Easy Tarka Daal recipe

By , September 13, 2012 10:12 pm

Photo: www.sailusfood.com

There are just a few things I make well and my ‘masoor ki daal’ is one of them. A friend asked for the recipe, so I thought I’ll share the recipe and the story behind it.

Growing up, I never liked ‘daal chaawal’ (lentils with boiled white rice). But at university, my friend Fatima used to make this yummy daal and it became a staple in our flat. I was amazed at how simple the recipe was and how quickly it was ready. She taught me the recipe and to this day, it is one of my favourite comfort meals.

The other great thing is that it uses store cupboard staples, so it’s also great for days when you have run out of groceries and there are no fresh ingredients on hand. The total cooking time for both daal and rice is under 30 minutes and hardly any prep time! I prefer masoor daal because it is the fastest to cook. You could replace the masoor daal with mung or urid daal, but then your cooking times would be longer.

Enjoy!

 

photo: www.sailusfood.com

 

Ingredients:

(the measurements are just approximations)

Daal

2 cups masoor daal (split orange lentils)

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp red chilli powder or paprika (depending on how hot you like it)

1 tsp garam masala (optional)

salt to taste

Chaawal

2 cups rice

2 cups water

2-3 cardamoms

2-3 cloves

2-3 tsp olive oil

salt to taste

Tarka

3-4 tbsp olive oil (add a bit of butter for extra flavour)

2 tsp garlic paste or 1-2 tsp garlic flakes /OR 2 medium onions finely sliced or 2-3 tbsp  pre fried onions

1-2 tsp garam masala

2 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp crushed red chilli flakes (optional)

1 tsp chaat masala (optional)

chopped corriandor for garnish (optional)

Method

1. Wash the daal until the water runs clear (use your hands to gently rub the daal while washing and drain 2-3 times for water to run clear). Drain and add about 4 cups water and put on the stove at full heat.

2. While it comes to a boil, add turmeric, salt and red chilli (or parika) powder. Add garam masala if you want. Bring to the boil and then reduce heat to low-medium.

3. Let it cook for 5-10 minutes until the daal has reduced, stir and check consistency. Cook for another 5-10 minutes until the daal has broken down and become creamy, stirring occasionally.

4. Simultaneously, wash the rice until most of the starch is washed away. Place on the cooker in a large pot and add 2 cups water for 2 cups rice.

5. Add salt, cardammons, cloves and a little olive oil to prevent the rice from sticking. Bring to boil.

6. Lower the heat to low-medium, cover and let it cook for another 5-10 minutes until rice is almost cooked. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and let the rice for another 3-5 minutes. Finally, stir so that the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Remove the cloves and cardammom pods before serving.

7. While the daal and rice are boiling, you can prepare your tarka (but fry everything only in the last 2-3 minutes when daal is ready). The best tasting tarka is with freshly cut onions, but if you’re short on time you could use fried onions or garlic paste/ flakes. Most of the flavour of the daal comes from the tarka, so getting the flavours right is the most important thing. Experiment with garlic and onions to see what you like better.

8. Heat up some oil (add a small knob of butter for extra flavour). Fry the onions until light brown and then add cumin seeds, garam masala, chilli flakes and chaat masala. [If using garlic, put everything in at the same time as garlic can burn easily]. Do this on medium heat as the tarka can burn easily. As soon as the onions become a dark golden colour, take tarka off the heat and add to the cooked daal. Cover and let it rest for a minute.

9. Serve the daal over the boiled rice. Add chopped corriander as a garnish if you want.

 

 

 

Sucker for clever packaging

By , August 22, 2012 9:51 pm

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How often are you tempted to buy something just because of its cute, clever or lovely packaging?

I for one am a big sucker for the ‘feel good factor’ when buying products, especially food. So clever packaging combined with labels such as organic, fairtrade, sustainable etc is a sure sell. Brands like Innocent, Yeo Valley, Jamie Oliver are hard to resist for this reason.

One of my recent favourites is Yeo Valley organic yogurts. I love their ‘top notch’ range. I’m really not sure if it’s the taste that I like or merely the packaging. Today I had their ‘sticky fig & honey’ yoghurt. When you open the top, it asks you ‘big spoon or little spoon?’ Good question, I think! Something that is so fun to dig into does somehow taste better!

