As Pakistan celebrates International Women’s Day in the best way we know how - loud, colorful and a little controversial - we leave ourselves with a reminder for nothing but to prioritize ourselves as women and make ourselves the forefronts of the conversation. Maha Nauman, a self-taught illustrator whose work revolves around exploring gender justice and the fight for equality in Pakistan shared a piece of her work with me that stopped me in my tracks. “This piece reflects part of a series I had in mind on how women are expected to put their needs and wants in life aside to fit into the role of mother, daughter, wife. They fade into the background and what’s left is their title,” says the artist.
Maha’s words are a nudge for all us women to remember that we are more than our labels, and what better time to come across her work and wisdom than in the same week as Bisma Maroof returns to cricket after maternity leave. Maroof, who is the captain of Pakistan’s women’s cricket team was the first women cricketer to get maternity leave under the PCB’s new and improved paternity leave regulations - which was applauded by feminist activists across the country. The 30-year-old captain played her first match after maternity leave against India in New Zealand, where she was accompanied by her mother who traveled as baby Fatima’s carer. Fatima’s grandmother’s presence on the trip was attributed to the PCB's maternity rule, which provisions the mother "to travel with a support person of her choice to assist in caring for her infant child", with travel and accommodation costs shared equally between the board and the player.
Despite India and Pakistan’s heated rivalry on the pitch, players of both teams came together as little Fatima won hearts cheering for her mother. But it is Maroof herself in her commitment to her work and herself that has won the hearts of women across the country. The cricketer has shared how she expected much difficulty in continuing cricket after she got married let alone having a baby but has once again proven that her abilities are unmatched.
The truth is, it’s about more than just being able to ‘do it all’, as so many women are told to do when they want to do something outside of the labels Nauman accurately mentions. In fact ‘doing it all’ puts more pressure on women to meet expectations as opposed to genuinely prioritizing themselves. Bisma’s achievement in being able to put her work first must also be credited to the PCB’s changes that have put in accommodations so that cricketers in Pakistan no longer have to choose. Many of us wouldn’t even think about provisions such as carers being accommodated for in company policy - and would often expect that if a mother is choosing to have a career she should just be able to manage both.
Maroof’s blazing return to cricket is more than just a reminder that she is an exceptional sportswoman - after all, she managed to hit a 50 again in her first match back. It is more importantly a lesson for all of us that womanhood isn’t limited to labels. As a woman exploring individuality is crucial in a society where rishtey nibhana, ghar banana, and catering to all the responsibilities thrown at us is seen as far more important than simply being allowed to be you.
As we explore mental health and its importance with our community here at Perspective, let this be a reminder to you to find yourself within your own community, be it here, online, at home, or wherever you feel most like yourself.
Cover Credits: Maha Nauman (instagram: @mahnau)