In the decade when the world is probing the mysteries of the universe more efficiently than ever before, we as a nation are still stuck in a career vs. marriage war when it comes to young women. For some reason, a good career and a happy marriage are considered two circles that do not touch at any point. While we proudly place our entire honor and respect on a woman’s covered head, we forget that the rest of the world is advancing at great speed. The thousands we spend on a woman’s education are in most cases only to increase her market value, so that once she is auctioned as a perfect wife, she’ll have a good masters or doctorate degree to her name. Who doesn’t want a doctor bahu after all?

You turn 20 and a whole new world opens up in front of you.

For the rest of the world, it is a universe of possibilities; fall in and out of love, make a career, bankrupt dad’s business, lose friends, gain friends, first salary, hanging out, getting high on nothing less than life itself.

For the Pakistani woman, it’s a whole new universe too.

A universe that involves keeping yourself well groomed, learning to make exotic dishes, appearing as Eastern as possible. One that revolves around tea trolleys laden for prospective in-laws, and where a gol roti is more important than your educational degree. A checklist is formulated for a perfect girl, and you are supposed to check every box on that list so you can hope for a good future when you’re auctioned with enormous pride.

Everything now depends on your faceless Majaazi Khuda (the Earth God), the person you are supposed to dream about, love, cherish and respect even before you know who he is.  Everything that happens from your career to your hair is in His Majesty’s hands now.  You see your friends ditching favorite colors, favorite friends, favorite TV shows, even their career for one tiny big excuse:  “Unko pasand nahi hai”

You turn 23 while you are still single and you are suddenly getting ‘too old too fast’. Every one of your male friends turns into a prospective son-in-law for your mom, every one of your cousins you call bhai turns into a prospective son-in-law for your dad.  The question of whether you like someone is thrown casually around, probably in the hope that it’ll shock you into proclaiming undying love for a man your parents approve of. In the light of everything you are hearing about yourself, you lower your expectations.

Two things may happen.

Either you agree to marry the first person of your parent’s choice, be it a cousin who lives abroad and speaks Urdu with an accent, or a conservative maulvi sahib from your dad’s social circle;

Or you rebel and decide to go ahead with your career instead of waiting for your marriage.

If you choose rebellion, amidst several Astaghfirullahs and Allah Reham Kares, you find yourself in the middle of great controversy. For the relatives, seeing you with any male be it your rickshaw driver or gatekeeper is a chance to spin a colorful gossip story. For the family, this is no lesser a blow as you have sabotaged their izzat (honor) and your prospects of marriage by stepping out of the house.

With a rise in women rights activism and campaigns for better rights and opportunities, some basics are being forgotten. So deeply rooted are some evils in our minds that we have started considering them absolutely normal, even justifying them in the name of religion or culture. Not only do we need to change our mentality about working women, we should be able to take pride in the talent the female population possesses, and accept that the talent is not limited to making round chapattis and raising children alone. Marriage, even if it is considered by most as an inevitable truth, should not be used as an excuse to throttle ambitions. If a woman deserves a choice in deciding who she is going to marry and in the inheritance she receives, she deserves a right to practice her talents and knowledge and to earn money through them if she wants. After all, strong, independent women are what we need most for a strong, unshakable foundation for the society.