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Hats off to circumspect housewives!

Huzaima Bukhari

“For thousands of years, until about 1850, you see humans accumulating more and more power by the invention of new technologies and by new systems of organization in the economy and in politics, but you don’t see any real improvement in the well-being of the average person”—Yuval Noah Harari, historian and professor.

A considerable amount of literature has been and continues to be produced about the amazing achievements of career women more so because they make their mark in an essentially patriarchal society and in areas which are understood to be dominated by men only. Gradually, the myth that certain fields of work, profession and business cannot be pursued by women is shattered beyond repair. Now, even in wrestling, boxing, weight-lifting and other daring activities, females have proved their mettle. However, these are extraordinary/privileged/fortunate women who have access to education, opportunity to hone their skills and yet, in majority cases are successful in their familial obligations. One must also acknowledge that it has not been an easy journey for them as they struggle to balance their lives between home and work.

Since times immemorial the age-old tradition of women—whether working or unemployed—maintaining their homes has been a priority. A popular Urdu novel Mirat ul Uroos(the bride’s mirror) written by Nazir Ahmad Dehlvi was published in 1869 and was aimed to promote advantages of education and wisdom among females of the Indian society in general although the plot revolves around the lives of two sisters Akbari and Asghari from a Muslim family. The former, who is raised in luxury, has no inkling about managing the household or relationships with the result that after getting married she messes up her own life as well as that of her affluent husband causing a decline in wealth. On the other hand, her younger sister Asghari who is both educated and well-mannered, despite being married off to an idle husband is able to establish herself as an exemplary woman who kindles a strong bond with her in-laws and adeptly handles day to day problems arising in her life. A popular adage goes as: ‘a competent woman can build a home with a needle and thread while a callous one can reduce a built-up house to ashes.’

The idea of discussing this story set in the nineteenth century is that even today, its significance remains intact. The women today are a lot different from who they were a couple of centuries back but their role as housewives has not changed at all. The majority is still engaged in the 24/7 thankless business of running the billions of households all around the world. Much is expected from them in terms of managing all kinds of complications in handling the domestic affairs of a home in addition to taking care of relatives and touching base with friends on the social front. The more ambitious families expect their wives and mothers to not only make the best of minimal resources but also save something for the rainy day, which many are able to do.

Considering that a very large population of females, from around the globe and in all social classes is engaged in housework, it is indeed remarkable how ably they tackle their chores, fulfill their conjugal and maternal obligations. For men folk and children, everything at home runs so smoothly that they hardly seem to feel the importance of the woman in their lives. Whether it is their daily diet, fresh clothes, clean environment, wake-up calls, doctor’s/dentist’s appointments, parent-teacher meetings, projects, care of the elderly or bed-ridden patients, the woman wriggles in between all needs of her husband, kids and elders. While taking care of routine matters, a woman also deals with unexpected expenses like unannounced visitors, accidents or an unforeseen contingency for which she is required to keep a reserve and produce it as and when a need arises. It hardly comes as a surprise that in such tough situations, most women honorably meet the challenges. The question is, how?

Where women belong to the educated class one can understand that they have the necessary ability to manage their household efficiently but the less privileged are the ones to deserve the highest appreciation when they adroitly achieve the same objective. It all boils down to basic instincts that women are gifted with. Their natural tendency to nurture, arms them with sufficient capabilities to meet head on, all constraints that may come along their way. No wonder, they prove better economists than the ‘great’ minds under whose ‘able’ statesmanship, countries like Pakistan, have become entangled in disproportionately heavy debts, lopsided and inequitable developments, a largely deprived population that is slipping further down the poverty line, concentration of wealth in a handful, poorly managed governments with even worse handling of public institutions. Wastage of precious public revenue with no accountability and no redemption either, has become every successive government’s hallmarks.

Let alone developing countries, check out the global levels of inequality in wealth and incomes. The picture that emerges gives a morbid picture of the condition of the peoples of the world. Is this what the great universal brainy male economists have been doing? Creating such a bleak scenario that at one end we have obese people who garbage food and on the other, we have starving and malnourished humanity. It just goes to highlight their sense of imbalance and lack of objectivity in managing world economy. Such institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund may have uplifted many but in the long run have reduced a lot more to subjugation.

Our economic managers with all their high-end qualifications in finance seem at a loss when it comes to laying down solid plans to turn around the destiny of the country and its people. One wonders how they run their own homes but oh yes, there they cannot interfere as their wives and mothers hold the reins otherwise if left to their discretion and ‘intelligence’, they may bring their domestic affairs to the brink of bankruptcy just as they have reduced the economy of the country. Perhaps it is time they start taking lessons from those under-privileged housewives who suffer from their atrocities such as inflation and high consumer prices, yet manage to feed their families on the minimum of income. Of course, this kind of a feat requires a good level of sacrifice at their end but our worthy economic stalwarts can never give up their perks/benefits/luxuries and foolhardy indulgences. They would willingly sacrifice members of the public unlike a housewife who would rather die than allow her family to be afflicted with harm.

Observing these tomfooleries, James Stephens, an Irish novelist and poet, who passed away in 1950 opined but perhaps prophesied: “If men understood domestic economy half as well as women do, then their political economy and their entire consequent statecraft would not be the futile muddle which it is.”

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The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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