Sometimes I feel that I am going in circles when I bring up issues that most women in Pakistan experience time and again. I, an ‘educated’ and ‘empowered’ woman, a minority in my country, despite having a voice, am reminded of my gender and its limitations, which sometimes almost makes me wish that I was born as a man. I also feel the utmost hopelessness that brings me to the ground as I see so little changing around me and what is alarming is that it’s not only the men who are discriminating against the women of my country, but women too.

I write this as I sit in the airport lounge waiting for my first solo trip outside of Pakistan. No, I am not going for work. I am not going to participate in some family event outside. This is not a trip with my girlfriends. I am simply traveling to honour myself and embark on a journey of self-exploration and individuation. I found the courage to take this step after years and years of personal process where I started a relationship with myself and learned what self-care and self-love is and how to stand up to my loved ones and announce my space in this world that belongs to all.

My family and friends each had one question: Why would you go alone? The protest is loud and clear to the point that my parents refuse to talk to me, expressing their disappointment in me. In 365 days of the year, when I try my best to fulfil my responsibilities, these ten days have declared me an unfit woman who is abandoning her family for her selfish interests. I, in so many words, have been told that a ‘noble’ woman does not travel alone and how I am bringing shame to what a ‘woman’ is meant to be. Again, this version has been pushed down the throat by our patriarchal society alone; its foundation made stronger day by day by both our men and women. I can no longer just blame the men for not acknowledging our existence and equal treatment.

Is it easy to sit here while I pen this down? No. It’s not. I feel a wave of despair with all shades of guilt coming up within me and I try my best to breathe and remind myself that I owe it to myself to go on this trip. Just that reminder is tiring enough, let alone to mention the explicit and implicit disapproval that is relentlessly being communicated to me. I had almost cancelled my trip an hour ago.

I work for around six hours a day and in all the years since I have been working, there isn’t even a single time that I am asked if I am tired. If I need a break. No. My work is a luxury I am granted even when I pull my weight and contribute to the household. The narrative that comes my way is: You are working for yourself. And so even if I am, what’s wrong with that? How does that make me the villain of the story? How does that disqualify me from receiving empathy?

Having said this, it’s ironic that it is also a man who has played the most profound role in bringing me to this point in my life, that despite all the bashing and guilt-tripping I still chose to take this step. My friend/mentor and someone who renews my faith in men and makes me hope that there are many more like him who can be trusted. He is the archetype of what males are meant to be; a protector, guide; and someone who made me feel that being a woman is an asset and not a liability.

Support your women. Accept them. Let them breathe the same air you breathe in.