According to World Bank Gender Data Portal for 2018, in Pakistan, 72.7 women are linked with agriculture sector, while 14.1% are attached to industry, 13.2 with services, and 25.1 are wage and salaried workers. In conservative patriarchal Pakistani society, the employed status of women can be perceived as a two-edge sword, where on one side, because of their earning capacity, they are able to maintain better living standard; while on the other, the socio-cultural structures drive them towards stereotype submissive role, in nearly all relations. This situation is more challenging for married employed women as first, they are expected to maintain a balance between their workplace requirements and house-hold related responsibilities. Second, because of their earning capability, they generally are expected by their husbands and in-laws for monetary contribution in different modes. Here, it is important to mention that in “Cooperative Households”, the financial pooling of both partners bring socio-economic uplift for families, where both share a common sense of entitlement. Nevertheless, in “Non-Cooperative Households”, the financial responsibilities are not shared, thus, one partner has to bear complete burden of expenses.

In Pakistani society, it has been observed that in the middle and low income families, mostly the “Non-Cooperative” structures are followed, which causes friction and imbalance in matrimonial relations. Interesting to note is that given the nature of patriarchal conservative social environment, it has been noticed that wife’s financial contribution under duress is normally down-played by not only her own family but also by her in-laws including the husband. It is mainly because of a perceived notion that being a male, a husband should have full control over every family matter, including house-hold finances which also include wife’s income. This mind-set is further reinforced by both, families and the society. Hence, today, particularly in low and middle income families, it has been observed that at times, the sole objective of a groom and his family revolves around the financial position of potential wife and her family, in the shape of her employment or the assets she inherits. Therefore, on the basis of this sole feature, often the proposals are approved or disapproved.

Before assessing the social misgivings of married working women, it is important to highlight the socio-economic benefits they attain because of their earning status. First their economic independence enables them to improve their living standard. Second, because of their exposure to practical life, they are well-exposed as compared to the house-wives. Third, as opinionated individuals, they play active role in household decisions and due to their economic contribution, their views are mostly well-taken. Despite of the mentioned benefits attached with married working women, there are some negative impressions as well. They usually receive the title of being ‘principled’, ‘strong-headed’, ‘adamant’ and ‘non-compromising’. Though these qualities are acceptable for male but for women, such characteristics are considered negative traits of a female. In the Pakistani society, the socially perceived and nationally acceptable female image revolves around ‘submissiveness’. It is important to note that the stereotyped societal portrayal of a female is considered justified in the name of religion, by conveniently ignoring powerful exemplary women of Islamic history like, Hazrat Khadija, Hazrat Fatima, Hazrat Ayesha and Hazrat Zainab, who were symbols of courage, against heavy odds.

As far as social misgivings of married working women are concerned, the first and foremost is that they are mostly expected to surrender their financial rights, including earnings and inherited assets in favor of their husbands and in-laws. If they refuse, they often face difficulties in their matrimonial relations. At times, such refusals result in dissolution of marriage itself. The second misgiving is that married working women are considered opinionated as mentioned above, thus they often resist intimidation and undue socio-economic pressures. In such situations, they are quick to call off marriage, which is the major reason of increased divorce rate. This is also because of the reason that working women are not financially dependent, thus they often react instantly in case their rights being violated. In The Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act 2016, it is for the first time that economic abuse is acknowledged as a part of domestic violence, as the Act defines economic abuse as an act in which there is a “denial of food, clothing and shelter in a domestic relationship to the aggrieved person by the defendant in accordance with the defendant’s income or taking away the income of the aggrieved person without her consent by the defendant…”. Despite of this acknowledgement, to my knowledge not a single case is yet registered applying this legislation. This is due to the fact that neither the society is mature enough to recognize such abuse as an offense, nor the women, married or unmarried are sensitized enough to legally protect their financial and social rights. In protecting women, though the legislation is the first step but non-cooperative law enforcement agencies and tedious legal system barely provide women victims of financial abuse in matrimonial relation a space for any remedy.

Concluding, it can be said that working women are not only assets for their own families but also for their husbands and in-laws. If they are dealt with due respect and equal status, they could be valuable contributor for a better living. Secondly, those families who exclusively focus on female child’s discipline, should now be attentive towards their male child training as well, so that as future husbands, they could learn to respect their working wives, as equal contributors. Realizing the fact that in the long-run, wife’s maintenance, either working or a house-wife, is not only husband’s social but also a religious responsibility for a happy and content life.

Dr Zamurrad Awan

The writer is an Assistant Professor at Forman Christian College, Lahore.