Marriage vs Career: South Asian Women’s Perspective

We hear the views of Desi women in the UK and South Asia about the marriage vs career debate and their experiences of both.

Marriage vs Career: South Asian Women's Perspective

"I regret not pursuing a career. Marriage is exhausting"

More Desi women are focusing on their professions which brings about an interesting debate about marriage vs career.

For many South Asian and British Asian communities, marrying the women of the family is seen as a prized event. But, there is a rising distaste toward marriage.

A 2021 YouGov-Mint-CPR Millennial survey in India shows that a staggering 19% have expressed a disinterest in marriage and children.

While this doesn’t necessarily translate to this 19% never getting married, it certainly highlights the changing attitudes towards marriage.

There are no right or wrong answers. Marriage and careers are both great life options.

However, a women’s role within South Asian culture has surpassed just being at home or someone’s life partner.

Many more individuals want to focus on their ambitions and dreams. Likewise, they are receiving great support in pursuing other areas that don’t solely surround family life.

What DESIblitz aims to uncover is how women feel towards both marriage and career and if they face certain judgements if choosing either one.

Marriage vs Career: British Asian Women’s Perspective

Marriage vs Career: South Asian Women's Perspective

It’s important to speak to both British Asian and South Asian women to see if there are any varying factors between marriage vs career.

Is marriage still the end goal or is it not as urgent? We spoke to Maria Ahmed, an engaged woman from the UK who passionately says:

“Marriage is so important to me. I really value it as an institution because I’ve seen great marriages around me.

“My parents have been married for so many years and the love still shows. I want that. I’ve always wanted that.

“Why does it have to be marriage vs career? Why can we as women not have both? What is so difficult about that?

“You just need an understanding husband. Talk about these things before you get married so you’re both on the same page.”

It can be seen that for Maria, marriage and career go hand in hand. You do not have to sacrifice one for the other.

For her, this topic does not need to be complicated. All it requires is clear communication with the partner.

However, single woman Foizia Malik* has a different view, revealing:

“Personally, I would prioritise career. Nothing has your back like a career does. Financial independence is very important, and marriage gets in the way of that.

“I’m not saying I’m never getting married.

“It’s just if I had to choose and say what would I rather spend my life doing, then I would rather pursue my career goals.

“It’s so important for women to have their own money, it’s not good to rely on someone to that extent.”

The issue of financial independence is an important one. A lot of the time, money is the root cause of many arguments between couples.

Hence, it is important to have financial independence. Or at the very least, be in a position where finances are joint.

Many women like Foizia have learnt the importance of hard work and being able to carry themselves at a young age.

Living in the UK certainly exposes girls to other working women which is very empowering.

This type of work ethic can certainly impact individuals to focus on themselves and obtain a life with much more freedom.

Fahmida Begum*, a housewife from the UK gave us her opinion on this:

“I change my mind about this every day. It all depends on the state of my marriage.

“If I’m happy, I think I’m so glad I got married instead of going to university. But on bad days, there are a lot of regrets and I mean a lot. I become bitter.

“My husband pays the bills. I am a housewife and sometimes I feel like he doesn’t value the amount of work it takes to make the house a home.

“I iron the clothes, cook, clean, and look after the kids every day.

“That’s a lot of physical labour and mental exhaustion. It’s easy to overlook this when that work doesn’t translate to money.

“I know he works too but the days I don’t feel appreciated I wish I’d gone to university and pursued a career.

“At least that way nobody could turn around and say, ‘I am the one that feeds you’.

“I could easily turn around and say, ‘I am the one that cooks for you’. But it just causes fights.

“The best way to explain it is, he works 9 am – 5 pm and I work 7 am – 12 am. His work finishes when he gets home.

“My shift just continues. The kids have spilt milk, off I go to mop the floor again. My husband wants tea, off I go to the kitchen.

“Today, I regret not pursuing a career. Marriage is exhausting.”

Marriage for many women becomes burdensome when they are underappreciated. Especially when their hard work at home is not valued or respected.

Many South Asian men have the mindset that as long as they bring the money home and pay the bills, they have done their job.

Sometimes, they forget that working around the house all day is hard work too.

Housewife Nabeela Farooqi* gave us her thoughts on this:

“If I hadn’t worked before getting married, I would have probably chosen career over marriage. I worked as a teacher for three years before I got married.

“My job never made me happy or sustained me the way my marriage did. I didn’t become a housewife straight after our wedding.

“Actually, I continued working for another two years and I knew I was drained. I just don’t think working is for everyone. It certainly wasn’t for me.

“Fortunately, my husband doesn’t have a problem with being the sole financial provider.

“Being a housewife did mean that looking after the home Monday to Friday was my responsibility but on the weekends it’s a shared responsibility. I think we’ve struck a good balance.

“We have a shared bank account which means that his money is my money too.”

“He has never made me feel small for not paying bills because he understands that being a housewife is like a full-time job.”

Fatima Ali*, a working woman says:

“Marriage is a patriarchal institution. It’s never been on the woman’s side. I don’t promote that s**t.

“I’ve seen what marriages do to women. It suffocates them and makes it difficult to escape.

“It’s unhealthy. You sign off your life to a man that shows you a dream. Marriage is toxic.