Eat, Fast and Live Longer

By , August 8, 2012 2:08 pm

Flicking through different channels last night I was intrigued to watch Michael Moseley’s documentary on BBC 2 called Eat, Fast and Live Longer for two reasons. First, I love any programme on food, whether it’s cooking shows, Come Dine With Me or documentaries about food. But more importantly, having been fasting for Ramadan for the last 20 days or so, I really wanted to know what (if any) were the health benefits of fasting.

The crux of the documentary was that by regularly fasting (reducing our calorie intake by significant amounts) we can live a healthier and possibly longer life. Doing so reduces our risk of age related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and possibly even mental illnesses such as memory loss and Alzheimer’s.

If you’re interested in the science behind this, it’s because fasting suppresses a growth hormone in our body (IGF-1) and when that happens, our body’s cells get a chance to heal and strengthen themselves rather than constantly being in ‘go-go’ mode to multiply and increase. (I only took biology till grade 8, and this is my understanding of what was explained, so bear with me). The bad news for those who eat a lot of protein, mainly responsible for this growth hormone, is that their bodies never get the chance to go into this repair and protect mode. An apt analogy given was that of driving your car non-stop without ever taking it to the mechanic’s. It’s bound to break down at some point.

As proof of the benefits of reduced food intake, the show interviewed Fauja Singh, believed to be the world’s oldest marathon runner at 101 years of age (an amazing achievement in and of itself)! The secret to his remarkable health was revealed to be small portions of food, what his trainer referred to as ‘kid portions’.

So where does this leave those of us who are fasting in Ramadan?

A few lessons we need to remind ourselves of, which incidentally are also supported by the Prophet Muhammad’s (Peace be upon him) example:

1. Ramadan is about fasting not feasting.

The benefits of fasting are negated if we gorge at iftaar and make up for any calorie intake we may have reduced during the day (of course, those with health problems etc need to evaluate their individual situations).

There are many Prophetic examples pertaining to this. According to a Hadith, “Eat less you will be healthier.”

And also, “Nothing is worse than a person who fills his stomach. It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be: one-third for his food, one-third for his liquids, and one-third for his breath.” (Tarmazi, ibn Majah and Hakim)

2. Lay off the pakoras!

Have a healthy balanced meal at iftaar, but try to avoid the heavy fried stuff. At least make it an occasional treat rather than a daily essential. The common feeling in our desi families is that iftaar is not complete without something fried, be it pakoras, samosas, kachoris or jalebis.

I am as guilty of this as the next person. Having resolutely avoided fried stuff for the first 2 weeks or so, Asim and I made pakoras for guests last weekend. And voila, since then we’ve been making them everyday because they’re so addictive. But after watching the programme last night, we’ve vowed off them….perhaps we’ll indulge once or twice ;)

3. Fast regularly

The health benefits of fasting wear off if it is not done regularly. Michael Moseley took up fasting 2 days a week. After 5 weeks of doing so, his blood tests revealed reduction in cholesterol, glucose, IGF-1 etc.

We of course know from the Prophet’s example that he used to fast at least 2 days a week (in traditions this is said to be generally Mondays and Thursdays). We as Muslims seek to follow his example for spiritual reasons, but it is heartening to note that it is supported by scientifically proven health benefits too.

30 things every woman should have and should know by the time she’s 30

By , July 27, 2012 6:05 am

I don’t know what it is about lists, but I’m forever making them and always tempted to read them. So around the time of my 28th birthday earlier this month, it seemed timely that I came across a list of things every woman should have and know before she turns 30.

Published originally by Glamour magazine in 1997, this year it was published in the form of essays wherein each of the original 30 items was expanded upon by different writers.

In the introductory chapter, Pamela Satran -the author of the original list- talks about how she almost missed her own surprise birthday party thinking turning 30 was no reason to celebrate, added to the fact that she was an exhausted new mother and grappling with grief following her own mother’s death.

However after her husband gave away the surprise and begged her to come to the restaurant where all her friends were waiting for her, she had a great time and realised that she was the same person she was at 9 or 15 or 28 or later will be at 39 or 44. But what she also realised was that there was a shift for her. She writes,

“for many of us there is a sense, whether it’s justified or absurd, that throughout your twenties you are becoming someone and something that, once you turn thirty, you simply are“.

