Larka hua tou Engineer, Larki hui tou Doctor: Career Limitations in Pakistan

Up until 3rd grade, Saima wanted to be a teacher— until her teacher told her to become a doctor. At the end of seventh grade, Saima was obsessed with computers— until her parents told her to choose Biology 'just till matric'. After tenth grade, Saima had developed a passion for poetry and literature — but why throw those high grades away to study Arts? In the gap between her Fsc and medical entry test, Saima ended up writing a whole novel and got into a psychology program at a very prestigious university— but why would a high achiever go into psychology when that's a backup field reserved for students who can't get into med school, or at least that's what her parents told her. And so, after a whole lot of crying and convincing, Saima ended up in med school set to be a doctor, who could always write her novels whenever she wanted to, except she never got the time again.

That's just one story, obviously not representing the whole population, but quite a majority nonetheless. To sum up the stereotype in a single line:

"Larka hua tou engineer, larki hui tou doctor"

(Engineer if it’s a boy, and doctor be it a girl)

It is not just a quote, but a mindset that was so aptly addressed and debunked in one of the most popular films in the subcontinent, a film that was probably watched in every household of the region. Yet it has such a big chunk of our country’s population in a chokehold.

No doubt, the career variety and availability in Pakistan are already limited, but for each individual, the spectrum narrows even further depending on their upbringing and the household they are born in.

Let's divide these limitations into two categories, so we can explore them in detail:

  1. Systematic unavailability of a variety of career options in Pakistan

  2. Intrinsic limitations by societal presets

We might be living in a modernized and technological era yet Pakistan still has a long way to go to become a developed country. How does this affect our career opportunities? New career opportunities develop when a need for a new field arises, that is, there is an appearance of a new area of development. However, these opportunities are carried through when the country is strong enough to facilitate and support the establishment of that new field. Unfortunately, with our unstable economy, this takes a long time, often decades to introduce and establish a single new profession as there are not enough resources to cater to multiple fields at the same time. This serves as the primary reason for career limitations in our country. Most of our developed and striving fields are old school, core fields and, presently, seem to be taking most of our country's focus and support.

This brings us to our second reason. Are our people ready to explore unconventional fields? There is a conventional mindset in our society that has deemed certain fields superior to others — especially on a gender basis. These are called the ‘core’ fields. Fields other than these pre-established, pre-determined core ones, are imagined to be on the peripheries of the education landscape in the country. The issue isn't that no one has any interest in these periphery professions, it's that the professions do not have as much ‘scope’ as much as the core fields. And students who opt for them are looked down upon as those who, for any reason (read:lack of aptitude, hard work, etc.), couldn’t make the cut into the core fields. For instance,

“Arts waley to wailey hotey hain”

(The field of arts is undemanding/leisurely)

Thus the high-achievers, and our population in general, are pushed into the race for grabbing a spot in the core fields leaving the neglected ones reserved as a second or third option for students. This attitude further solidifies the conventional stereotype not only in the minds of students but especially in the minds of parents, who at the end of the day want the best for their kids. Also, a lot of people who have an interest in unconventional fields end up getting thrown into the core ones.

Being a woman who is intimately involved with the medical community of our country, I have witnessed that the first question first-year students are often asked by teachers is how many of them actually came to med school willingly. In answer, only half of them raise their hands. The other half then goes on narrating their sob story of where they actually wanted to go, but somehow ended up studying medicine. Even if the students themselves are ready to explore other options, their parents are not ready to let go of the stereotype.

Unfortunately, this not only hinders the development of the supposed ‘periphery fields’ but also leads to the over-saturation in the already filled-to-the-brim core fields, with no overall development of the country either. It's a lose-lose through and through.

But on the bright side, like all problems, this one has a solution too. To overcome the stereotype there are numerous schools and organizations now working on career counseling programs for students. However, parents need to be counseled just as much as students, if not more. After all, since they are the prime source of financial support for their children’s education, they believe they have an equal say in deciding their careers. Moreover, the government also needs to play a key role in recognizing the importance of fields other than the presumed core ones in the country’s advancement. For example, expanding the portion of the budget allocated to these fields and facilitating the ascent of qualified, trained professionals who can contribute their expertise to further the development of their respective fields. The road to destigmatizing unpopular, unconventional fields and professions in the country is uneven, I admit. It is difficult, but not impossible. It is also extremely long as I see it. But, with the new and upcoming generations set on a path to breaking stereotypes and changing mindsets, I believe there is hope for a bright future for all of us.


Zainab Waseem is an in-house writer at Perspective.

Find her on Instagram @lightash241

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