Her pale skin devoid of any youthful glow was sticking tightly to her small bone structure, giving her a look of someone who had faced malnutrition. Her age must be around 16-17, but she had been married for a couple of years by now. With a naïve but strangely somber way, she spoke about how worried she was about not having been able to conceive a baby yet. At an age, when most of us enjoy a careless phase of life with an anticipation of the countless possibilities in life. But many teens of rural Pakistan have quite different dilemmas.
I meet many such teenagers who’re facing problems related to motherhood; from infertility to miscarriages or deaths of infants. Women in the village of Punjab play a pivotal role in helping their men financially and working in crops gives the primary source of income for people around there. So if you’ve been thinking that being able to earn makes a woman independent, you might want to visit these villages. This particular girl, for instance, looks for work here and there to help her husband make a living. The impasse of many young girls like her could clearly be seen – as she told my mother with utter seriousness – that ‘once you get married, you are lost for good.’
In the rural areas of Punjab, it is considered normal that parents would arrange marriages for their daughters as soon as they reach puberty; it’s seen as a wise and honorable step. They cannot be blamed altogether; as such regions have been deprived of the different modes of life for a long time. Because of ineffective law enforcement and mediocre behaviors, the safety of their daughters is sometimes a true dilemma for these parents. Financial issues and traditional approach are certainly giving the other outstanding factors.
Once married, despite their young age, these brides are expected to have a child by preferably at the end of the first year of marriage. However, the fact is that most girls do not receive proper nutrition (though due to poverty boys don’t either, the case for girls is even worse): birth-giving often results in the loss of lives of the mother or the child. Despite the fact, that their bodies might not be ready or strong enough to bear a child, these teens are often mentally prepared and hopeful to conceive early, because that’s what guarantees a better life for them. At least according to the social ideology they’ve been seeded with.
My young visitor was telling me how she had seen many gynecologists to find out why she had not been able to conceive yet. She added that life seems quite pointless and purposeless and having a child might add some joy and beauty to her days. With a setup where life is so limited, and options for a life are quite fixed, this is no surprise that the youth of these rural areas is still unable to see new horizons for their lives. Economic and educational betterment have been delayed for long here; without these factors, we cannot expect a change in preferences or attitudes. The women of Pakistan’s rural areas are hard working, tough and courageous; it’s obvious from the way they deal with the different kinds of social and familial duties, despite their physical shortcomings and poverty.
These are our true unsung heroes and the women, who deserve better attention from today’s intellectuals. Yes, from those, who are overly absorbed with religious and political drama.