The best place to meet Zeba Mughal is her workplace – a well-equipped gym near Jail Chowrangi, Karachi. On the first floor, inside a huge hall, Zeba manages packed classes. Ten minutes before the class ends, she instructs her students to make a plank pose. Within a few seconds, the hall starts echoing with the rhythmic thuds of tired students who couldn’t stay still. But Zeba will maintain the perfect plank for an impressively long time.
Her strength, however, is not limited to the work she does. Once she clocks herself out and goes home, she has to keep herself together to become a solid support for her children. “I got married at a very young age – I was in high school. People often give me looks of shock when I tell them that I have a grandson too,” she says almost laughing.
“The marriage that was formed on the basis of love soon turned out to be a tale of betrayal and heartbreaks. I used to be a naïve and shy girl. However, when I look at my daughter, I know that I have to train her to be a confident and independent girl.” Nimra, her 16-year-old daughter, is an aspiring makeup artist who loves to create jaw-droppingly beautiful looks in her spare time. “I want her to turn this hobby into a career. She is my only daughter, and I don’t want her to be dependent on her brothers,” she adds. “I have never stopped her from going out with her friends. In our society, men and boys usually get to enjoy the outside world. Girls, on the other hand, stay at home and depend on a male figure to take them outside. I don’t want my daughter to remain inside four walls.”
“Once, my son said to me that I shouldn’t give her permission for the occasional hangouts. He added that there all kind of men on the streets. To this, I firmly said that she wouldn’t learn how to make her space on these very streets if I didn’t allow her to go out.”
Stressing on the need of making girls independent, she elucidates, “Our daughters shouldn’t be fed conservative rules. They should know how to be independent – be it financial independence or be it their unrestricted mobility. We are on our own – always.”
A few kilometres away from Zeba’s residence, in a nicely decorated house in the Gulshan-e-Iqbal neighbourhood, a home-based chef, Saira Ahmed lives with her two daughters, Samia and Khatiba, and her husband. The kitchen’s counter mostly remains occupied with large metal containers filled to the brim with meat. More than a year ago, before the Covid-19 pandemic turned the world upside down, Saira Ahmed started her online food business called ‘Krazy Kababs’. Her eldest daughter – who is married and mother to an adorable daughter – and her son-in-law were her main motivators. She now hopes to turn this small venture into a big brand. Saira always wanted to have a project of her own, but the foundations of the food venture were laid after she faced an unexpected financial crisis, “I have lived a very comfortable life. My husband used to ensure that all my wishes are fulfilled. Frankly, I never had to ask for anything.”
Her picture-perfect life received a heavy blow when her husband lost his job, “I had to do something for him. After all, I am his support system.” And even though she didn’t say it out loud, her teary eyes could tell the love she had for her family and the passion she had to hold them tight. When she’d look at her eldest daughter, Sania, who sat with her during the interview, the pride returned to her eyes, “My children have been my biggest support and I am so glad that they have grown up to be intelligent and caring.”
“I have heard so many taunts when it came to their upbringing. Many people weren’t happy with the fact that I am spending a huge sum of money on their education. But I was adamant. Even when we had a rough patch, I did everything to pay my daughters’ school fee.” Having been brought up in a conservative family, Saira recognises the flaws in the traditional style of parenting. “I am my daughters’ friend and I encourage them to talk to me about almost everything. It is very important to raise liberal and confident girls.”
“When we sit down for dinner or lunch, we talk about how we spend our day. They discuss their issues, and my husband and I advise them accordingly.”
For Warisha Imran, who is a textile designer at a private company in Karachi, raising her four-year-old daughter Shanzay allowed her to become a fearless woman who is ready to climb mountains and cross seas for her little angel. At her workplace, her remarkable attention to detail helps her launch the most attractive designs. At her house, the same quality helps her to ensure that she’s raising a well-rounded individual. “Initially, I was turning into a difficult person who was obsessed with parenting. I would read articles or message my friends, asking them to let me know if I was doing anything wrong. With time, I relaxed a little and allowed myself to enjoy the process of parenting.”
What Warisha admires about her daughter, she explains, is her ability to say no. “I know we don’t teach our children to say ‘No’, and I think our polite society is not ready to take a ‘no’ from a kid. But if my daughter doesn’t want to take a candy bar from someone she doesn’t know (even if he/she is someone I know), she politely declines.” Warisha smiles, “I mean, I used to freak out a little, but it’s her choice.” She believes that there is a fine line between arrogance and a person’s boundary. “I think children, especially daughters, should be allowed to set their boundaries from a young age.”
