I once got a lifetime opportunity to sit beside HRH Crown Princess of Norway for dinner. We talked about the situation of young people, especially girls in the developing world. If we were to plot the privileges we have in life, we two would be at completely opposite poles: I was a girl from a developing country with one of the highest gender disparities in the world; she was the most powerful woman of the country boasting highest proportion of gender equity. Amazingly, we shared similar empathy and concerns about young people of the developing world. That day, I felt so blessed and privileged to be at that platform.
My definition of privilege might not match yours. I do not come from a rich family, and my relatives are not the leaders of the country. Yet I consider myself privileged because I was raised in an educated family, where both my father and mother were educated and had decent jobs. As the indisputable saying goes, an educated mother raises an educated child. Perhaps that is why my parents insisted on sending us to a good school, exposed us to technologies, gave us freedom to be ourselves, and provided the best opportunities out of whatever they had. Of course, no parent would think ill for their children, but sometimes just sending them to a good school is not enough to empower them. Parents need to be friendly, communicative and motivating to their children at all phases of latter’s lives. And that’s what my parents did.
I sometimes wonder if things might have been different if mine was not a daughter-only family. Perhaps, embracing the social stereotypes, my parents might have raised our brother (s) differently or given him (them) first opportunities; or may be not, I can’t say. But all of us (three sisters) had a chance to stand in the frontline of opportunities. Last year, I left for study in Israel; this year, I am in US for a professional fellowship. Letting an unmarried and young daughter leave at this age was not an easy decision for my parents, especially in complex social system like Nepal. But they decided to let me go, and only I know what I would have missed if they had not.
I’ve never talked to my parents about how they felt at not having a son. Things have definitely changed over time, but it must not have been an easy parenting in those years. On a happier note, they always talk about how proud they are that their daughters turned out exactly how they had wished.
I’m not trying to make a point that I have good parents; what I’m attempting to say is that even having such understanding parents does not keep me free of risk that comes with being a woman. Long gone are those days when I could hold my parent’s finger and walk around fearless chanting “My daddy is the strongest.”
I commute daily on public buses where I’m inhumanely stared at, commented and/or unpleasantly touched. I go to office where I am stared uneasily by my colleagues, where my work is belittled, my wage lowered and my words ignored just because I am a woman. I’ve been asked how I would handle luring from my male colleagues when I go to the field with them.
Although these are crime in the definition of law, I don’t go to the police station to report someone staring at me at the bus stop, nor do I post my complaints to the office grievance committee comprising of males. Call me a coward, call me a quitter, but honestly, I fear that my reporting might provoke negative effects rather than protect me; and I know this is not my story alone.
Touch Wood! No one has thrown acid on my face; I haven’t been gang raped, and my teacher hasn’t harassed me. But, the day one of these terrible accidents occur in my life, there are chances that the laws will not guard me, the Police will not be able to punish the perpetrator, and the society will not accept me.
When I read about the mishaps with girls almost everyday in the news, it is not just my sympathy for them that dishearten me, but the deep fear that I could have been one that sends a chill down my spine. Yes, I am safe only until I am safe.
This article was also publisehd at Setopati, Nepal’s digital newspaper at http://setopati.net/blog/5795/