Women in Power vs. The Society - Bazigah Murad
Countering challenges has always been a very dominant part of women’s life. When she is born, she counters half of her blood relations mourning over the fact that the child is not a boy. When she enters into her teen life, she encounters almost every kind of challenge that could subdue her. Yes, all the challenges you are thinking of right now. She is raised to believe that her life is not going to be as easy as her brother; that she is always going to be a subject to someone’s authority. She is raised watching her mother’s voice being stifled by her father’s rage. When she is finally independent enough to do something for herself, the societal expectations barge in to make an entrance to try to suppress her voice. Letting women do whatever they want is an alien concept in our society. And it is simply because it threatens the very existence of men and their power over the vulnerable. If a woman is brave enough to defy the norms and chooses to be self-sufficient, there is an endless list of the barricades (especially in Pakistan) waiting for her to step out of the chaar deewari and tear her down.
Women in our country have constantly been thwarted by complex interplay of traditional and contemporary factors. Their struggles have been marginalized; their voices been silenced. But from time to time, the history has witnessed incredible examples of how our women have fought their way through the barriers that would rather, very much, prefer to see her weak, and dependent. The same nation that gasps on watching Halima Sultan fighting alongside Ertugrul, restricts the mobility of women at their homes, limits their social interactions, and imposes social, cultural, and traditional taboos on them.
The patriarchal structure of our society has prevented our women from benefitting from the same economic benefits they contribute to. The relationship between a woman and her desire to do something for herself or her parents is bittersweet. Mostly, bitter. Because when her father is generous enough to give her the best education she could possibly receive, she feels constantly in debt to prove herself to the only man who believed in her. But she also knows that is it. She knows that her father will marry her off as soon as her education is completed (preferably, before that). After being rendered under the guardianship of another man, the pressure to demonstrate her worth drastically increases. Best case scenario, her current guardian is pretty flexible and allows her to make her own decisions, thus her dream of being independent is on its way to being fulfilled. Worst case scenario, she did not expect that her guardian is not the only person she has got to answer.
From enduring passive aggression on a daily basis to being harassed in any space she finds herself vulnerable in, being a working woman comes with a handful of challenges and the checklist drastically peaks when it comes to women working and leading a team under their administration. It is just so difficult for our prejudiced society to accept the fact that a woman is just as capable of sitting on a directing seat as men, if not more. It is a sad truth that despite the evidence of their effectiveness, women have to work twice as hard to climb the management ladder. There is inequity and imbalance in all sectors of socio-economic development and lack of provisions to ensure a women’s access to all the development benefits and services.
Only about 25% of women in our country who have a university degree work outside their homes. Out of these women, around 1% contribute to female entrepreneurship rate in Pakistan. Because no matter how much we think we have evolved, our gender biased institutional environment endorses the dichotomy embedded in our society. Tell me, when you go to work somewhere and find out that you will have to work under the leadership of a female, what is the first thought that crosses your mind? Is it, “whoa that’s empowering!” or is it, “oh, I hope she’s not a bitch”? The underlying power of traditions and the ungenerous patriarchal system has always managed to cloud our judgement when it comes to women.
I have a list of complaints from how our society has long treated women, but before my monologue turns into a harangue, I will clam up and save you from the worst of it. Instead, I had the honor to discuss it with a few of the very determined and courageous women who experienced all the challenges firsthand.
I had the pleasure of discussing my topic with an incredible female leader, Freeha Ihsan. She leads a team as a project manager and has been running two startups since last year. She expresses her disgust at the fact that, “Most of the people viewed me as a junior and didn’t take my position seriously; constantly tried to undermine my opinions. This is when I realized that gaining the same monetary and respect – despite having the same experience – is a lot harder in comparison to men.”
Coming from a middle-class background, having no know-how of business, no access to finances, lack of travelling luxury, Freeha reflects on the notion that despite having a handful amount of will, most women do not become entrepreneurs is because they are unaware of the basics. Sometimes, their skills are not polished enough, and sometimes it is because the idea that they can’t do this has been instilled in their minds. In terms of challenges being offered on a daily basis, Freeha tells me that “Both men and women are equally responsible for the patriarchal mindset of our society. Men constantly deny your leadership role and women create hurdles in terms of jealousy. It is a sad fact that some women silently breed patriarchy and just don’t realize it.”
