Norwegian-Pakistani parents are afraid their daughter will smoke, drink or have sex. But the girl say they just want breathing space.
Today is 100 years since International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time. Though some Norwegian girls and women feel equal in 2010, the circumstances are completely different for many minority women.
VG Nett met Norwegian-Pakistani women who have a different story to tell.
We meet ‘Amna’ together with two Norwegian-Pakistani girls in a secluded cafe in Oslo. They chatter and smoke, but keep the cigarette under the table every time they suspect a foreign girl or boy is passing. They don’t want to be recognized, since what they’re doing is improper and ‘prohibited’. ‘Sara’ says she feels like a product.
“From [the time] we are small and until marriageable age, we are like a product to be sold. Marketing is very important. When people are out to find a potential spouse, they need good references to get good candidates. Therefore my parents don’t want me to go out and have much of a social life,” she says.
A foreign couple stroll by. The cigarettes are hidden once again under the table.
“I don’t want anybody to see me smoking, because it’s taboo. It’s not nice for girls to smoke, they get labeled. They are called bad girls. I don’t want my parents to know that. Then I don’t know what they’ll do,’ says ‘Amna’.
‘Huma’ says that she wants to move out on her own, but that probably will remain a dream. She was told that it’s not relevant, because her father thinks people will gossip. Why would a girl live alone?
“People always think negatively, they think that people want to move out to have sex or drink alcohol. They don’t think that girls need breathing space in this culture. As long as it’s bad in other people’ eyes, I can’t be permitted to do it,” says ‘Huma’.
The girls talk a lot about marriage. They explain this saying that they’re of marriageable age, therefore it’s not a topic to avoid. They must get married within their own caste, and a marriage with a non-Pakistani isn’t a topic to discuss.
“Modest girls are good. There are rumors all the time, especially about girl. If one is stigmatizes, he’s marked for life, and won’t get ahead in the community,” add ‘Huma’.
At times ‘Amna’ gets nervous because her parents constantly point out the time is starting to run out for her. She must get married as quickly as possible.
People are asking questions on why ‘Amna’ isn’t getting married. Can’t she have children? Is there nobody who will ask for her hand?
“I am so tired of gossip. I choose not to have contact with other Pakistanis, because they’re so good at gossiping. I choose to distance myself and be anonymous. I don’t want them to know who I am,” says ‘Amna’ with disappointment.
“Yes, it’s not cricket which is our favorite sport. It’s gossiping,” ‘Sara’ adds.
“When you come home, you must hide who you are. You must live up to your parent’s expectations and demands. I need to change into traditional clothing. They want me to be a traditional girl who prepares food, takes care of her parents and is married as quickly as possible. I feel strong mental pressure,” she continues.
The friends, who like traveling, went on a trip to London last year, but they couldn’t tell their parents. Regular trips, like the ones most other young adults go on, must be planned carefully. First they need to find a reason for a trip. They told their parents that they went with a seminal group at their university – to another city in Norway.
“The easiest is of course work or school. Additionally you must have an alibi, and other accomplices like, for example, little siblings. They must be several who can save you if it goes wrong,” says ‘Huma’.
You also need to call home every day so that the parents don’t call the girl. ‘Sara’ says that she was of course afraid of being discovered during the trip, but it was worth to take the risk. They would never have gotten permission to go if they had told the truth, because it’s not accepted in their culture for girls to go on trips alone.
“The parents think it’s ok if we go on a trip with the school or for a seminar at work. Then the trip has professional content, but they don’t understand that people need a break or time together with friends. It’s not accreted, because we’re girls and must behave in a certain way,” says ‘Sara’.
The girls say they don’t do anything special in these secret vacations. they’re simply out to have a good time with friends.
“We do normal things, like eating good food, shopping and looking around a bit. There’s some partying too. We can choose what clothing we go with, but all this is abnormal for our parents. I was honest a few years ago and asked my dad if I could go on a trip with girlfriends, but he flatly said ‘no’. After that I thought there’s no point in being honest,’ says 25 year old ‘Huma’.
Sociologist Anja Bredal of the Institute for Social Researcher is aware of the problem of living a double life among minority girls through her research.
“A double-life can be problematic in the long run. I’ve seen several examples where such strategies are risky. At one point or another, the parents discover it, and it can be dramatic,” Bredal told VG Nett.
The Norwegian-Pakistani girls feel they lead a double life.
“We have been to so many so-called seminars, work-trip and school-trips that we should have been rocket scientists by now,” laughs ‘Amna’.
She explains that the only way for her to escape is to get married or study abroad, but she doesn’t want to get married just yet. That isn’t met with understanding.
“First, it’s difficult enough to find a man that I’ll love, and in addition he should be from the same caste. What type of requirement is it that our parents make of us. It’s inhumane. And the thought of me marrying a Norwegian, I can just forget, it’s unheard of,” says ‘Huma’.
She thinks there’s something wrong with the culture she belongs to.
“The sickness of this culture is that other parents also have problems with their children, but in order to save their own skin, they speak about the children of others. Why can’t people stop meddling about what everybody else is doing and saying all the time,” she asks and shakes her head.
‘Amna’ says that she has considered what she would do for quite a while. She found a way out to avoid everything.
“I will be a stewardess. I love to travel so it suits me perfectly. I’d be far away. I will experience life and be an independent woman. I won’t let my parents stop me this time. I can’t deal with the thought that I’m 27 years old and won’t get the opportunity to develop myself,” says ‘Amna’.
The interview is over, they pay for their coffee and put the cigarette packs at the bottom of their bags. They must get the bus. Their parents don’t know they sit in the cafe. They think their girls are at school or work.
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