988 to 1990. To facilitate female opportunities, the Pakistani government has instituted Women’s Development Centers that provide training in family planning, hygiene, adult literacy, community development, vocational skill training, and law [9].

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