Why are Pakistani parents still stuck on conventional careers for their daughters

I gave up on my dream career once, I won't give up on it again

I have always wanted to become an artist. As a kid, I would draw at the end of each day. My canvas was like a journal—I’d spill all my thoughts on it. Every day I would wait endlessly for the evening so I could paint.

When I told my mom that I wanted to become an artist, she looked at me with open disdain. Arts didn’t even come close to the career options that she had decided for me. She wanted me to become a doctor—it was never a secret between us. She told me, that she’d be the proudest parent ever on the day when I graduate with a degree in medicine. She even highlighted that I’d earn a lot of money if I opted for medicine as a profession. But that did not make sense to me, I didn’t want to measure my career options in terms of monetary benefits. I wanted to become an artist because painting made me happy. I could paint for hours on end, something I would not easily give up on.

Despite repeated attempts, my mother refused to let me take arts as a core subject in high school. She went on to say that I’d only embarrass myself by choosing this field, as I wasn’t a good enough artist. Stung by her bitterness, I submitted to her expectations and ended up taking science in high school. 

More recently though at university, my academic and career interests have shifted towards Politics. When I told my mom about this career shift, the look on her face was of sheer disappointment.

My mother’s mindset is reflective of several other Pakistani parents. There’s usually an expectation that girls should become doctors and engineers. Our career choices are limited and more often than not, made by our parents. In recent years, however, many women have made efforts to deconstruct the negative narrative that surrounds social sciences, arts, humanities, and other “unconventional” professional paths. These women have defied the expectations of society, by following their passions. And I realize that there are such women all around me. 

One of my cousins enrolled in a degree in fashion design even though her parents wanted her to pursue a career in engineering. She beat the odds and is now a successful fashion designer. 

Similarly, a friend’s parents wanted her to pursue a career in medicine. She struggled with science courses throughout her time in A levels and failed in all three subjects. Science did not interest her and she later took on different subjects, in which she scored phenomenally well. She’s currently enrolled in an Economics degree and is doing fairly well.

In fact, my English teacher is also a case of defiance and beating the odds. Having chosen a degree in English language, much to the shock of her parents, and chosen a career in teaching, she recently finished writing two books and continues to teach high school students. 

Such cases of women have helped me gain confidence in my career aspirations and it is so heartening to watch them thrive. They stand by their decisions and follow their dreams. When I hear from them I feel comforted in my academic choices. I still don’t know if a career in Politics would be possible for me but at least now, I won’t stop trying.