Integration of Pakistani Women in Dutch Society
To commemorate International Women’s Day, Overseas Progressive Pakistanis (OPP) organized an event titled “Integration of Pakistani Women in Dutch Society”.
The event was meant to understand the process of integration as a tale of two countries, and as seen through a multi generational lens. The idea was to listen to the stories of women from different age groups, and backgrounds, as lived experiences and generate a discussion about the factors that might be holding Pakistani women back from finding for themselves a constructive role in Dutch society.
Almost 55-60 people attended the event with a varied group from men to women, young and the elderly. The program was divided into two parts, with the first half dedicated to a panel presentation and discussion, and the second half being more interactive with group discussions focused on a given question regarding integration. The groups presented their conclusions followed by closing remarks from OPP.
The program started with an introduction to OPP, followed by an introduction of the topic. It was agreed that integration is about finding your place within the society, and could manifest itself in different ways for different people. Also, already at the beginning, it was emphasized that there were no right or wrong answers to the discussion.
Four panelists were invited to talk about what integration meant for them, if they considered themselves well integrated in Dutch society and what had been the enabling and restricting factors in their integration process.
Dr Aniqa who came to the Netherlands when she was 10, spoke first explaining the difficulties she faced while pursuing her studies in the Netherlands since her parents who were fairly less educated could not understand how the process worked in Netherlands. While she was still studying though, the question of marriage popped up, with her parents repeating the most typical phrase used in Pakistani society i.e. “log kya kaheingay” (what would people say!), with neighbors and others from the Pakistani community taunting them for letting their daughter study. There was an additional pressure to marry a Pakistani and also within the family. She concluded by saying that an environment of trust should be built between the parents and their children.
Anam, a younger panelist who was born and raised in the Netherlands recounted her experience of hearing from her mother the “complaints” the community would come up with about her talking to Dutch boys. She talked about how the community kept tabs on each other, specially the women and was very judgmental about any little thing that deviated from accepted norms. She along with some other members of the audience particularly emphasized how their generation was judged both by the Pakistani community and the local Dutch population.
Tanzila, who came to the Netherlands at the age of 19 after getting married, talked about her struggle to raise her children after her husband became bedridden. She repeated the comment about the Pakistani community being judgmental wherever a Pakistani woman acted against accepted traditions, in her case learning the practical tricks of raising a family in the Dutch society. Iffat Gill, an activist for economic empowerment of women both in Pakistan and the Netherlands, came to the Netherlands 7 years ago after getting married to her husband who is a Dutch. She found adapting her work in the development sector, to the Dutch society particularly challenging when she first moved to the Netherlands.
A question answer session followed where the panelists stressed the need to maintain good communication with one’s children, particularly girls who are often put under more severe restrictions than the boys, and build an atmosphere of trust inside homes.
The program continued after a short break where the audience was split up into 5 groups. Each group was given one question to discuss. The questions put forward were:
1. How important is bilingualism (Dutch/mother tongue) for integration?
2. Are family/community ties enabling or inhibiting for the process of integration?
3. How is the process of integration different for men and women?
4. How do you view interaction with a new culture? An opportunity or a challenge?
5. Where do you think lies the solution for the problems faced during the process of integration?
The audience came up with interesting insights and suggestions. In answer to the first question, it was emphasized how language is a tool, learning which does not undermine cultural values of one’s country of origin. Also, that language more than being a requirement is part of an almost natural process of adaptation to a new culture, and besides being a means for integration into a new environment, it also makes communication with one’s next generation, most likely born and raised in the new country, much more open and comfortable. The group discussing the second question concluded that individual experiences varied, and while for some presence of family acted as a support, for many others it is the opposite. On the differences between how integration works for men and women, it was agreed that the process is indeed different, especially in context of the Pakistani community where there are still very strong patriarchal undertones. Women are still considered bearers of family honor and hence many more restrictions are placed on their behavior than those that exist for men. Also, since women are expected to get married and become caregivers for either the family or for young children at an age when they can be most productive in their professional lives, women miss out on contributing to the work market. On interaction being a challenge or an opportunity, the group thought that every challenge brings with it an opportunity and that’s how is best to view it. Lastly, the group discussing solutions to the problems faced during integration, identified first the problems. They came up with cultural differences, insecurity felt by the community coupled with some negative thinking about one self, in some ways hypocritical judgement on people from one’s own community and the challenges of economic integration as some of the problems faced during the process of integration. They thought it was important to talk to each other about these problems in an open environment with the aim to understand and learn from each other. Also to deal with one’s own insecurities because they often hold one back from being open to a new culture. Learning the language was identified as a potential means to effective integration to reiterate the point made by group 1. It was also concluded that particularly for challenges faced by women from the Pakistani community, it was important for men to show interest, and become involved in finding solutions.
In the closing remarks, it was emphasized how important it was for women to effectively integrate in Dutch society, and become productive members of society. Something that can be facilitated by keeping an open mind towards a society that does not discriminate between the genders and expects both men and women to take independent decisions as responsible members of society.