Do not let the dreamer in you die

“Raiya bari ho kar doctor banay gi”.
“Acha Parho takay doctor bano.”

I had always wanted to be a doctor, since I was a kid. Not because I looked up to doctors or was inspired by a family member who was a doctor. This desire was simply due to the seed my family had always planted in my brain.

As with every middle class family in Pakistan, my family was obsessed with daughters becoming doctors and sons becoming engineers. Two months before I was to decide the final subjects in S.S.C, my father bought our first computer home. My siblings and I were overjoyed. Playing games, watching movies, listening to songs, the PC had opened a new world to us. I was especially excited to solve the little glitches that occurred here and there and during those months I discovered my true calling: I wanted to study computers.

My father was not very happy with the decision. So many reasons were given to dissuade me from studying computers.

It’s a man’s field.
A doctor is a more respectable profession for a woman.

The stubborn soul I am, I didn’t budge and my forms for studying computers were submitted on the last day as my father tried till the very end to change my mind. I stayed at the top of my class and passed S.S.C with flying colors. My parents made peace with the fact that this daughter was not going to become a doctor. In addition, my stellar performance in academics about which they could brag to the entire khandaan made them immensely happy.

Next came the choice of choosing subjects in F.Sc. I decided to choose Pre-Engineering since I had decided to become an engineer now. I was in an all girls school where most of the girls were opting for Pre-Medical or Humanities. When I chose Pre-Engineering and my computer science teacher saw my form, she called me in private and asked me why I was choosing Engineering. I told her the reason.

“Engineer ban kar kiya karo gi? Larkiyon ke liye koi opportunities nahin”.

I was severely disappointed. I also over heard one of my father’s friends who is an engineer himself saying to my father:

“Arey kiya parha rahey hain larki ko? Doctor bana detay to rishtay hi achay mil jaatey.”

These comments often made me feel I was doing something wrong by choosing engineering yet I persisted and went ahead. There were only seventeen girls in my class. Out of those only the top three could make it to engineering universities. I was one of them. The gender prejudice continued in university.

After graduation was time for a job. My mother was totally against me working and started hunting for rishtas. By Pakistani standards, I am not pretty since I am tanned and my parents are not that rich either so I wasn’t exactly the perfect rishta material

Both these qualities were soon my assets as they gave me some time to start working while my mother hunted for proposals.  Initially, I joined an organization that payed peanuts but I gained lots of experience and made lifelong friends. I got an offer from a second organization where the experience and salary were much better but there was one catch: unlike my first organization, this job did not offer transport and the office was located on the other side of the city.

My parents raised objections and asked me to continue my first job. But I knew I had learnt what I could from there and now it was time to move on. I asked my parents to give me a chance. I said I would resign and sit at home if things did not work out. I went to that organization for a week and was able to arrange private transportation with the help of women already working there.

A year later, a friend asked me to apply to a much bigger government organization.
My father said: “Fazool me test ke pesay barh rahi ho. Government hay source chlay gi tumhara kabhi nahi hoga.”

On the night before the test, he said: ”Subah mat jaana test denay fazool me neend khraab hogi.”

I took the test anyway and scored the highest all over Pakistan. Three months later, to the surprise and happiness of my parents, I landed a job in a government organization at a highly sought position breaking the myth that all good jobs in Pakistan are achieved through sifarish . I got married too during my training days when I finally found a man who was not willing to stop me from chasing my dreams.

A year later, officials were required to go on a foreign training in which the head of my department nominated me. The General Manager of my organization called me in his office and said that I should let go of this training since Europe was very cold and the training would fall on Eid days. He said I would miss family and be homesick. I really wanted to attend the training but his words discouraged me as I had a home to look after as well now. I asked for some time. I got out of his office and called my husband who encouragingly said: ”Bolne do! Laikin tum chali jao.”

Five minutes later I went back to the GM’s office and to his disappointment signed the consent to go on this training and thus became the first officer in my batch to attend a foreign training.

A year later, I was sitting in my office when I got a call on my phone. The call was from the manager of PODA (Potohar Organization for Development And Advocacy), a women’s rights NGO working for the promotion and protection of woman rights in Pakistan since 2003. The organization was doing a radio show titled: “Aao Baat Kerien!” on FM 101 and wanted me to speak on gender discrimination in higher education. They had come to know about me through a few articles I had written on woman empowerment (a topic really close to my heart) in various publications. I was over the moon. I was the first speaker on the show and I narrated this entire story and my journey. It was amazing to be speaking to all the women of Pakistan and to be able to inspire them to live their dreams!

A few months later I was asked to write articles and blogs for a website dedicated towards ensuring that all Pakistani girls and women have access to diverse role models, career resources, advice and an active support system. I was also invited to give my time to an organization focused on advancing women’s economic participation and empowerment through innovative entrepreneurship and leadership labs, advocacy campaigns and research.

The above two ventures give me immense satisfaction to be able to inspire women who may be in a position in which I was ten years ago: A recent graduate, unsure of life, being pressurized into marriage yet wanting otherwise.  I still face the taunts and jeers over my choosing to work even after a baby with words like:

“Haaye bechaari ka shaauhr acha nahi kamaata is liye itni khwaar ho rahi hai.”
“Bachi itni kamzor hai, maa ghar se bahir jo hoti hai pura din.”

Yet I have learnt to live with these because if it were not for the desire to prove these people wrong, I would not have been able to get to where I am today.

This story is submitted by Raiya Sohail Hashmi

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