IT’S been almost a year since I’ve been married to the most wonderful human being. I married him at an age many would deem “too young” for a woman with ambition. In my pensive moments, I would wonder if that were true. I was often overcome with the fear that my life would halt as an individual and start as someone’s wife. But I took the leap, knowing well, that I shall set my own terms.
In our society, discussions about marriage are always scaled on a timeline. There’s a consensus on what should be deemed too early, early, the right age, late or too late. This timeline is redundant as it does not take into account the lives of women per se. All women are different by virtue of their personal as well as professional lives. How then can we have one timeline for all? Why must we have a timeline at all?
I grew up and worked my way in environments where my opinion was respected and asked for. I was always passionate about my professional life. There had been days when, like many, I had also perceived marriage as a hindrance to my career. However, it was my parent’s marriage which had kept my faith in the institution. For many, this has not been the case and the institution has rightly been seen as a problematic one. However, I had been privileged this way and in many others ways. This is why, when the right person came around, I wasn’t hesitant to get married.
For many, the age of getting married isn’t their discretion and many are pushed into one without having a say in it. This is an unfortunate reality of our society and one which I am aware of. However, as an educated woman from a privileged background, I had the apprehension of a different kind of stigma — that of marrying “too early”.
Nonetheless, the realisation that I still own my destiny and identity as a human came to me after realising that men in my family had gone on to faring well in life even after becoming husbands and fathers. While they were able to do that because they were men; I had the opportunity to change that for myself. With the right mindset, I could make right choices for myself and my husband was one of the many I have made in the direction. When I first met him, the first thing I noticed that he loved about me was my ambition. I decided to get married to him not because I felt he completed me but because I could see myself growing as an individual with him along the way with me.
The society judges us and our decisions as women because we are not yet ready to realise that women aren’t owned by their husbands or fathers. In the past year, a couple of my colleagues and friends have come up to me and mocked my decision to settle down. But why can’t I have it all like the men before me had? Why can’t I have crazy ambition and an amazing family life? Why can’t I as a woman have kids as well as patents?
The question here is not about marriage but about a person’s agency. Most women in our society face hurdles in exercising their agency. However, that needs to change. We must let women decide their own journeys. We as women must also remember that the picture can’t always be painted for us. We’ve got to choose our own scenery and develop it.
However, our society has to change to make itself conducive for women to exercise our agency. We need to change narratives around marriage to accommodate those who want to marry, do not want to marry and even those who do not believe in the institution of marriage.
But for it to become easy for women to make decisions easily, we must also have allies.
I have had the privilege of growing up in a supportive environment where I had many allies. My father-in-law pushed me to go for a project that would keep me away from home. My husband and my mother-in-law have also ensured that I have an environment where I can actively choose my own professional path and enjoy my family life as well. My mother and father have been my primary role models who made way for me to chart my own destiny.
We, as a society, need to find a way out of our conventional expectations from marriage. We must strive to create an environment where no choice is stigmatised. No one gets to decide what empowerment looks like. For some women, it may be fulfilling to work as a home maker and others might find fulfillment outside their domestic spheres. We need to let women decide for themselves without keeping on them the ever looming threat of stigma and judgment. Society might not change too quickly and will continue to quantify women through our performances as wives, working women or through our looks. However, the only person a woman needs to satisfy emotionally, spiritually, physically and professionally, is no one but herself.
- Faakirah Junaid is a lawyer and works as a policy and legal associate
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