Warisha also stresses on the need of respecting a child’s individuality, “I don’t like to make comparisons. I don’t think two kids should be pitted against each other. My daughter is a reserved kid – it’s not like she doesn’t like to talk to people, but she takes time to open up. She is exceptionally amazing with people she trusts.”
Furthermore, she adds that even adults take time to be comfortable around new people. “A child will not automatically make a relationship with his/her parents’ aunts and uncles or cousins and friends.”
According to Warisha, many parents want their daughters to be their carbon-copy, “Why do you need another ‘you’? My daughter and I are very different from each other. When she was two, she used to listen to a Halloween song. ‘Halloween’, ‘ghost’, ‘witch’, and ‘skeleton’ were some of the first words that she learnt to speak. In fact, she can easily recognise ‘pumpkin’ because of Halloween songs and clips. I was never a fan of spooky things,” she almost laughed. “I like all things neon and funky. But I cannot make my daughter love the stuff I like. If she wants to have a mermaid-themed cupcake, I’m all for it. If she wants to have a pumpkin-shaped cookie, I’m okay. I think it’s extremely important to let your child develop their own likes or dislikes.”
Nigar Begum, who works at a school for children with cerebral palsy in the Gulistan-e-Jauhar area, is a mother to a five-year-old daughter. After a long tiring day, when she reaches home, she has to immediately wear her mommy hat. Even when she’s tired to the bone, she makes sure that she communicates with her child, “I make sure that I have purposeful and uninterrupted communication with my child.” Nigar thinks that raising a girl is a huge responsibility and that women with strong and confident personalities can do justice to this task of bringing up well-groomed women.
“My aim is to make sure that my daughter develops the ability of being resilient. I want her to know about the challenges of the outside world.” Nigar adds that she’s against the concept of pampered upbringing. She also expresses that her mother has been her biggest inspiration, “I can never imagine comparing my parenting style with my mom’s. My mother was way ahead and raised me and my brother with limited resources. I, on the other hand, don’t have such challenges. I have to work less to provide the resources my daughter needs. However, yes, I have to be mindful of her dependency on the resources that I readily provide. I do understand that they are supporting tools for her personality development, but I don’t want her to rely on them unnecessarily.”
“I am lucky that I have been blessed with a daughter. As a woman, I want to raise somebody who could do things in a way that I wasn’t able to do in my pre-teen or teenage years,” Mahwish Ahmed, a teacher at a well-reputed school in Karachi, shares that she prayed for a daughter – her first-born is a son – and was very happy when she was born. Her daughter, Amna, is now seven years old. “My approach to parenting is liberal – thanks to my husband and my in-laws’ mindset “They are open-minded people who are not judgmental at all.” Mahwish admires the way her mother-in-law has brought up her children. “My kids have a lot of liberty. I encourage them to ask questions – even if it’s about the instructions that we have given them. They’ll ask me why I want them to do a particular thing.” This liberty, however, isn’t meant to be exploited. She adds that when she is disciplining them, she implements a no-discussion policy where kids have to do as told. “In day-to-day activities, I treat them like young adults – they can challenge my decisions or even correct them.”
Mahwish believes that in today’s age, daughters need to be raised as bold and confident and that they shouldn’t be fed this concept that they have to cling to a future husband. “A society is built when men and women work in harmony. It is very important to raise women who are bold and courageous and who can question men.” In a cheerful tone she adds, “My daughter will punch you in the face if you don’t do right with her. And even though she is corrected, and she is disciplined, we make sure that this doesn’t destroy her confidence and that she is being groomed for the professional world. I am raising my daughter to be a strong woman first and then be somebody’s strong wife.”
“I am the youngest child. And my parents were quite old when they had me. There is a huge difference between our parenting styles. I once come across a quote by Hazrat Ali which says, ‘don’t raise your kids the way you were raised’. This is so apt! Previously, women were expected to be homemakers. Our parents carved our entire personality based on that phenomenon. Raising my daughter to be a homemaker is not on my priority list. For me, it is important that my daughter is in good mental and physical health. Only a strong individual will be able to become a better homemaker. If my daughter has a strong personality, she will be able to make her own decisions,” concludes Mahwish.