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How Ayesha Begum inspires me

42 years ago, Ayesha Begum* was surrounded by women who completed tertiary-level education and contributed to the society in numerous ways. Naturally, she was inspired to have a life like that. However, her road towards education was mired with difficulties. Firstly, she was forced by local customs and her family to study medicine, an academic discipline which she was not comfortable with. It reflected in her grades as she failed exams one after another. Events of failure gnawed away at her confidence. Eventually, she dropped out of high school.

The solution to this internal barrier is to allow a woman to discover her interests and capabilities so that she could pursue a field of study or a career of her own choice. It was (and is still, to some extent) customary to venerate the study of medicine, undermining all other career choices. World Pulse weekly reading states: “Social and cultural barriers still exist, steering women away from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields.” While I agree women should not be discouraged from STEM fields based on societal imaginary limitations of a woman’s interest and capacity, I feel it is more appropriate to emphasize on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) rather than STEM. Lisa Phillips discusses the benefits of such an emphasis in her book “The Artistic Edge: 7 Skills Children Need to Succeed in an Increasingly Right Brain World.”

Literature on Political Science suggests: “Leaders must be ready to accept changes and adopt adjustments.” Therefore, a woman must be trained to accept failures and to continue despite setbacks. Self-development training on anger management, self-esteem, and the likes, which is usually delivered by informal or private institutions in Bangladesh, must be increasingly made part of national curriculum.

Secondly, Ayesha Begum was held back by her husband. After marriage, she decided to complete her high school graduation, studying the unconventional Arts and Commerce subjects that she enjoyed. However, she was met with incessant emotional manipulations by her husband who asked her, sometimes harshly, to concentrate solely on her husband, in-laws, and children as is the social norm to this day. Ironically, Ayesha’s husband was probably not aware of the fact that “The education of parents is linked to their children’s educational attainment, and the mother’s education is usually more influential than the father’s. An educated mother’s greater influence in household negotiations may allow her to secure more resources for her children.” (UNFPA)

The traditional definition of marriage is flawed. Marriage is propagated as the conclusion, rather than an evolving plot, of a woman’s story. After all, what is the value of education when she will not be permitted to translate the education into a career, into tangible results that society could marvel at? In many cultures, it is a hard-and-fast rule for a woman to ask permission from (not consult with) male family members while making many of the major decisions of her life, for example pertaining to marriage and education, that will shape her fate.

The solutions to such societal barriers is for women to defy the odds, challenge the traditional definitions of marriage, achieve their dreams, set examples for others, and engage people globally in a discussion about the benefits of education. An even bolder step would be for women to resort to legal means. The marriage contract, instead of having provisions for dowry, must specify clearly that the woman’s rights to education must be protected. Breach of contract must be a punishable offence by law. Law enforcement must be stringent.

While Ayesha succumbed to marital pressures, her daughter (i.e. myself) is determined to challenge some of the age-old traditions that plague our society. Since childhood, I have witnessed my mother being an object of ridicule, ironically even by her husband, due to her incomplete education. She finds it difficult to communicate and adapt to an ever-changing world. She is hardly aware of women’s rights and chooses not to participate in the women’s empowerment movement.

Here is where my role begins. I am studying and will continue to study what I want and as much as I want. While it remains a taboo for women to travel alone or study abroad, I have attended an UNFPA conference in Bali alone and plan to pursue higher education abroad on merit-based and financial need-based scholarships. As a journalist, I am committed to bringing social issues, especially gender-based violence epidemic, at the forefront of media discussions. My mother now knows how to operate a mobile phone and knows some of the women’s rights, such as the right to protest.

* Name has been changed to protect her privacy

This story was written for World Pulse’s Girls Transform the World Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring girls greater access to education which will transform their lives, their families, and communities. The Girls Transform Campaign elicits insightful content from young women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as women, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
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Comments

IamTruth's picture

Wow, such excellent

Wow, such excellent articulation! The statement, "Marriage is propagated as the conclusion, rather than an evolving plot, of a woman’s story," has really taken root in mind. And you are so right, because if marriage is the ultimate achievement for a woman, then the value of her education would be bound only within the ambit of that marriage. And, haven't we seen that even within that construct her choices can be limited?

There really needs to be a paradigm shift in the way women are regarded. Taking this step in raising our voices and standing up for not only ourselves but for the women before us, the ones who remain voiceless, and moreso for the future generations of women is a great way forward.

