Some time ago in a poll on my Instagram story, I asked Pakistani girls from among my followers a simple question: what they would do if they were to be guys for 24 hours and why. The results did not shock me, and I could relate to almost all of the answers.
One respondent from Rawalpindi, Rameen, said: “Get out of my house and walk around the neighborhood.”
And that, very plainly, is the reality for many girls in the country I belong to. Pakistan, a country where you will want to be a boy just to be able take a stroll in the neighborhood. For all its beauty and culture, Pakistan might not be the best country for women. Upon asking Rameen what her reason for not being able to do it as a female was, she replied: “I don’t think I’ll be safe.” I know of females who might read this and not be able to find appropriate words to express how hard they can relate to it – a fact both sad and true. Not here to say that every girl who steps out of her house in Pakistan gets kidnapped, because that’s plainly incorrect. Many neighborhoods are safe, secure and women-friendly and I can list the names of so many girls my age who don’t feel afraid to go out of their house when they want to. But there is always a barrier – a barrier of fear that obstructs the path between a desi girl’s bedroom and her house’s door – that is often insurmountable, and in many cases, shaped by what she hears and sees around her all day, example being the Zainab Ansari murder case or some other relevant happening that made headlines. Assuming a desi girl is able to jump over this barrier and conquer her fears, there’s one other barrier just outside of her room that she might not be able to, that is either cutting up fruits in the kitchen or reading a newspaper in front of a muted television set displaying news highlights of the day in the lounge. Parents, who love their daughter way too much to not let the bulletin they just watched, stop her from going outside without an escort. To further prove my point, I can quite comfortably quote Emaaan Aamir, another respondent, this time from Karachi.
“I’d wake up early, go for a chai paratha breakfast at a dhaba (preferably with company), and then go cycle for an hour or something. I would play basketball in college all day. I would pray all five prayers in the mosque and enjoy the sunset at the sea view and definitely ride the bikes.” These were few of the things Eeman told me were on her bucket list, could she turn into a boy for a day. Upon me asking her the reason, she replied: “It just isn’t socially acceptable and safe to do all this as a girl. Some girls do manage to do almost all the things on my list, but I can’t because my parents don’t think it’s safe enough (for me) to do all this.” Did the world around you fall as silent as it did around me while I was typing this? I’m sure it did.
For someone who spent all her toddlerhood playing with dolls, preschoolerhood despising herself for it, pre-teen years crying quietly about not being able to do the things boys her age could, and teenage years complaining, writing articles and talking about girls and their lives, devising plans to make it better for other girls in her country and throwing shade at men and boys with problematic mentalities, hearing this wasn’t something new. It wouldn’t be old either, if all I do is write this article and go back to work and all you do is read it surf back to where you came from.
If you think something should be done to make these girls and countless others like them not want to be a boy just to do little things, now is the right time.
The messages of the interviewees were recorded through Instagram Direct Message and the screenshots are available upon request. Slight changes in grammar and spelling were made to clarify the content of their messages with no alteration in content. In case of any inquiries, I can be reached out via Instagram and e-mail.
Photo: Two Circles