“Education is education. We should learn everything and then choose which path to follow.”
― Malala Yousafzai
It was the early 1990s and I can distinctly remember my aunt sobbing as we drove her to Heathrow Airport. She rarely spoke and cried throughout the two hour journey. Fast forward to the millennium as my sister locked herself away in her room and cried for days, so loud that you could hear her from anywhere in our two storey holiday home in Bangladesh. These are just some of my memories of a young woman preparing for married life. An arranged marriage life that is.
At 31, I am the oldest female in this family to remain unmarried and to have somehow avoided an arranged marriage. I firmly believe that marriage should be an individual’s decision and an event in one’s life that represents true love and commitment. My family and culture however disagree. With Bengalis, marriage is the only foreseeable path that a young girl must follow. Everything else is secondary. Daughters are groomed to become good wives from an early age so it doesn’t surprise me to see so many young girls today thinking about marriage as a way of escaping their lives. Young Bengali girls have to live a much more restricted life than those of their male siblings and of course those of other ethnicities. They are limited in what they can do and are expected to take care of the household like their mothers do. From what they wear to who they socialise with, everything in their lives is closely monitored. Bengali girls can only dream of freedom.
Instead of thinking about their studies, that dream job or a successful career, girls dream about the perceived freedom marriage will bring. For them, marriage is an escape. But what awaits them is a way of life no different to before. From good dutiful daughter, they become the good wife and in most cases good daughter in law as are they expected to take care of their new family. I have nothing against those who choose to marry, if that is what they want to do. What saddens me is the lack of choices these girls are given. They don’t have the option to choose a different life because it has already been chosen for them.
I never understood why my sister talked so much about getting married at such a young age. I didn’t realise at the time being only 10 years old that as a young Bengali girl, her options were limited. She wasn’t allowed to study at university because as a Bengali girl, it was her duty to marry. My aunt was unable to take her GCSE exams because her marriage was arranged and education was not a priority. What will she do with qualifications when all she will be is a housewife?
What would happen if young girls weren’t expected to become wives and mothers and they were given the opportunity to decide for themselves? Imagine what a young girl is capable of doing if she is encouraged to study and follow her dreams. Imagine what that young girl can achieve. Imagine what kind of woman she can become if she is allowed to flourish. Where life can take her if she is trusted to make her own decisions and choices. I am so passionate about educating young Bengali girls because I believe that education was my freedom. It was my escape from the traditions and customs of this culture. It gave me a voice and opened my eyes to the endless possibilities of the world because I didn’t come in to this world just to be somebody’s wife. I came in to this world to be a somebody.