Of course a list published by Glamour telling women 30 arbitrary things didn’t really promise to be thought provoking soul searching literature. But while some items on the list are just plain fluff such as “a purse, a suitcase and an umbrella you’re not ashamed to be seen carrying”, some do have underlying value to them.

For example, no. 8 on the list of things to have is “an email address, a voice mailbox, and a bank account- all of which nobody has access to but you”. This to me points to the importance of having privacy and being independent, both as an attitude but also financially. We women tend to share and give too much of ourselves in our relationships, so it is a good reminder that some things should be just for ourselves, even if it is reclaiming a day of the week or an hour in the day as ‘me time’.

To give another example, no. 3 on the list of things you should know states “how to quit a job, break up with a man, and confront a friend without ruining the friendship.” To me this underscores the importance of good communication rather than being literally about quitting jobs, breakups or confrontations.

My teens and early 20s were marked by numerous socially awkward encounters. I would beat myself up for days about something ridiculous I had said to someone (or at least what I considered to be mortifying). These awkward conversations would then shape those relationships for years to come and I would just not be able to get over them. As I’m getting older, my communication skills are getting better, but more importantly when I do make a faux pas or say something embarrassing, I am able to laugh at myself, sometimes even on the spot, and move on. In cases where I do dwell on something, the after effects don’t last forever.

When I bought the book, I was seduced by the idea that each of these arbitrary items on the list would be turned into something meaningful by people like Katie Couric, Bobbi Brown and Maya Angelou (and others whose names I didn’t recognise given my limited knowledge of American pop culture). At any rate these were all successful inspirational women who must have something to say that I could learn from. However, while there were snippets here and there that were touching, inspiring or funny, most of the writing was very superficial and rhetorical, only touching upon an idea or story rather than really delving into it. Sometimes even the transition from one thought or paragraph to another seemed abrupt, so that the essays seemed like they were synopses of larger pieces rather than being complete pieces in their own right.

Even Maya Angelou’s piece, which I was looking forward to, was no more than a reading list and a list of random objects to possess. These included things like “an elegant robe to wear when one has company staying over” and a silver tea serving set and a silver coffee serving set, which you would expect a 84 year old woman to come up with.

Personally I could live without these, especially given the next item on her list: “with all this silver, you should always have silver polish on hand. When a silver set is polished and shining, it tells a woman that she is worthy of the best because she is the best.” Ahem. I can imagine how having a really beautiful tea set (perhaps vintage china in a very delicate design) would make you feel very grownup and ladylike, for the moment I’m happy with my polka dotted and striped mugs. I do own one white tea pot to brew green tea in though. Perhaps that is enough of a concession to domesticated womanhood?

I will share with you Maya Angelou’s book list though, some of which I plan to read:

1. Sula by Toni Morrison
2. The Colour Purple by Alice Walker
3. Poetry by Edna St. Vincent Millay
4. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
5. The Heart of a Woman by Maya Angelou
6. The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni
7. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
8. The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan
9. The Woman Warrior: Memories of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston
10. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

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Preparing for Ramadan!

By , July 17, 2012 5:24 pm

Not having fasted for the last two years because of pregnancy and nursing, I have to admit I was nervous about fasting this year. For one, the fasts will be incredibly long. Sunrise to sunset (roughly from 3am to 9pm) would be 18 hours. My second concern was not having properly participated in Ramadan for the last two years, I may have lost my ‘Ramadan spirit’.

So in search of some motivation and inspiration, this Friday I attended an event in London called ‘Your Best Ramadan Yet’ organised by City Circle. The event featured a talk by Shaikh Haytham Tamim of Uttruj Foundation, followed by practical fasting and health related advice by two medical doctors.

While for some the talk may have lacked the ‘wow’ factor, I got from it exactly what I was looking for.

The main point which the Shaikh drilled into the audience was about the purpose of fasting. Why do we fast? According to him, the abstention from our desires is a prerequisite to connecting with our spirituality. Or in other words, it is only when we silence the constant ‘I want this, I need that’ that we can connect with God.

This is the shared link between salah (prayer), haj and fasting. Through all these acts of worship, we try to create a space for ourselves (physically and mentally), where we can take refuge from the onslaught of our desires, the constant consumerism and media messaging telling us to indulge ourselves in this and that. Although this may sound like an obvious point but a lot of us forget this during our ritual prayers and while fasting. Ramadan is about the victory of the spiritual self over the material one, ultimately restoring the balance between the two.

