Objects in the Mirror

Cultural relativism goes both ways. For every person arguing “It’s their culture, we can’t speak up about it,” there’s a person from said culture who supposedly espouses certain values but insists, “It’s our culture, we can’t speak up about it…right now.” When will be a good time to speak up about oppression? When you no longer risk suffering any repercussions for it? Oh yeah, can’t fault that logic.

Not to name names but you’re all included in this–doctors who pride themselves on their professionalism while in the UK but think “informed consent” is too difficult a concept for the natives back home; gay rights activists who march in pride parades in New York but think it’s overkill to call out homophobic insults in Pakistani communities on the Internet; communists who publish pamphlet upon pamphlet about workers’ rights but refuse to pay promised salaries to the people who work for their own companies; feminists who travel all over Pakistan to work for the emancipation of women but also rape women and silence them with threats of stigma and legal action; you are all included in this.

Take a look in the mirror sometime. Integrity: you’re doing it wrong.

Bonded Labor

ET Maternal and Infant Mortality Stats Feb12014

Express Tribune just released the latest statistics for maternal mortality in Pakistan–the highest in South Asia. It reminded me of an old post of mine, still just as relevant although the statistics are probably outdated by now.

We used to eat out frequently when I was a child. Those were simpler times, when going out did not necessarily entail the risk of getting bombed, murdered, kidnapped, looted or, as in the case of the Taliban-infested areas, all four.

As we drove home after one such trip, it struck me how much parents did for their children without asking anything in return.

“How could anyone ever pay back their parents for everything they’ve done?” I wondered as we stopped near the neighborhood bakery.

The area looked desolate, but it was still safe enough for my younger siblings to go buy ice cream.

“It’s a lot to pay back for,” I remember my parents agreeing, “But that’s why God has given such status to parents. A son pays them back by taking care of them and supporting them in their old age.”

I listened eagerly.

“It’s even easier for girls! A girl repays her parents when she becomes a mother herself.”

I sat back, troubled, holding my ice cream as my siblings settled down around me and my father continued the discussion with my mother, marveling at how much simpler things were for girls.

“But what if a girl doesn’t want to become a mother?” I asked.

“That’s why they are supposed to have them. It’s the way things are meant to be.” my parents replied, closing the topic.

I began to eat, though still perplexed. The way things were meant to be, I couldn’t help feeling, was somehow not very fair.

A boy and a girl are both born in debt to their parents.

For being given care and resources, a boy repays them with his own.

But for receiving life, a girl must pay back with life.

And given that childbirth is 300 times more dangerous in developing countries, given that according to estimates 1 woman dies in labor every 20 minutes in Pakistan, given that access to and quality of health facilities is dismal throughout the country even where religious zealots haven’t banned, given that a woman’s use of contraception is a man’s decision, given that any son she bears must become her hoped-for savior and any daughter she bears must inherit her debt…it is usually her own life that she pays with.

It makes me feel like a bleedin’ uterus.

–F, “Bonded Labor” (10th Feb 2009)