Love and blessings,

IamTruth,
(Al)

Monica09's picture

Thank you

Thank you Al! Your comments are always encouraging.

Best,
Monica

William's picture

educating girls

Hi Monica,
Thank you for your article. I heard a lot about cultural and social expectations in your mother's story. What is expected from a wife, common around the world, is being submissive and quiet. Straying from this expectations often leads to beatings and abuse.
You mentioned changing the marriage expectations. I'm not sure this is a reasonable goal, as your culture has been forcing women to comply or else. I encourage you to speak out and attempt some small changes. I think this will amount to educating men especially. My experience in raising daughters has shown me that they were ready and willing to risk to become someone, if given the chance. Keep up the good work and keep us updated at World Pulse of any programs that are succeeding. Blessings.

Monica09's picture

Changing marriage expectations

Dear Mr. William,

Thank you for leaving a comment!

I agree it is difficult (often risky) to change the status-quo when it comes to marriage expectations but it is also essential because the current expectations are taking a heavy toll on the lives of women. Take the example of Hawa Akhter Jui. Her right hand was hacked off by her husband simply because she wanted to continue her education. (More on this story here: http://archive.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=219262)

New social ideals can be established by, as you too have stated, speaking out and attempting incremental changes, such as educating men. It seems daunting to challenge and change age-old traditions related to marriage within a restrictive culture, but it can be possible through media discussions and education, in a slow but continuous process.

I shall certainly keep you updated about the status of women in Bangladesh.

Warm regards,
Monica

William's picture

educating girls

Dear Monica, thanks for your comments. I want to encourage you to work steadily toward some small goals, like a number of parents who attend "parenting" classes, where female rights and equality are covered. Changing how a male-dominated culture thinks will take years/generations to accomplish, so be prepared to invest for the long-term. Blessings.

Monica09's picture

Nice idea!

Dear Mr. William,

Thank you for that brilliant idea! Currently, as part of the final VOF assignment, I am listing down some of the ideas/pilot programs that I would like to implement, and I am sure I can incorporate that idea into the list.

Warm regards,
Monica

aimeeknight's picture

Thank you for sharing your

Thank you for sharing your mother's story and the powerful impact she has had in your life. She must be proud of your determination! This is a true statement, "The traditional definition of marriage is flawed. Marriage is propagated as the conclusion, rather than an evolving plot, of a woman’s story." I wish you well with your story!

"One shoe can change a life" ~ Cinderella

Monica09's picture

Thank you!

Dear Ms. Aimee,

Thank you so much for the good wishes!

Warm regards,
Monica

Aurore's picture

Your mum must be so proud of

Your mum must be so proud of you. It is always great to be able to pursue some your parents' dreams - as long as those dreams fit what you are and what you want from life. I wish you all the best in your future endeavours to study abroad, this is such a great experience!

Warmly,
Aurore

Monica09's picture

Thank you!

Dear Aurore,

Thank you for the good wishes!

Regards,
Monica

turtledove100's picture

You have some great ideas

Thank you for sharing your story Monica; it is truly inspirational. Your courage to defy social norms and pursue whatever studies you want, to whatever degree you want speaks volumes about your character! There is no doubt in my mind that you will change lives--yours and others--for the better wherever you go.

I was particularly moved by your statement "After all, what is the value of education when she will not be permitted to translate the education into a career, into tangible results that society could marvel at?" Indeed, we all have gifts to give and unique ideas to share and education is a means to be able to do so and we must continue to support and empower each other so that we may rise up and ensure that every woman and child can express themselves, despite what the cultural norms might be!

Good luck in your endeavors and thank you for fighting the good fight.

Kind regards,
Debbie

"Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach" (Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author and poet)

Monica09's picture

Contributing to society

Dear Debbie,

Thank you for taking the time to read and to leave such wonderful comments!

Regards,
Monica

jacquesato's picture

You're on the right track

Dear Monica:
I enjoyed reading your article, you're smart, articulate and have a bright future ahead. You have the power to achieve your dreams, indeed! I'd love to hear more about the women's movement in your country (and what are its most important achievements so far). Also, what kind of legal measures are being implemented to protect women’s rights to education?
Regards,

Jacqueline

Monica09's picture

Women's movement and education

Dear Jacqueline,

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment!

Bangladesh is undoubtedly improving in every sector that we can think of. For instance, it has reached MDG 4: http://visual.ly/bangladeshs-achievement-child-survival

You might find the following short article interesting: http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21565627-lessons-achievements%E2%8...