Dr. Erum Tanveer, an Associate Professor and the Principal of United College of Physical Therapy who holds many degrees from PhD. to BPT along with multiple national and international certifications, talks about the barrier she faced to reach the position she is in now.
“I had to fight with trivial comments like I am no good, a woman can do nothing, and why is such prestigious position been given to someone too young. But these remarks did nothing to bring me down, and I came back stronger than ever.”
She believes that “A woman should perceive, and never ever quit. This is the mindset that can help them achieve their goals. Society lacks in the premium to educate that youth that women can do anything. Their choices should be respected by everyone.”
Women employers are not preferred to have a dominating and authoritative persona, instead they are once again, pushed towards the stereotypical narrative that being a woman directly translates into being accommodating, lenient, and empathetic. It has been a long practice to sweep the working women under false generalizations, which affects how they are perceived at work. If a female boss expresses concern towards her employees, she is perceived as too sentimental. When she does not simply want to mix business with personal life, she is adjudged as rude and indifferent. “He is the boss, she is bossy” debate is long overdue, but my editor will not allow me a rant of more than three pages.
Discussing this, Dr. Erum Tanveer directly quotes Alice Eagly, a social psychologist, “Gender stereotypes exists in every society. The stereotype is that women aren’t agentic, and their voices aren’t as loud, and they are kind and small.” She says, that “Yes, I have had to work twice as hard to convince the society that the position I am at right now, is not a product of luck, but it was rather like walking on the floor of lava.”
Women are hardly ever directly appointed for management positions and are often mostly shortlisted for positions that do not require a lot of decision making because, again, they are constantly shut out from the chance to demonstrate their abilities to handle responsibility. Although, no man – and I say this with complete confidence – can multitask like a woman can. A woman has only access to a very limited amount of power, and this is why they have the inclination to go an extra mile to prove themselves. A bad leader is just bad, regardless of their gender, and yet women are always the one to be more harshly scrutinized then their male counterparts.
Trained in the US, a Pakistani-based architect, painter, and photographer, Zainab Safri, runs an architectural company alongside her father. Spending 1/4th of her life in the U.S, she endorses that sexism in workplaces, very much does exist, coupled with bias against Muslims and being brown. She claims that “even when I wasn’t directly targeted for microaggression, I could sense the prejudice from miles apart.“
“We may think that Pakistan is the only regressive state but, truth to be told, the mindset that women are not capable of things exists everywhere. In Pakistan, microaggression against women in power is on a macro scale. People say things they know are wrong, but they say it very openly without thinking about the consequences. When a leading British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid passed away, I know of many men who celebrated her passing.”
“The idea that women are only there to copulate and that they belong in the house is deeply wrong because women are big multitaskers. From a holistic point of view, I think the entrepreneurship rate in Pakistan is so low is because women do not live an independent life and they tend to rely on men of the house. There is always a sense of low self-esteem among women who want to do something, and they are afraid to fail themselves, their families, and the society.”
Talking about her overall experience being a female leader, she sums it up in a very positive way. “All the barriers that I faced shaped me into a stronger person. I did not let the societal burdens and the peer pressure affect how I see myself. I believe that I have defeated most of the adversities by surrounding myself with more positive and less negative.”
I will not deny that as we move forward to catch up with the world of novelty, I see us slowly letting go of the orthodox practices our fathers and their fathers carried through. Albeit I am in no position to claim that our country has become a safer place for women but yes, I concur the fact that we have not remained primitive. But it also does not alleviate the constant feeling of threat women feel as soon as the thought of being independent cross their minds. For so long, our minds have been programmed to spew disregard towards women who are self-sufficient and does not need a man to function, that it has become our constant nature to stare longer at a woman who goes out for work in defiance to what the traditions entail.
It is about time that we stop seeing people as “men” and “women” and assigning them gender roles that are toxic to them, instead, we must learn to perceive them as humans, capable of choosing their paths, and not pushed back by what they are supposed to be. Moreover, organizations working for women and their rights must aid fellow women in terms of proper representation of businesswomen, properly investigate problems by conducting surveys to formulate policies, educate them about their socio-economic rights, help them learn about finances and credits, and lastly, for our women to thrive, our governments need to step in and make necessary amendments in terms of workplace environment and the administration seats must be checked out on the basis of merit, irrespective of the gender.