Inspired by the talk, I vowed to keep my ‘wants’ in check, whether these are for buying things, cravings for junk food or never being satisfied with anything in life. Instead of always wanting and whining, I want to create sabr (patience) and contentment. In trying to live this ideal, I’m finding out how difficult it is.  Take a very small example: I decided to gradually cut down my calorie intake in the lead up to Ramadan. I’m ashamed to report that one day spent at the mall was enough to throw all my good intentions out the window. But I’ll persevere.

Another point raised during the talk which I really appreciated was that we should never forget the power of the mind and how resilient our bodies are. A lot of us have been grumbling about how difficult this coming Ramadan would be. But we forget that if we enter something with a negative perception and anticipation, we will most likely find the experience to be negative. However, if we create a positive mindset and send positive signals to our body, we may radically shift our experience. Positive thinking- feeling hopeful and excited about something- goes a long way in shaping our actual experience.

Finally, being a woman and a mother I also appreciated the acknowledgment on the part of the speaker that sometimes (especially in traditional families and cultures) Ramadan for women amounts to preparing and cooking food all day and clearing up at night while the men go for taraweeh prayers. We really need to take our focus away from this attitude of ‘feasting’ at iftaars and also share the responsibilities with women. He went so far as to say that during the last ten days of Ramadan (considered to be a special time of quiet reflection and prayer) women should not cook at all and families should have take aways. He may have been exaggerating his stance just to drive home the point that women should also focus on their spirituality.

The challenge for me to is to find quiet time for myself when my whole day is consumed with childcare responsibilities and in keeping my super curious 16 month old entertained and out of trouble. The only quiet time I have is the two hours of his nap during the afternoon. Generally I spend this time in mindless pursuits like facebooking and watching tv, or doing essential stuff like cooking or showering. I tend to shy away from any activity that may require me to use my grey cells. I realise that this is an excuse to be lazy.

I hope in Ramadan I can counter this attitude that ‘my day is not mine’ and take control of my time. Instead of forcing my baby to fit into my routine or being totally driven by his, I need to find a balance. For example, while he may not allow me to use my laptop (he wants it himself), I could listen to audiobooks or recitation of the Quran in the background while I perform other tasks. If you have any advice or tips to share with me on how I can achieve this balance, please do share!

Ramadan Mubarak everyone!

 

 

A whirling dervish

By , June 5, 2012 11:39 am

By Munnaza Inam

Haji lok Makkay noun jaandey

Mera Ranjha Mahi Makkah

Nein main kamli aan!

Pilgrims go to Makkah

My beloved Ranjha is my Makkah

O! I am crazy

(Bulleh Shah)

 

Standing in the courtyard of a mosque and looking upon a structure made of bricks and covered with a black cloth. It is hard to imagine, just from that bare description, what a feeling of pure bliss courses through you at that moment. Yet, that experience can serve to reaffirm the invisible bond that tethers you to your Maker as well as rejuvenates your soul.

A few weeks ago,when I came to know that I was going for Umrah, I was in ecstasy: experiencing intense joy, delight, a trance, frenzy, cloud nine, walking on air, a state of extreme happiness… I can go on and on and on. The couplet of Bulleh Shah, mentioned above, aptly encapsulates the emotions that I felt at the thought of returning to the holy city.

I never had this feeling before when I went for Umrahs, but during Hajj a few years ago, I felt akin to a whirling dervish. My whole being felt as if it was whirling, suspended in time and space, and drawn towards this magnetic force which was the center of my universe. And now once again, during the course of this Umrah a few days ago, I returned to that state of total submission. Truly, I became a whirling dervish, spinning my body in circles around the Kaaba. The aim was not uncontrolled ecstasy and loss of consciousness but the realization ofsubmission to Allah.

Happiness! It is a truly powerful and radical exploration of life’s most treasured goals. I never complained or grumbled at the weather, pain, illness or anything else I experienced during my journey. There, everything in life pleased me and I found everything agreeable. In the very midst of my prayers, I found myself happy at being miserable.

