As a child, I was raised in a tiny country in Borneo Island (the third largest Island in the world), in a culture where women are as much breadwinners as their husbands are, I was sent to English schools at a young age and in school I was provided with equal educational and cultural experiences and system as the males, there was no difference. I was told that I should aim to be a doctor or an engineer (Or any STEM related career because all other careers are not as good according to my parents).
I remember in third grade there was a quote hanged in my spacious blue painted classroom, so beautifully and vividly handwritten and decorated that I can still remember every color and flower pattern drawn in it, it was a quote from J.M Barrie’s The Little White Bird which said ” The reason birds can fly and we can’t is simply because they have perfect faith, for to have faith is to have wings.”
And so I had Faith… therefore I had wings.
When my family moved back to Sudan, I was heading to University, rested my wings in one Khartoum’s universities and thought this is where I can charge up with more knowledge so I can fly higher. Little did I know that in this society, flying is not for hen.
As i graduated and pursued a career in Non-Profit management (no I did not become a doctor or an engineer and yes my career is real too) with special focus on the causes of education and child and youth empowerment, life became bitter. I started to receive Questions, statements and empathetic advice regarding my career from both men and unfortunately WOMEN too, whether they were from family members, friends, male colleagues, even previous partners, here is a sample of those statements/questions/advice:
1- So where is this going to ?
2- This is just a phase. When you have a man you will stop caring about all this.
3- You are just doing it because you are bored and… (wait for it) lonely.
4- Do you think you are gonna be the president or something ?
5- So when does all this end ?
6- You are doing it to get a man.
7- You are actually repelling men from you this way.
8- Aren’t you afraid of intimidating your partner with all this?
and the list goes on and on and on… and I am sure so many of the working ladies in Sudan have to bear with even more destructive misogynistic comments and actions regarding their professional life.
Family and society pressure kept on mounting until I realized that I had no wings anymore. But everything changed when I accidentally became a teacher. I was seeing my old self from third grade, I found that quote and hung it in my classrooms, told my students that they all had wings to fly. But one day one of my students asked me, what if my wing falls, what do I do ? Her question triggered the answer i was looking for, I told her you can always look for it, and if you don’t find it, grow another one and keep on flying. And that was all the trigger I needed to pull myself together. I won’t lie, I fall back more frequent than i’d like, but I grow my wings back again. For all it takes is faith that you have wings.
As a Sudanese career driven and ambitious female I am always expected to have an ending to my career ambitions, how am I supposed to have ambitions or goals other than those already set to me by my society? we are made to believe that our main aim should always be to get married and have kids. I am a tool of reproduction for the continuation of the society they told me. Now NOTHING is wrong with aiming for a husband and a happy life with your own family, but it is wrong when its the aim that only society has set for you, when you just do it to tick the checklist of the ideal Sudanese women that you need to become to fit for that image you were always indoctrinated to believe, the image of a good woman.
Now Surely culturally engrained sexism is not something exclusive to our Sudanese community, and its not something recent either, it has been happening since my great grandmother’s time. Perhaps the way it had been addressed was different, as Maya Mikdashi once mentioned, Gender is not the study of what is evident, it is an analysis of how what is evident came to be. We create culture and It is our responsibility to change that culture if it becomes redundant. We should not tell our girls that their career and ambition is a “phase”, we should not raise daughters who believe that they cannot fly. We should always educate children of their wings, and that they can grow it back if it falls, because believe me, through that, you grow back your own wings too.