Photo courtesy of Javeria.

PAKISTAN: My Culture Disapproves, But I Sing Anyway

Through song, Rakhshinda Shakir raises her voice against the repression of women in her culture.

I am fine with being a ‘bad’ girl if it means questioning things or speaking what is in my heart.

When I was a little girl living in a small village in the mountains of Pakistan, I always wished I had been born a boy. I wanted to enjoy the freedoms boys did and be accepted as a valuable member of society.

If I were a boy, I could at least laugh loudly whenever I wanted to, but being a girl in Chitrali culture meant living a life under certain restrictions. Girls and women are dependent on men both socially and financially in Chitrali culture. We must wear modest clothes, and when we travel, we must be accompanied by a male member of the family.

It was probably this indifferent attitude towards girls that made me act like a tomboy and play with boys all through my childhood. When I grew older, however, life completely changed for me.

The group of boys I grew up playing with were much older than me. When they became teenagers, it was embarrassing for them to be seen with a girl, and so they never wanted me around.

They began to see me as an ugly part of society because I was the complete opposite of what a typical girl of my society was supposed to be.

I would go swimming, but other girls would never join me. They did not want to remove their dupattas, or long scarves, as this was considered immodest.

On our way back home from school, girls would always scold me for laughing out loud. I rationalized that you laugh when you are happy, so how could that be considered bad?

There were many times when people told me that I deviated from what our culture considered to be a “good girl”. Even still, I never shied away from saying what I felt.

I felt proud that I was not the same as other girls my own age, and to this day, I am fine with being a “bad” girl if it means questioning things or speaking what is in my heart.

Today when I look back at my youth, I feel no regret but rather a sense of accomplishment. I am not only a change agent in my own life, but also an inspiration to other students and my siblings, too.

I was one of the first two girls from my school to be selected as cultural ambassadors to the United States in the 9th grade. Since then, more and more girls are being selected for this prestigious program. I am also the first to attend Asian University for Women in Bangladesh. I hope to set the trend to encourage as many girls from my village as possible to pursue this educational opportunity to change their lives, because much needs to change for girls and women where I come from.

In my culture, women are forbidden to dance, though dancing is a way to express joy and happiness; we are not allowed to sing or play any musical instrument, both of which are valuable skills; and we are not allowed to play sports because sports would expose our bare legs.

Can someone please tell me how banning half the population from healthy activities such as these, in the name of culture, supports our claim of being civilized?

I am tired of being excluded from almost every activity that is proven to be healthy simply because I am female.

Women in my culture are also not allowed to be friends with men, and women who are risk being called whores and publicly ostracized.

I apologize now, if this offends anyone, but I do dance to my favorite music, I do have a lot of male friends, and I do sing. In fact, I love singing. I am not a professional singer, but two of my Facebook videos of my singing have gone viral.

Some people are upset with me because of this and accuse me of ruining their culture. A lot of my people see me as a destructive influence, but I see my actions as positive change.

I see a woman singing proudly as a gateway to the enjoyment and entertainment of humanity as well as to the elimination of the barriers against women’s rights.

Through singing, I am fighting for healthy change for women in my culture, and I am not physically hurting anyone in doing so. Some of my community members have started to tell my parents that they have to make me stop. They say they are concerned for my welfare, but this is what I was born for—to break stereotypes and make a positive change in the world.

I feel that I have a strong message and mission, and there is no way I am going to stop fighting against women’s repression in my culture. I strongly believe singing has no gender, and that a woman singing is not doing anyone harm.

I wish every single girl or woman out there found it offensive that their singing was not encouraged. I wish every single girl out there, especially in my community, could sing like a bird and not worry about who was listening or what they had to say.

I am a woman, and I matter as much as a man. I have the right to be who I want to be, too. I am very proud to have been born as a woman, and if I were given a hundred more chances to be born, I would always choose to be born a woman.

Life is what you make it. I choose to enjoy and live each second with full zeal and enthusiasm and help guide as many girls and women as possible onto paths of empowerment and success.

Here is one of my songs that I would like to share, for all those beautiful souls who are determined to make a difference in the world as well.


STORY AWARDS

This story was published as part of the World Pulse Story Awards program. We believe everyone has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.

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Comments

Dear Rakshindar,

You were definitely not made to follow the pack and you know it. Your voice, your personality and just being you is a force for change.

Let your heart lead!

Iya

So beautiful, your words, your voice,your thoughts. Please don't stop singing, you are amazing. I love your spirit and the inclination towards changing the world.  

best wishes and love. 

 

<3

Hi Rakhshinda,

Thank you so much for sharing your ideas in this post. I loved reading about your childhood and about your belief that laughing out loud (among other things) cannot possibly be a bad thing. Your post was very inspiring to me, and I'm sure to countless other women reading. Being vocal and loud about your beliefs will truly help women's struggle for equality around the world, I believe. Thank you!

Best wishes,

Julia

What an inspiring story, Rakhshinda! In my twenties I spent a lot of time traveling the world as an English teacher. I lived in seven different countries and traveled through another 25 more. I met many different kinds of people and my students were anywhere from 4 to 84 years old. Occasionally, in my travels, I would meet people that did not seem to be of the country and culture where they were born. Instead, they seemed more like souls of the world. Though we have never met, you strike me as a worldly soul. You were born with a spirit, love, and curiosity for life that was already larger than the community in which you were born. Humans like you are rare and the world desperately needs more. You must continue to sing and dance and write and dream big. Touch as many lives as you can. And always be open to things in life that bring you joy. Your heart will not lead you astray.

Hi Rakhshinda,

Is it ever possible to stop a singing bird?Always listen to your inner voice.Sooner or later people will definitely believe what you do. Best Wishes to you!

Dear Sister 

I am very glad to read your story , one of my students really wants to be a singer and she has got a melodious voice but she is afraid to sing but your story has given me courage to support her to make her dream come true as you made it, thank you for sharing my dear 

Sister Zeph Founder & Chairperson ZWEEF

Winner of World Pulse Lynn Syms Global Prize 2014