I must confess that the greatest of all my delights is, and always will be, religion. In the state of submission, I felt mentally, physically and spiritually charged and alive; as if I had attached the belts of my machinery to the power-house of the universe. More than ever before, my belief was reaffirmed that the underlying cause of all sickness, weakness or depression is the human sense of separateness from that Divine Energy which we call Allah.

About the Author

Munnaza Inam is an artist, housewife and mother of four. Her interests include interior design, reiki and art of living.

I dare to dream

By , May 26, 2012 9:24 am

It is ironic that when we are little we dream of all the things we would do or become when we grow up. And when we finally grow up, we stop dreaming.

Some dreams like becoming an ‘air hostess’ or ‘astronaut’ are considered foolish or unlikely and given up. Others are abandoned because we realize that we may not have what it takes to achieve them. For me one such dream was to become a writer. Not just any writer. An author of great fiction.

At age 10, I was a prolific letter writer, or correspondent shall I say. I regularly wrote to my grandparents, especially Daddy, my maternal grandfather. When my best friend moved from Abu Dhabi to Pakistani, I used to write her long detailed letters almost twice a week.

Around the same time, inspired by the newspaper the sisters in Little Women write together, I started a little book with my three sisters called *ahem* TAWZ (the first letter of each of our names)  to write original ‘articles’, poems, stories and also copied stuff that we liked, including gems such as ‘limericks’. We also shared comics or drawings. I was a bit of a dictator in getting my sisters to write in it and even at that age (my sisters all younger than me), we knew it was a bit lame. Predictably, it didn’t last long.

Well into my teens I wrote poetry. Most of it of the rhyming variety. Not all if it was bad. But it definitely wasn’t good. I stopped when I realized that.

At around 14, I attempted to write a book, but gave up when it started to become a Pakistani version of Sweet Valley High. I was dismayed and put writing fiction out of my mind forever. I told myself that if I could write at all, it would be non-fiction.

What has brought on this nostalgia?

Two things. A friend posted on Facebook about a Creative Writing Workshop that will take place in LUMS in August. The workshop is aimed at 18-26 year olds. I wish there were such workshops targeting younger writers because by that age, most of the kids who used to write, like me, may have already given up. I know as a kid, I would have given anything to attend such a workshop. Who knows, I may have continued to write poems and fiction.

The second thing that made me acknowledge this dream was a cute little book I recently read called Live What You Love and from which I shared an excerpt recently. The book is about a successful entrepreneurial American couple who started many different businesses together, their latest a gourmet restaurant in the Caribbean. While they had their ups and downs, they just continued to take an unusual path in life by working together and doing what they loved.

In the book, they ask the reader to acknowledge their dreams. And when I first read that, I was almost annoyed at them because I couldn’t think of any ‘dreams’. I asked in a huff, what dreams? I could think of goals, ambitions and plans, but not ‘dreams’.

So the last few days, I’ve been deliberately asking myself that question: what do I dream of? Or rather, what did I used to dream of? In answering it, I’ve started unearthing stuff like wanting to be a writer, travelling the world, being an astrophysicist and so on. For some past dreams, I may have missed the boat and they don’t hold that lustre any more. But others, like wanting to be a writer, still make me ache with longing. It is something I did not even share with others for fear they would ridicule me or worse that I may jinx it by admitting it.

I realize that I should not just rely on past dreams. I should come up with new ones. By writing this, I am dusting off the cobwebs and I dare to dream again.

‘Retrospective Perspective’- excerpt from Live What You Love

By , May 23, 2012 11:33 am

We’re all very, very busy. We have e-mails to answer, planes to catch , and we’re constantly reshuffling schedules to squeeze in new meetings, each more important, more urgent than the last. But every now and then, we get a signal: life should be more satisfying.

Have you ever found yourself counting up the days to the weekend– and it was only Monday?

You start searching for daily pleasures to reward yourself for just getting through another day: ice cream, shopping, or going out for dinner. Some people even believe that a two-week vacation once a year is enough to keep them feeling happy and fulfilled.

Is it right that we spend so much time planning our next escape?

When we were small, we blew out the candles on our birthday cake believing that all of our hopes and dreams would become real. And when Jiminy Cricket urged us to wish upon a star, we all tried it, at least once. So when exactly did you stop wishing? When did you start doing the things you had to do instead of the things you wanted to do?

When did your dreams get buried under the responsibilities of adulthood?