On a micro-level, more women are receiving education and joining the workforce. Every day, I come across many ambitious women who not only think of their role as a mother or an employee, but also as a global change-maker. It is not a taboo anymore for women, as it was during the generation of my mother and grandmother, to step outside their homes and to make their own decisions. In short, the most important achievement so far has been the visibility of women in important roles indoors as well as outdoors.

In terms of education, 5 year primary education is mandatory (state responsibility) for all. The government bears full cost and even provides free text-books. Government also runs intervention programs such as Stipend for Girl Students at secondary schools. Girls' enrollment in primary schools has increased by 50% within a span of 10 years (1991-2000).

However, despite making incremental achievements and having sufficient laws for women's empowerment and protection, gender-based violence continues unabated, crippling a woman's desire and means to participate in the society. For instance, Rumana Manzur (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rumana_Monzur) and Jui Akhter were both physically attacked because they wanted to continue their education. Not surprisingly, girls' enrollment for tertiary education stands at 32.6% (Bachelor's level) and 26.3% (Master's level).

NGOs, such as Grameen Bank, BRAC, and Jaago, are trying to alleviate gender disparity. For instance, BRAC trains females to drive (we hardly have female drivers in Bangladesh). Jaago has its women empowerment program whereby underprivileged women create products that are then distributed to local and international markets.

What similarities do you see between US and Bangladesh with respect to the aforementioned issues?

Warm regards,
Monica

Y's picture

Dear Monica, This post is a

Dear Monica,
This post is a masterpiece of problem solving ideas that I believe could work. I, too, am a proponent of the legal issues of marriage being taken seriously. It seems to me that conflict resolution, parenting, and anger management classes, for men and women, should be mandatory before a marriage license is issued. It also seems to me that a trust should be set up in which a percentage of the family income is invested for the care of the children, in the event of divorce, death, or disability.

It bothers me a great deal that clerics are performing the legal ceremonies for marriage in my country. The legal and religious issues of marriage and family are each too important to rush through them. The children are the ones who ultimately suffer in the crossfire.

I, too, married young and had children when I had no marketable skills. It is natural for resentment to set in when one partner is seen as unequal in protecting the family. I had no way, after the births of my children to concentrate on my education, as this would have cost considerable money and taken me away from my home duties.

It is so exciting to me that I can now educate myself on any topic I desire from the comfort of my own home, via the internet. I am so proud of my baby sister (also a mother of a grown daughter), who continues to earn graduate level degrees from online university programs, while she works full-time.

I am able to earn my own money, as you have pointed out, through online business ventures. I have been given the gift of time to study and help others through a loving supportive husband, my third. I must admit that I made it my business to become economically able and to develop a clear idea of what I wanted in a mate in my life before I met this man. He is my partner in every aspect of my life, even though he shares no blood with my grown daughter, son, or grandchildren.

You seem to be brave and a clear thinker. I wish you all the blessings life has to offer.

Yvette

Yvette

Monica09's picture

Interesting thoughts

Dear Ms. Yvette,

If I understand correctly, by various pre-marriage classes, you mean perhaps a matrimonial course/training covering various aspects that keep a relationship alive. It's a great idea and I have come across a few Islamic organizations providing such courses/training for free (because some Muslims mistakenly believe that marriage, sexuality, etc. are taboo topics). A problem however is the difficulty to measure the success of these programs. Do trainees really absorb/practice the materials? For the time being, based on what I've read somewhere that ethical trainings for example do bring about a change in individuals, I'd like to hope they do and advocate for an increase in such programs at least in Bangladesh.

Establishing a trust for the welfare of women and children is greatly needed but perhaps such a trust is best established by the government and corporations. In India, a proposal was made by Women and Child Development Ministry that husbands be legally obligated to pay a fixed monthly amount for doing daily household chores. While it sounds fair initially, I feel it is morally unacceptable and socially impractical to force a husband to bear family expenses (shouldn't he be doing this by choice?). We must also encourage women to be economically empowered and to change this flawed societal perception that only men can earn and control finances.

Best wishes for your education and business ventures! Your experience reminds me of my first VOF application assignment on the endless, mostly positive, possibilities that the Web offers women: http://worldpulse.com/node/68228

"I made it my business to become economically able and to develop a clear idea of what I wanted in a mate in my life before I met this man."

I am happy that I think across the same lines. Support of spouse/family is crucial to the well-being of women. I certainly don't want my spouse to feel threatened by my interests and abilities.

Can't wait to hear more from you!

Warmly,
Monica

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