I’ve had a lucky life.
Yes, like many others before me, I’ve had my share of hardships and heartbreaks along the way. I’ve cleaned stinky hotel toilets to pay for rent. I’ve kept a diet of stale noodles for years, hoarding every penny to pay for college tuition. I’ve spent many a lonely night wishing I had someone with whom to share my dreams and my fears. Also, like many others before me, I’ve had a dysfunctional childhood I’d rather forget, but in the end, while life’s been a bit rough, I feel that I’ve been lucky. Very lucky.
At nineteen, I walked out of a negative, hurtful environment, got myself to school, then started working, made a living, gained my independence and most importantly, made a new life of my own making. It was hope that kept me going. Hope for a better future, a better life. Now I’m grateful to live in a country where for the most part, I can walk on the streets or get on a bus without being groped or harassed, unlike girls in many other places in the world. I also know in this country I’m safe in my own home and can always call and depend on help if I ever need. I also know that at work, I can be a contributing member of a team and speak up in the boardroom without being silenced, unlike women in many parts of the world.
Of course, my world isn’t perfect, but I know the main thing that comes between my achievements and myself, is myself. Only myself. As long as I have the conviction and put my sweat and my brain to it, I can do anything. I’m convinced of it. So I wake up every day feeling lucky. So lucky.
Sadly, life is different for millions of girls and women around the world. They don’t get half the chances I have. While I grew up in an environment where girls were clearly not equal to boys and women had their place – in the back –, at least I got to go to school. Many girls aren’t allowed to learn, sidelined by families and communities who believe their sons deserve a better chance. Other girls, not past their adolescence, children really, get married off to men who are twice or thrice their age. These girls lose their innocence, never getting a chance to be a child, to play, to laugh, to learn, or to grow up in safe company. Then there are others who get forced into female circumcision, something too horrifying to even contemplate. And then others get beaten, raped, acid thrown on their faces and live lives of terror, a kind of life I have a hard time imagining still exists on this earth of ours. I’ve known one father who sold his eight year old daughter to a brothel so he could buy a large screen TV. In these societies, girls are secondary, if not tertiary, beings. Their value, insignificant. Well, perhaps worth the price of a television set.
These little girls live lives of quiet desperation, heart breaking isolation, with little knowledge of their own world around them. They have no say in what happens to them, their bodies, their children, their futures. Modern slaves, is what they are. At least, that’s what I call them. My heart goes out to them and I wish I could do something. I don’t want to cover my eyes and pretend this is not happening, or live a life of ignorance and indifference. For now, I pledge to write. I will write loudly and vociferously. And even if one little girl gets inspired from my stories, maybe, just maybe she’ll learn that she has the right to say no. No to stopping school. No to forced marriage. No to being carted off to a brothel. And fight back with whatever might she has. If more voices rise with her and more join in her fight, maybe others will listen. Maybe they will start to take notice and begin to understand the impact of their decisions on the most vulnerable of our families and societies.
I imagine a world where I don’t feel like I’ve won the lottery in life. Every child should have the same chances that I’ve had. I imagine a world where a girl can dream to fly and soar above whatever life has dished out to her, and make her dreams come true. I imagine a world where young girls and boys can together, laugh, learn, grow and become strong and confident, and be equally contributing members of our society.
Yes, I have been lucky. I wish all the little girls in our world would have the same chances I have had.
This story is dedicated to all the little girls of the world. Dare to dream. Dream big. May your dreams take flight and give you the joys you wish for. May you never, ever stop dreaming.