Life

In Pakistan, many women must still choose marriage over education

My good friend has been pushed into a marriage to someone she has never met and is not allowed to finish school.

A couple of years ago, Kim began working at my home, in Lahore, Pakistan. She was 14-years-old then. In the first few days, she was quiet, demure, and a little scared. She didn’t talk a lot, and when I spoke to her, she jittered, and her voice trembled.  But as days passed by, we became friends. And as more days passed, our friendship blossomed into a sisterly bond. Kim had become family.

I would come home from school and tell Kim about everything that happened. She would excitedly listen to everything that I’d say and then she would tell me about her day. We would sit in the kitchen, and the sounds of our laughter and prattle would echo throughout the house.

Until one day, the yellow sun blazed in a blue sky, and the windless air of Lahore pricked my skin. I got home from school, bursting with stories that I had to tell Kim. But Kim hadn’t come that day. I wondered why she hadn’t come and if she was all right because she never took any days off. I felt a wave of apprehension.

“Mama, why didn’t Kim come today?” I asked my mother.

“I called her mother and was told that Kim will come to work after a few days,” my mother said.

I was dissatisfied with my mother’s response, but there was nothing that I could do except wait for Kim to come back. Almost a week later, she returned to work.

When Kim came back, she was in a sour mood. When I talked to her, she pretended like she wasn’t listening.  For the first time, it felt like she didn’t want to talk to me.

Some days later, we uncovered the reason for Kim’s discomfort. We found out from her mother that Kim’s wedding dates had been set. She was getting married to her cousin in a few months and would live in the village after getting married.

Kim and I sat together after she finished with work one day. Her eyes brimmed with tears of rage as she told me that she didn’t want to get married. She wanted to complete secondary school and continue work. I sat gawking at her, imbibing her words, as she spoke. I wanted to say something to comfort her, but I couldn’t. The words all died in silence.

In the week that Kim didn’t come, she was told by her parents that she would be getting married in December. Kim wasn’t asked if she would be all right marrying, she was simply informed of the decision. The dates were conveyed to her, and the name of her would-be husband was told.

She didn’t protest. She didn’t ask questions. She didn’t resist. She suppressed her feelings and submitted to the decision as most Pakistani girls do, especially those belonging to poor households. No one at Kim’s home knows how unhappy she is with her wedding, quite simply because she never made it known to them. She was afraid that her brothers would beat her, and a family drama would erupt if she told them that the idea of marriage is despicable to her at this time. But mostly, because no one would listen to her or share in her grief. I wonder how no one ever sees how her happiness is crumbling around her.

With her wedding day drawing closer every day, Kim feels like her life is falling apart. She is reduced to silence and stays gloomy. Sometimes, I feel like she isn’t the same person anymore – somebody who I would talk to for hours at end, my best friend.

At times when I look into her eyes, I see a sadness so profound, that I want to stop time so that her wedding day never comes. I see her struggling every day. A storm rages inside her, but the world doesn’t see it. Kim will have to weave into her new life, even if reluctantly, as all other girls do who are married before they are ready. It scares me to think that she’ll make a bride so soon, that she’ll be sent off with someone she’s never known closely and that she’ll be forced to live a life that she wants to flee.

Kim’s life has moved me closer to reality. It has made me realize that girls still struggle every day, sometimes for simply being given to the right to get an education before being married off.

Names have been changed to protect those involved.