Now you sense than something needs to change, but you’re too busy to stop and think about what it is. You long for those forgotten times when each day’s accomplishments filled you with energy and enthusiasm.

When there were a million special days.

The first day of school, the night before your fifth birthday, summer vacation, your first kiss…all of these were momentous achievements that made you feel almost giddy inside.

But now you sometimes feel as if you’re stuck in a great big rut and, as the years go by, the rut keeps getting deeper and deeper. You sense loss, understanding that you were meant to do more.

Your dreams feel so far away and always seem to be just out of reach.

But they’re silly dreams, you tell yourself. Get real. After all, you have a job; you’re earning a living. You have responsibilities. You can’t go off chasing crazy dreams.

Besides, it’s scary to think about going out on a limb.

But the dreams just won’t go away and they keep popping up. If only dreams came with a guarantee. Then you’d be as secure as you are now. Your job is secure, right?

Wouldn’t it be awful to live your whole life and then say, “Wait! I need another chance. I just wanted to try this one thing.”

Remember how scared you were to take the training wheels off your bike? Or how much courage it took for that first kiss? Nothing stopped you then.

So what’s stopping you now?

- Excerpt from Live What You Love by Bob and Melinda Blanchard, emphasis mine

- Thank you Arsalan for gifting us this book! :)

Is Sheryl Sandberg really an inspiration for working mothers?

By , May 12, 2012 10:17 am

Earlier last month Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, admitted that she’s been leaving work at 5:30pm to be able to have dinner with her kids. While she’s been doing this for many years, it is only in the last two years that she felt comfortable about admitting it publicly.

The fact that this admission made headlines brings to light the huge hidden costs and informal penalties associated with choosing flexible hours, even if they are on your company’s official books. Sandberg was widely lauded for making this public admission, but it must be noted that she only did so at a stage in her career where she may be considered ‘unpenalisable’.

Sandberg has made it her mission to support women. She frequently gives speeches about promoting female leaders and what women must do to take responsibility for their own careers.

In her iconic speech at TEDWomen in 2010 titled Why we have too few women leaders’, viewed over 1.3 million times, she suggests three things that women must do to make it to the top. First, they must ‘sit at the table’ in the literal but also the figurative sense: Very often women stay on the sidelines and are not as proactive in seeking opportunities or negotiating their careers as their male counterparts. Next she asks women to choose partners in life who will support them in not only their career choices but will also split housework and childcare responsibilities. And finally, Sandberg argues that women stop playing the game way too early, sometimes when they’re even just trying for a baby. They need to keep their ‘foot on the gas pedal’ until it is truly and finally time to leave.

In this talk, while she admits there are institutional and external barriers that women face, she only wants to focus on what women can do themselves. This has been Sandberg’s unwavering stance at other forums as well and is summed up well in what she said in her Commencement Speech at Barnard College last year,

Don’t let your fears overwhelm your desire. Let the barriers you face—and there will be barriers—be external, not internal.

As such, Sandberg proposes what some have called “a private solution to a public problem”. Her efforts seem to be targeted to a certain elite group, or dare I say class, of women.

Sandberg’s uplifting and inspiring speeches have touched the hearts of many women. She herself is a living testament to the merits of her advice: If you’re determined, ambitious and don’t give up, you can make it to the top.

However, we have to acknowledge that other factors of a woman’s circumstances also come into play than just her attitude. Women from disadvantaged backgrounds, working low-income jobs, or from ethnic minorities are given less chances and opportunities in life. Or stated in the language of Sandberg’s TED talk; they are never presented with a table to sit at; they have less choice in the matter of choosing a partner who will enter into 50-50 household and childcare responsibilities (or like Sandberg, be able to afford a full-time nanny); and less choice of when, or even if, to leave their jobs.

Given women’s differing circumstances, a change in attitude or behaviour can be quite inspirational for some women, but it may not be enough for others. It only addresses one side of the problem by not taking into account systemic reasons and structural causes for women’s career struggles.

Factors such as legally instituted paid maternity and family leave, childcare support, provisions for breastfeeding at the workplace and health insurance cover are vitally important to support women, especially mothers, in their careers.

By not addressing these external factors, Sandberg puts the onus of responsibility on the women themselves. Women can continue to play the game as hard as they can, but they won’t be able to overcome what Sandberg calls a ‘stalled revolution’ until the playing field is levelled.

