Why do Desi parents crush their daughters’ overseas career dreams?

I wasn't allowed to study abroad because 'I am a girl' they said.

Girls’ education in Pakistan continues to face roadblocks and questions beyond gaining literacy. This is not a generalizing statement for a country that is home to Malala Yousafzai, who was nearly killed for simply going to school and being an education activist. While her case describes the ideas around girls’ education in places like Swat valley, even within urban centers like Lahore, girls choosing to take offbeat college destinations abroad are met with eyebrows, resistance and often rejection from within families.  

I have always believed that acquiring an education should know no bounds, and last year, began investing my time and efforts into applying for international colleges for my bachelor’s degree in Economics and Environmental Sciences. The first college that I heard from rejected me and I felt miserable for days. However, a few days later, I was offered a place at my preferred college. I read the email over and over again, not being able to believe that I had actually secured admission in a college that I dreamed of going to. 

That joy was shortlived, however, as I broke this news to my parents. When I told them that I was considering accepting an offer from a college in the US, my parents looked tense. My mother’s eyes grew wide with apprehension while my father took a while to give a reaction. Later he asked me questions like:

“Where will you live?”

“How will you live alone?”

“Your brother doesn’t live in America anymore. There’s no use of going there.”

I tried to make sense out of my parents’ unexplained anxieties but to no avail. I told them that foreign education meant a future full of opportunities, learning, and promising career prospects. But they didn’t acknowledge that I could live on my own and make decisions for myself. I persisted, laying my right to as many opportunities as possible, but nothing that I said made any difference to my parents. We never got on the same wavelength. Despite persistence, they did not relent, and I had to decline the admission offer. 

I know for certain that I am not the only girl from Pakistan who had to confront such circumstances. There are many other girls like me who had to give up on their dreams just because their parents think it is too dangerous to let their daughters live on their own. They are too scared to send their daughters away from them.

A friend once mentioned that when she brought up the subject of studying abroad with her father,  he said that she should instead find a stay-at-home job because the world is too dangerous. Another friend’s father told her that she couldn’t travel alone because she was a girl, let alone get an education living away from her family.

This belief that a girl’s role in life is to obey her parents, the men in her life, has broken more hearts and shattered more dreams than perhaps can be counted. Though some of us find ways to break the shackles of culture, tradition, and oppression, others are still trapped within the walls made out of deep-seated cultural fears.

It is only by exposing these inherent biases and repeatedly talking about them, can we begin to change the course for the women who will go through the same phases in the future.

At the same time, women who do break such barriers should support the rest of the girls and build a community of trust, mentorship, and guidance, so families and parents stop pulling their daughters down.