This story is part of World Pulse’s Girls Transform the World digital action campaign
World Pulse believes that when girls and their champions are heard, they will transform the world. The Girls Transform the World campaign showcases solutions and unites grassroots voices speaking out for the rights of girls worldwide.
We have heard from hundreds of girls, women, and male allies around the world and collected their voices, ideas, passions, and cries. These incredible stories are now impacting policy and transforming the world, so that girls everywhere can aspire to the education of their dreams.
AFGHANISTAN: The Cost of My Freedom
When Zahra Saifey went off to university, she knew she would gain knowledge. She didn’t know she would shed the security blanket of her restrictive background to claim her autonomy and radically alter her worldview.
Once, I was on the rooftop with my mother when suddenly I saw a bird sitting in the corner. "I wish to have that bird!" I said. My mother heard me and wanted to make my wish come true. She slowly approached the bird and caught it with her hands. What panic! The little bird was trying to set itself free, but my mother held on tightly. Its little heart beat so fast.
My mother asked me to fetch scissors. "What can scissors do?" I asked. She said, "If you cut the feathers of a bird’s wings, the bird won’t fly until the feathers grow again. During that time, the bird forgets what it is to fly freely and will become tamed. It will be yours; even if you set it free to fly in the sky, it will come to you after flying for awhile."
When I was a little girl, my mother made my wishes come true and my father was my teacher. He could answer all my questions about God, angels, and everything else. His teachings satisfied my curiosity, and his being satisfied my need for love, friendship, and knowledge.
Unlike other girls, I did not have many problems with my parents growing up. They allowed me to spend time with friends; they support my beliefs. My parents were proud of us for being their children—their followers.
Later in life, I was sent to Asian University for Women in Bangladesh in order to bring pride and honor to my parents—to become an educated and wise girl. Again, I felt my parents were the best parents in the world, for they had let their children be free to choose their own way of life.
I was proud of myself for being granted such a chance—freedom to be away from home! Freedom to study! To be me! However, when I arrived at university I encountered an entirely new world. So many different ideas, beliefs, and cultures! I realized how limited my world had been.
I still love my parents deeply, but I doubt the freedom they granted me—the freedom I believed I had as a child. Before going to university, I was blind. I could not see the world as it is. I saw it through my parents’ eyes: They had carved their shoulds and shouldn’ts into my brain when my mind was young and naïve.
Now, I understand what it meant when the charity collector would not take my second hand clothes dress because it was old fashioned. Now, I understand why I feel more comfortable with my mother than I do with friends my own age. Now, I realize what my father meant when he told me that girls who do not cover their hair go to hell.
My parents tamed my wild and restless soul with their stories, their advice, and their warnings. They have chained my soul to what they call society’s norms and cultures. They have enslaved my brain by their rules. I had no friends to talk with, no place to go, nothing to enjoy. I had only my parents and my family to be with, to see, to learn from, and to ask from. They have made me another version of themselves.
The safe and secure environment of home was, in fact, a prison cell for me that separated me from the larger world. I have realized that I was let free the way that little bird was let free. I was set free because my parents are sure that I will come back to them, with no change, no growth, and no opposition toward them. I can live here in Bangladesh because my mind and heart are tied to my family.
However, my wild soul is not content with this definition of freedom. I have learnt that what cultures usually call "good" or "bad" is not really good or bad. It’s only about common or uncommon. I have learnt that religion is not terrorizing other people’s lives. I have learnt that when education comes, the world changes. Education brings understanding, tolerance, and goodwill to people.
That day on the rooftop, the little bird did not wait for me to come at him with the scissors. He flew away. Just as he escaped, I am trying to use what I have learned to unchain my mind. I don’t want to live in artificial freedom. I want to be free to love, free to speak, free to help, to learn, to ….
I want to fly away from the boundaries and break from the cage of safety. I want to educate myself to see the world through my eyes.