By Anbrin Naqvi
No-one can ever claim to have entirely escaped the echoes of early childhood/youthful memories; that remains, inform and shape our future. Talking about the lives of immigrants sometimes the past experiences reappear in quick small flashes or extended nostalgic cravings.
Sooner or later we all find some solace in revisiting our birth/childhood neighbourhoods, school and college. For me, the lure of my old schoolyard is similar to a full moon night calling for the wolf, prompting a metamorphosis phenomenon allowing the shedding of mature skin while simultaneously growing a new one. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons; I choose to pursue the teaching profession because I believe homogenous work routines block personal/professional growth.
The timing seemed perfect; it’s almost been a little over ten years since I left my paternal/maternal home and had vague reminiscences of the bygone eras. And yet here I am once again ready to do some comparative anatomy of the, * then and now*.
In this corner of the world that I used to call home, there is still a lot of work needing to be done to bridge the gender gap. Nevertheless, we as a nation have come a long way in addressing ‘some’ of the disparities that exist between the sexes.
Going down memory lane, takes me back to the time of my university days, studying Botany in a class where the girls easily outnumbered the boys. This was understandable because the subject was, not something that boys would opt for as a career. Despite this fact, the girls still faced tremendous challenges regarding seeking parental permission for field trips. To help remove this barrier the university offered an on-campus alternative theoretical course allowing the girls to complete their education without extensive field research. But for me, being a slightly sassy fledgeling, I was able to convince my parents to grant me permission for field research stretching over 40 km area. And this was just the beginning of my research journey.
Every time that I had to go outdoors for sample collection, my parents made sure I was accompanied by a male cousin/brother. I was told, “This is for your protection, my dear”.
Sometimes, feeling a wee bit frustrated I would ask my father, “If I were a boy, would you still have a charade shadowing me?”
Very bluntly, he would say “probably not!”
So many years have gone past, and the words still don’t sit well with me. My mom used to tell me that I would have more freedom after marriage. But much to my dismay I discovered that another ‘tier’ had been added to the chain of permissions.
This brings me to the next challenge that we the girls faced as interns. The professors used to tell us that girls have to be extra careful because university scandals can follow like shadows and ruin careers.
Not willing to accept the norm, I would always counter argue,………
“What about boys having scandals?”
“Why should girls be more vulnerable to scandals?”
“Why should a boy scandal be forgotten and a girl scandal remain forever?”
At that time, I found no comforting answers to these questions but started a thought process that the professors appreciated.
Only recently, I have come to the realization that the showbiz industry thrives on scandals, girl or boy doesn’t matter.
Coming back to my professional life, I had no problem in securing my first job despite my ‘eccentric’ personality. The greatest challenge at that point was finding steady childcare. Although on the surface, what looks like sound family support system is, in fact, a ‘systemic failure complex’, and many women in the circumstances similar to mine stay confined within the four walls of the home. I have concluded that having access to affordable childcare is very important for the economic empowerment of women and it won’t be wrong to say that, ‘having easily accessible childcare should be amongst the fundamental rights of women’.
Perhaps it’s primarily due to this reason; I could only track down only one of my classmate in the agriculture research department. And I have safely assumed that the rest of the twenty girls could have taken different pathways or even worst; given-up on careers for the sake of family life.
Fast forwarding to the current times I found various women support groups functional throughout the city. There are also numerous projects facilitating the socio-economic empowerment of women
Although we as the country still have a long way to go, together we have started taking small steps in the right direction.