Fighting the stereotypes – finding my place as a girl growing up in Pakistan

It was April 18. 1987, my mother was told her baby was breech. “We will have to do a C section,” the doctor said. My mom agreed. She was anxiously waiting to hold her baby she had been carrying for 9 months. Finally, the baby arrived. A girl was born in a small OR of a hospital in Karachi, Pakistan  

“It’s a girl!” my parents announced. They got mixed responses. Some were truly happy and welcomed the new baby wholeheartedly, others grimly congratulated my parents for their first baby girl and others explicitly said what was in their hearts: A first-born baby girl? Not so great news. My mom felt the stabbing pain of those words and so did I growing up. ‘You are a girl, don’t talk like that!’ someone said. “You’re a girl, sit properly’ I heard again.  Growing up, I was told how to walk, how to talk and how to eat as a girl. In the middle of all this, my mother was my rock.

My mother never paid attention to the outside noise. It is as if in the midst of all this, she silently whispered to herself that she would do anything to provide me with the best she could offer. Despite opposition, she provided me with the best education, clothed be with the best clothes and put the best food on table for me. She fought those who challenged her head on and never drew a line of difference between my brother and me. I was lucky to have her.

“She is just a girl, she will grow up and do her husband’s laundry,” somebody said. My mom never wanted me around when someone confronted her about my upbringing. I was 14 years old, in grade 9 and a curious teenager. I was trying to figure out my place in this crazy world. It was 2002 but I don’t remember the date and time. All I remember is those hurtful words. ‘Who am I? What is my place as a girl?’ I started questioning. ‘Am I really born to do laundry and raise kids?  What is the purpose of all this hard work?’ I asked

I loved talking to my mom late at night before falling a sleep. I could talk to her about anything as a teenager. I told her all that was in my heart and she loved listening.  ‘Why do people question girl’s education?’ I asked. She just told me to ignore it all and focus on school. I was happy with the answer and got back to schoolwork. I worked hard in school and did well. Those words were profound, I admit. They left an impression on my heart and forced me to excel, work hard and do whatever it takes to prove them wrong.

There are things I learned along the way to deal with stereotypes so eminent in our society. Below are some of my suggestions to stay strong in the face of gender stereotypes:

1.     Love your Lord
Your heart yearns to love and if you love anyone except Allah, you will get hurt. Trust your Lord and love Him more than anything. He will find a way for you; ease your pains and open doors for you. His love is greater than that any stereotype, any obstacle and any opposition. Work hard, be determined and trust Him, He will guide you  

2.     Help is only a dua away
No matter what it is you are dealing with, you can always turn to your Lord for help. Know that He is always listening and He is always watching. He knows what is in your heart. When you get hurt by someone’s words, He was watching. When someone treated to unjustly because of your gender, He was watching. Raise your hands and ask Him for help when you are hurt, your dua’s will reach Him.

3.     Don’t pay attention to what people say
People will talk. So let them. The less you pay attention to what they think, the more you’ll be able to focus on your desires. This is the biggest lesson I learnt from my mom. I cannot control what people think or say about me or anybody, what I can control is how I live my life and whether I let them effect me in any way. I realized beating myself over what somebody say is just not worth it. Life is too short and a lot has to be done

4.     Know yourself
People will judge you; people will doubt you and people will question you. The only person who can help you overcome all this is you yourself. Never judge yourself, never doubt your decisions and your choices and always take care of yourself first. Have a vision, dream and live your life the way you want.

5.     Speak up!
I didn’t speak up and I didn’t stand up for myself before but slowly I learnt to speak up. When you hear something that is just wrong, speak up for what is right and what is true. Sure, people might think you are a bit too outspoken but you need to learn to speak your mind.

6.     Never stop learning
In the end, I learnt to love myself and never stop learning. If today, I can tell myself that I learnt something new, I grew as a person and am better than a year ago, I am content. I realized my self-image is a reflection of who I am and not how anyone else perceives me