Structural and institutional factors determine the ‘choices’ women can make in their lives. For example, take the issue of maternity or family leave. The United States is one of the few developed countries where workers are not guaranteed paid family leave, according to a recent report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) titled “Failing its families: Lack of paid leave and work-family supports in the US”. HRW noted,

“Having scarce or no paid leave contributed to delaying babies’ immunisations, postpartum depression and other health problems, and caused mothers to give up breastfeeding early. Many who took unpaid leave went into debt and some were forced to seek public assistance. Some women said employer bias against working mothers derailed their careers”.

In admitting that there is no such thing as a work-life balance for working mothers, Sandberg famously said that she used to pump breast milk while on conference calls at Google. While this admission shows that things are not easy when you’re juggling a high-powered career with family life, the fact that she was able to do so was a privilege and not a legally guaranteed right that other women in her country could also take advantage of.

Compare this to a low-income worker in the US who was interviewed by the Human Rights Watch in relation to their above-mentioned report. This woman was denied a place to pump breast milk for her baby when she returned to work after a six-week unpaid maternity leave. She had been mistreated by her employer during her pregnancy, did not have any health insurance and was later even denied time off for medical appointments for her sick baby. It is no surprise then that she suffered from acute postpartum depression. Would it have made a difference in her circumstances if this woman had taken on Sandberg’s 3-pronged career advice?

Sandberg is right about the fact that individual attitudes and choices are vitally important to help women succeed in their careers. Unfortunately they are not enough. These must be accompanied by societal changes, policies and laws that support women in the workplace, especially those who are less privileged.

Sheryl Sandberg has inspired countless women to seek ‘real equality in the workforce’. Frequently listed as one of the most powerful women in the world, Sandberg has the massive success and public leverage combined with her charming personality to achieve incredible advancements for women.

If she truly wants to see women leaders at the top, she must concern herself with women who are at the bottom.

This article was first published in the Express Tribune on 12 May 2012. You can find it here.

“Foreign Minister, your scarf has slipped off your head”

By , April 19, 2012 10:17 am

On her show aired yesterday on CNN, Christiane Amanpour suddenly stopped in the midddle of posing hard hitting questions to the Pakistani Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, and informed her that her scarf had slipped off.

Yes, you heard me right: sandwiched in between questions about Osama Bin Laden and Pakistan’s relations with India, Amanpour found it perfectly natural to make this interjection.

Here is the relevant section from the transcript of that interview:

AMANPOUR: I just want to let you know that your scarf has slipped off your head. If you — if you care, you can put it back on right now. Otherwise, I can continue.

KHAR: Sure. Please continue.

AMANPOUR: OK. Perfect.

I was so shocked and enraged at this inappropriate and impertinent interruption that I found it hard to focus on the interview from then on. I have to wonder as to what was going on in Amanpour’s head when she said this.

– Did she think the Foreign Minister was sinning and perhaps she wanted to set a believer straight?

– Was she just being courteous to her guest, along the lines of “hey chica, just to let you know you’re flashing some cleavage there. Better fix it!”.

– Or was she scared for her guest’s life thinking some mullah in Pakistan will kill Khar for *gasp* showing off her hair?

You expect more awareness from a seasoned journalist like Amanpour. Or perhaps she was trying to be a bit too culturally aware. But anyone who has seen any pictures of Hina Rabbani Khar knows that she wears her scarf symbolically as part of her political persona (I don’t have any issues with that). Sometimes it does slip off and she fixes it without being too bothered by it. No one has ever thought it was such an issue before. And even if it weren’t symbolic and it, horror of horrors, briefly slipped off- why make such a fuss about it?

Would Amanpour have stopped the Ugandan President (who was the guest before Khar) to inform him if, let’s say, his spectacles had slipped off his nose? “Mr. President, I want to let you know that your glasses have slipped off your nose. If you care, you can put them back on right now. Otherwise, I can continue.”

President: Of course Christiane! Thank you for letting me know. How else could I  have answered such important questions about foreign policy if my glasses had not been securely fixed to my nose!

I have to give it to Hina Rabbani Khar though. For the briefest second she seemed confused or amused by this interruption, but after fixing her scarf, she continued to answer questions with a lot of poise and presence of mind.

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