Majboori Da | Feministaniat

Feb 2015

Feministaniat | BLOG

As we wait for Afsana, we start talking to her daughter-in-law, who is swaying a very cranky toddler on her hip, telling me that she’s just come back from a day of peeling corn cobs for someone. She hasn’t had lunch yet, neither have the kids, hence the crankiness.

A few minutes later, Afsana rushes in with a pair of blue plastic sandals in one hand, quickly shakes my hand with the other and starts apologizing for the mess of goat droppings and maize shavings in her small yard. She says she feels bad for not cleaning up even though she knew I was coming over but because she’s been out working all day, she had no choice: majboori da.


She’s just come back from fixing someone’s mud wall. She tells me someone donated the pair of blue sandals because the ones on her feet are just about to fall apart. She works as a domestic worker in the houses of some of the rich peasants in her village, tends to her own animals and also works as a waged-laborer in the fields along with her daughter-in-law. Afsana and her family are khet mazdoors or landless peasants. With landlessness on the rise, this is the reality of many women and men in rural KP who make ends meet through a mix of waged agricultural labor and informal labor.

Recently, the Global Gender Gap reported that Pakistan was the second worst country to be a woman based on calculations of labor and political participation and access to education and health. Liberal media and its base of Facebook status changers were quick to relegate the cause of these horrific statistics to ‘cultural barriers’ like the purdah which restrict women’s mobility by confining them into the private sphere and hold them back from ‘empowerment’. In the liberal imagination, propagated by Pakistani liberal feminists and their allies in the development industry, the purdah is one of the main reasons why women are oppressed in Pakistan.

According this logic, Afsana could almost qualify as an ‘empowered woman’ because not only does she work freely outside her house, she contributes to Pakistan’s GDP through her participation in both the agricultural and informal economy, is autonomous on account of her status as a widow and head of the household and thus free from the reigns of a household patriarch and is also pro-education as she sends her granddaughters to school.

So I ask her what she thinks about women working outside of the house, whether she thinks it’s a good thing or a bad thing. She looks at me like I’ve asked her the most useless question on earth and says: ‘majboori da’ (I have no choice). In fact, this was the response I got from most women who work outside their homes.

For these landless women who break the boundary of the purdah on a daily basis, working outside the home is by no means an act of defiance or an indicator of autonomy and empowerment but a compulsion or majboori. For them, working outside the home is shameful because the kinds of work most women (and men) have access to in the public sphere is underpaid, extremely tough, precarious and not nearly enough to fill the bellies of their kids. For these women, things like ‘mobility’, ‘access to the public sphere’, ‘contribution to the economy’ mean nothing if the conditions they work in and the compensation they get in return can’t even provide them with a pair of sandals.

7 Responses to Majboori Da | Feministaniat

  1. Pervez Akhtar Khan on Feb 2015 at 2:52 AM

    MAJBOORI DA…DADDY Always used another phrase ” Guzara kawai” which could be translated as ” we have no choice but to live like this. It used to hurt us when young and full of dreams. It has taken us three generations to come out of poverty. We were lucky to escape it, most are not.

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