“So, I’d say choose career over marriage every damn time. It’s the only thing that’ll have your back. Because let me tell you, your husband won’t.”

For Fatima marriage should not be celebrated or encouraged. Her perception of marriage is shaped by what she’s seen of marriage.

As a working woman, she understands that working gives her both freedom and financial stability. It supports her in times of need and never lets her down.

Therefore, the view on marriage vs career from a British Asian standpoint is that women are much more aware of how beneficial a career is.

Likewise, their ambitions to pursue a career are rising, especially when looking at the modern generations and how representative some industries are of these women.

Marriage vs Career: South Asian Women’s Perspective

Marriage vs Career: South Asian Women's Perspective

Whilst culturally it is similar, the actual lifestyle and opportunities between women in the UK and South Asia are different.

Marriage in South Asia is sometimes a fragile topic for women. But, are they focusing more on careers than getting a husband? Priya Sayed*, a married woman from Bangladesh says:

“Marriage has been a blessing for me. I got an arranged marriage six years ago and was anxious about whether I could carry on going to university after the wedding.

“My parents had discussed this with my husband’s family, and they didn’t have any problem with it.

“But I know it’s worked out very differently for many of my friends, so I was scared. I kept thinking what if they back out? I’ll be stuck then.

“Luckily, my husband is very encouraging, and he’s helped me grow as a person so much.

“At one point, I began losing interest in ever becoming a pharmacist, but my husband didn’t let me leave my course. I’m so glad he’s someone that wants the best for me.

“Now, as a pharmacist and a wife I feel really fulfilled and happy.

“Seeing the way it’s worked out for me, I definitely think it’s possible to carry both marriage and career together. But I understand I may just have been lucky.”

Many women enjoy being married especially if they have supportive husbands. This is a reoccurring pattern between both British Asian and South Asian women.

This illustrates that perhaps if there were more meaningful and loving marriages, women would not see marriage as a burden and career as an escape.

Sharing her views, married woman Sharmeela Abbasi* from Pakistan states:

“I’ve never been someone that excelled in education. I knew from the get-go that it wasn’t for me.

“Most of my friends are pursuing their careers while I chose to get married.

“I don’t regret it. I can’t sit there and do an office job. I’d rather be cooking and experimenting with dishes.”

“I like married life. It suits me. I’m glad I didn’t force myself into education just because that’s what everyone else around me was doing.”

However, Ramsha Bibi*, a housewife from Bangladesh has a contrasting experience:

“Marriage has ruined me. I wish I could go back in time and change the course of my life.

“Now that I have children and have been married for many years, I feel like it’s impossible to leave.

“I really would choose differently if I could. Now it’s too late and I feel hopeless.

“I would rather be 50 and work somewhere than cook and clean every day. I wish I knew that marriage isn’t what they tell you. It isn’t a fairytale.”

Marriage makes a lot of women feel bitter once they feel trapped. Ramsha feels trapped as a mother and a wife.

She shows an interest in working but highlights that it’s no longer a possibility and her experience is similar to many South Asian women.

Additionally, we spoke to Nisha Tariq*, a single woman from Pakistan:

“I would 100% choose a career. I grew up in a home where my father was the breadwinner and he made us miserable about it.

“It’s always ‘I did this, and I did that for you’. He feels that he’s done us a favour by providing us with financial stability.

“I hate that mindset. His wife and children are his responsibility. He’s not doing anyone a favour.

“That’s why I want to pursue my career. I never want anyone to turn around and taunt me about what they’ve done for me. I will be enough for myself.

“Financial independence is important for women in Pakistan. The way these men think makes me sick.”

“He conveniently forgets that the food he eats every day is cooked by mum.

“He may bring the money to the table, but it’s my mum the one that’s standing in front of the stove in the heat every day.”

Nisha’s anger at her father shapes her perception of marriage. It also demonstrates her need to pursue a career.

She knows it will give her financial independence and will give her more space to live a life very different to her mother’s.

Her experience echoes Fahmida’s. Despite being countries apart it is obvious that they both experience the same problem with men – their inability to understand and value housework.

Whilst Piyali Bhatt*, a single girl from India is quite confused about this topic:

“I don’t know. I want both. My mum has a beautiful marriage with my step-dad and has a successful career as a journalist. She’s my inspiration.

“Until I find someone that will treat me as good as my step-dad treats my mum, I’ll give my undivided attention to my career.

“After that, I’ll balance my time and love between my husband and my career.”

In contrast to Nisha, Piyali’s home environment has demonstrated to her what a healthy marriage looks like.

This reinforces the idea that when women grow up around positive and healthy marriages, they are more inclined towards getting married.

The topic of marriage vs career has certainly opened many discussions about the motivations behind these choices.

Both South Asian and British Asian women share similar experiences and similar thoughts.

Noticeably, women that have seen positive marriages around them or have healthy marriages themselves view it as a  powerful and positive thing.

But, those in more toxic relationships wish they would have chosen a career instead.

Financial independence is a topic that’s been brought up by both British and South Asian women.

This demonstrates the growing pattern and motivation behind women wanting to pursue a career over getting married.

Therefore, it’ll be very interesting to see how this progresses in the future.

"Nasrin is a BA English and Creative Writing graduate and her motto is ‘it doesn’t hurt to try’."

Images courtesy of Freepik.

*Names have been changed for anonymity.