I was recently at a symposium where there was much talk about bringing women into the workforce, and wondering why there aren’t as many women who work out there. Most of the head-scratching was being done by men. Later on I had a chat with one of the few married working women in the audience and she was trying to figure out a way to carry on with her nine to five job but also factor in a future baby. No surprises for guessing that other than a few months’ maternity leave, there was no crèche or any other baby-conducive facility available at her workplace, or even in the (enormous, high-tech) building her office was in. I’ve worked in academic spaces and not one of those institutions have a crèche or anything resembling it. Multinationals do, because they operate on their international company policy or are just cool like Engro. But that’s about it.

You can’t separate a working woman from her family commitments, and especially not in boringly patriarchal Pakistan where most men would rather cut off their arm than help with the babies they assisted in spawning and are otherwise so eager to slap their names on. A lot of women live in joint family systems where they are expected to cook and help out regardless of their work schedule. Heaven forfend that a father actually look after his children in a practical way. Dropping your kid to school en route to work seems to be the pinnacle of a father’s involvement in their offspring’s life; the rest of the day it’s between you and your mother, kiddo. You threw up in fifth lesson? Call the mother. You walloped another kid? Call the mother. A lot of teachers even refer to home-time as “mummy time” because it’s the rare father who spends his lunch break picking up his kid from school. So if you’re a mom who works too, you’re expected to spend your lunch break doing all this while your male counterpart just chills out, has lunch or worst of all, takes a lunch meeting with a client. Great. If you have a competent nanny who does the picking up for you so that you can keep up at work, then you also have to feel guilty for being a bad mother. I can guarantee no man ever feels guilty for being a bad father, not even the actually bad ones. And if they do feel guilt, it’s definitely not because they don’t pick up the kids from school, or forgot a playdate, or didn’t cut the kids’ nails on time.

The same goes for staying back at the office. More often than not, working mothers work hard and efficiently, packing the most productivity into their hours because they make every minute count. Because they know that as soon as it’s five o’clock, they’re out the door to get home. Maybe on the way they’ll stop and get some groceries, pick up a birthday present or the dry-cleaning too. And once you’re home, unlike a working father who receives a hero’s welcome and invitation to relax, you are joyously attacked by waiting children and their homework and bath-time and their school bake sale and the cook telling you you’re out of chicken and the maid needing a half-day on Wednesday. When men come home, they just…come home. They watch t.v. They go to the gym. They eat their dinner and they go to sleep. And most importantly, they can stay at work late, and wear the badge of Excellent Dedicated Hardworking Employee, even though productivity-wise a woman’s 6 hours and a man’s 10 may well have the same yield.

Is it any wonder then, that less women work outside the home? Most especially when girls are told from their childhood that they aren’t supposed to earn, that’s the man’s job. That they have to be dependent on a man for survival, in so many words. First you’re your father’s responsibility, then (if you get too old and stay cussedly single) you’re a burden that has to be transferred onto a husband. And if you do want to work or have a career then you should choose something you can do from home, do part-time! Something that pays you peanuts but makes you feel like at least your entire life hasn’t been subsumed by domesticity and the children. What a scam. What an absolute let-down. What a waste of bright, ambitious young women who can be confident and secure of themselves and their position in life without being at the mercy of rishtay wali aunties, of drawing room scrutinies and their parents’ anxiety. Why can’t our girls’ futures be about them and their talents and their ambition? Why do we have to hold our girls back for fear of them exceeding their limits? Who decided those limits? Why aren’t those foolish limits in the dustbin of history by now?

When more women work, more women will be in positions of power and influence that give them leverage to make work environments better for women. More women working means more importance given to women and their needs, and all working women know how hard it is to be respected for your work. It means things like getting leave for your time of month, like an Indian marketing firm is doing. It means a crèche in your office so you can bring your baby to work and a clean and comfortable place to nurse them. It means workplaces that are kinder to employees and less about using them as machines to make money. Women don’t live like men and they don’t operate like men because they don’t have the luxury of being able to, and it shouldn’t have to be so hard.