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Published in the 1-15 Jan 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Muslim women becoming career conscious
By M Hanif Lakdawala

Mumbai: "Why do women have to leave their homes? If they stay at home, they won't face any problem." You must have heard this and similar comments many times. These are the stereotype response from most Muslim males when asked their opinion about working or career women.

Even well educated men express similar views. Has anyone ever seriously wondered why women leave their homes to work and what will be the impact if they do not? Most men think that women go out just to have fun, to spend time with friends or for shopping. Of course, women do all these things and they have a right to it. But these are not the only reasons why women step out of the house.

In the present economic situation, the women have to venture out of the house to earn a living and contribute to the family income. Apart from a few career-oriented women, a large majority of women work because they are forced to do so. The career-oriented women or those in search of identity also have a right to pursue their interests. They should not be forced to give it up just because men do not think it appropriate and are not ready to give women their due share.

These days it is becoming very difficult to survive on just one income let alone provide for good education and other necessities of life to children. It is often said that women work because they cannot live within the means provided by the husband/head of the family. This is not true. Most women who work to supplement the family's income spend a large part of their salary on their children's education and in providing better living standards for the family.

Many single girls work to save for their wedding/dowry and share the burden of the wedding expenses. There are also girls like Sana, who work to make life easier for others and to make them fulfill their dreams. Sana, in her early 20s, works in a garment factory. Her father lost his job when one of his legs had to be amputated after an accident. Her two younger brothers are studying and Sana hopes that one day, her brothers will get good jobs and she will be able to give up her job.

Samina is a widow .She has to work to support herself and her children. Three years ago,she lost her husband in an accident. She is working as an accountant in a private firm." Its so painful neglecting the children as for ten hours, I am away on my job. But at least, I have the satisfaction that I am providing them a decent living" she said.

Nasreen, 28 is a science graduate. It is a general opinion that a girl, if unmarried beyond 26-27 years, has less chance of getting married. Now the question before Nasreen is what she should do, though she is from a well-to-do-family and her parents can support her. She is refused permission by her parents to work. Faraz's father argues that the society will think that we cannot support our beloved daughter. But Nasreen asks," what am I supposed to do? Sit at home the whole day and watch television? Time and again, I asked permission from my dad to allow me to work but he refuses". No wonder Nasreen is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, living an aimless life.

Zarina 31, M.com, is a cashier in a Nationalised Bank. Initially her father Ibrahim refused permission for her to work, as he argued that there is no need to earn money as he is quite well off. Three years ago, Ibrahim was inflicted by Malaria. He was advised complete bed rest for eight days." In my life I had never taken such a long lay off. It was so painful sitting at home doing nothing. Then I realized the pain of Zarina. I thought, what about her talent and emotions. I gave her permission to work. Now, not only is she satisfied, but also helping poor students from our community. Single- handedly, Zarina is sponsoring eight poor students "he said.

Noorie, 29, is married since the last one decade. Her husband, Ahmed Patel is a marketing manager with a consumer Product Company. Most of the time, Patel is on tour. Noorie has no children. All medical options have been tried and it has become like a never-ending wait. Noorie confronts her husband. "You are busy with your career. You meet so many people and keep yourself busy. What am I supposed to do"? She asks. Noorie is trying to convince her husband since the past three years to allow her to do work. But he counters, "Why do you want to work when I am earning enough to look after our needs"? Noorie is unable to convince Patel that in life there are other things also besides material needs. 

Dr Zeenat Shakoor had a flourishing practice before she married Dr Javeed Ansari in 1992. After marriage she closed her dispensary on the insistence of Dr Javeed. Ten years after the marriage, and two school-going children, Dr Zeenat desires to restart her practice though it may be part -time, so that she does not forget her knowledge of medicine. Dr Javeed is adamant and insists that she must look after the education of their kids and forget practicing at least till their children are through with their 12th Standard exams. Dr Zeenat has the feeling that she is wasting her education and her skills and as a result suffers from bouts of depression. "I wish my husband would understand my feelings and allow me to practice, which in no way will affect the future of my kids", she said.

Munisha, M Tech in mechanical engineering, asked her husband Akil, a civil engineer with a private construction company, to work. Initially she was refused permission. But last year Akil lost his job and could not find a decent job. Then he himself asked Munisha to apply for jobs which she did and landed a decent job. "Now since Akil has found a job, he is pressurizing me to quit. But when I asked him whether his salary is enough to secure the future of our two daughters, he says, "Allah will take care of them", said Munisha. 

No doubt there is a double burden on working women. But inspite of this, if they work to support the family and also fulfill all their duties and responsibilities within the framework of Islam, they must be appreciated and supported.
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