Who’s Afraid of Eve?

You ask this question in a traditional society in Pakistan and you may not catch a commotion at once. Reason? Well, you may ask why look for a reason in the first place; what exactly is so odd about women to induce fear? Let’s zoom in on the context where you start seeing things with implications.

The social customs of most ethnic communities in Pakistan place a high value on male progeny. Sons are bread-winners but also the children who’ll stay with the parents lifelong. Up on marrying, it is the woman who is to leave her home — so sons are like banks bringing pecuniary as well as human capital. The boy born today is the man who will carry your burden in your old age. Daughters, on the other hand, are meant to leave the parents upon marriage. A house with all sons will remain full (extra full indeed) in the long run. But a house with all daughters will face the dark moment when the last daughter is wedded out, leaving behind lonely parents—dependent and in need of care.

No wonder then that nearly all married couples have a strong liking for male children. Daughters will not only just leave in person but claim their share of property with the parents, which will go to the husbands – their “earthly lords”. This is more particularly the case with middle and lower class families where even today the birth of two daughters in succession rouses worries about the family’s future. Nobody wants to die what they locally call (in Pashtu) a “miraat” – i.e. one without any male children. Some families may use it as reason enough to have a second wife (in some cases even a third, as allowed by Islam) and see if the new wedlock brings any sons.

Since sex-selection technology has not yet reached this country, people have also remembered to employ traditional ploys for stopping daughters from adding on to the family. Among the poor Afghans living in Pakistan, mothers awaiting a son name their latest daughter specifically with a name believed to end the female “invasion”; Khatmina and Tamama for example are names that literally mean “the final one”. But of course, girls can’t be stopped with names and wishes, and many a time, the belief that after the 7th daughter one usually gets a son also fails the couple fearing the “miraat” word. It hardly cheers them up to realize that these girls are more obedient, gentle, and crime-free than a son who is often more costly in various ways than what he earns.

With this “evenxiety” filling the traditional culture in much of the Pakistani society, don’t be surprised if you mutter to yourself “who’s afraid of Eve?”, and you hear an endless transmission of disparate – read desperate – voices, shouting “I am… I am…”