Zahra Haider on what she learnt having sex as a young woman in Pakistan
Posted: Jul 11, 2016
When Zahra Haider was in Class 8, she had her first real crush. No, not a celebrity. It was a boy she hung out with her group. He was cute. And intelligent too, or at least she found him to be.
She would get a nice feel whenever he was around. That unexplainable kind of rush…. One day the cute boy kissed her. Alas! All the butterflies from her tummy flew away. "All I can remember was feeling uncomfortable rather than happy about it, probably because it was an awkward and unfamiliar experience for me," she remembers.
Haider, whose article "What I learned having sex as a young woman in Pakistan" has kicked up a storm in the virtual world and is facing much social media backlash, insists that if a man had written such a piece, the reactions would have been totally different.
"Isn’t sex a basic human function? Can this natural impulse be refuted? How does gender figure in this? Don’t we need to be educated on the matter, whether premarital or post? Frankly, I just wanted to use myself as a personal myself as a personal example because that is the best way to be a voice for people who may need to hear it. Believe me, I was tired of the double standards of many South Asians when it comes to sex," laments Haider, who is in her 20s and shifted to Canada from Pakistan before her 19th birthday.Zahra Haider.
The author, who has talked about her sexual encounters with almost a dozen people before coming to Canada in 2012, stresses that she did expect a major backlash before writing the article.
"However, I had no expectation of the piece going viral and circulating as much as it has. To tell you the truth, I have this ability to remain detached to hateful comments. But hey, I did find some of the comments highly informative – how vile some people can be towards someone they don’t even know!"
How did the folks react? She must have shocked the daylight out of them.
"You bet! I hand’t told my mother about it at the time but she has been extremely supportive ever since it was published. My father, on the other hand, has disowned me because he claims I have brought shame upon his family. And that’s exactly the sort of cultural conditioning I wanted to emphasise on and combat by writing this piece."
The fact that even in today’s times people don’t refrain from commenting on someone’s sexual life doesn’t really surprise Haider.
"Look, some people will maintain boundaries and keep away from other people’s business – I know I do, usually either out of respect or simply because I don’t care. However, everyone is entitled to an opinion and clearly some people feel the need to comment on someone’s personal life, which I also respect."
The author may be facing a lot of backlash from Pakistan but she maintains that women’s rights issues are a consistent problem all over the world and culture of silence around women’s sexuality is not unique to Pakistan. Neither does she think that religion is a dominating factor in everyday life there.
"Where Pakistan is concerned, I mentioned in my article that draconian punishments for premarital sex and adultery stemming from Zia-ul-Haq’s dictatorship are slowly dying out but still linger in the mentalities of fundamentalists. I believe it definitely has a lot more to do with cultural aspects (and perhaps religion may influence said aspects) and an ingrained mindset as a result of these traditionalistic values and beliefs."
Observing that men in Canada are much more open and receptive when it comes to discussing a woman’s sexual desires, ("a lot of Pakistani men would become defensive when the topic of going down came up"), Haider is however optimistic that one day Asian men will surely "grow up".
"Of course. I have some incredible Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi etc. friends. Sadly, just not the majority of the guys I have had romantic or sexual encounters with."
Doesn’t it surprise her that so many women have written such nasty things about her article?
"Yes and no. Quite a number of women can resonate with me on many levels, many of them have suffered through the pain I have mentioned in my article as a result of the lack of sex education. However, many of them are indeed offended because they have assumed I’m representing them and speaking on their behalf when I’m not – my experiences and my opinions are exactly that: mine. I do personally know a handful of South Asian women who have had similar experiences as I have, but I never expected every single Pakistani woman to find my piece relatable."
Haider, who loves spending as much time being at home as going for hikes, now wants to push out of her comfort zone by attempting to pursue socio-political stand-up comedy as a side-project.
So, what about her passions?
"It’s been a life-long dream to have a book published, especially one in relevance to women’s rights issues in South Asia correlated with my personal experiences and the experiences of others – let’s see what the future has in store!"
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Okay, then let us see and opine upon, what she herself has to say. Would be unfair to her to be judgemental on her personal choices. You are independent to your thoughts, positive or negative, empathetic, apathetic or derisive. But she claims and deserves her personal freedom.
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