14 Apr

Chapter 9: Shedding light on forgotten struggles

Earlier, I posted Chapter 1-8 of my new series of blogs, which will collectively form an online book. Below, I have attached Chapter 9.

Chapter 9: Shedding light on forgotten struggles

Disclaimer: Disclaimer: Since this is primarily a fictional story, please do not take everything I write too seriously.

We took a brief respite, gathering some tea and cookies before returning to our seats, whereupon I continued my story. “You see, even in the early 2000s, there existed widespread inequality between women and men across the globe,” I said.

I continued: “Many are unaware or oblivious to this fact, but even in Europe, women possessed scarcely any rights until the 20th century dawned. As an illustration, let us examine the Netherlands, the country where I grew up and hold citizenship. In the Netherlands, women were denied the right to vote or any other rights, save for tending to their husbands and families. Remarkably, there once existed a law even in the Netherlands that mandated women to reside in the same dwelling as their spouses. Their responsibilities were confined to domestic duties; they were forbidden from seeking divorce, prohibited from owning property, and only permitted to purchase groceries for the care of their husbands. This oppressive state of affairs persisted until 1957, when the Incapacity of Women Act was finally abolished.

We even have a museum in the Netherlands that showcases these historical realities concerning women’s rights, serving as a sobering reminder of the struggles endured by generations of women before us. The exhibits paint a vivid picture of the challenges faced by our foremothers in their pursuit of basic freedoms and autonomy.

Years ago, in 2023, I remember the significant research by scientists O’Connor and Michaels. They uncovered an interesting phenomenon. Despite girls showing equal or better skills in subjects like math and science early on, boys consistently received more support and acknowledgment in these areas in the Western world. This pattern was troubling. It could lead to a situation where talented girls might underestimate themselves or choose fields where they felt more accepted. It was a wake-up call to the fact that even in the modern era, biases still existed, possibly holding back the full potential of young women.”

I took a break and looked away for a minute. With a sigh, I continued: “Even within my own family, despite their liberal and open-minded nature, the path to equality was not always smooth. The story of my father serves as a poignant example. In the small village where he grew up, traditional beliefs and customs held sway. Many of his neighbors vehemently opposed the idea of educating girls, viewing it as a violation of societal norms. However, my father saw things differently. He firmly believed that his sister, my aunt, deserved the same educational opportunities as her male counterparts. Undeterred by the resistance he faced, my father took matters into his own hands. Each morning, he would escort his sister to a school far away from the village, walking for hours to ensure her safe arrival. After her lessons concluded, he would dutifully return to accompany her back home. This routine, a testament to his unwavering commitment, was not enough to sway the perspectives of many villagers. Whispers of disapproval echoed through the streets, with some claiming that it was simply not right for a girl to receive an education. Tensions escalated, and eventually, my father found himself at a crossroads. After heartfelt conversations and family gatherings, he, along with his uncles, grandmother, and aunts, reached a difficult decision: they could no longer remain in a place that denied girls the fundamental right to learn.

With heavy hearts, my father’s family gathered their belongings and bid farewell to the village, starting a new journey to the main city of Herat. Their sole motivation was to provide the women in their family with a brighter future, one where education was not a privilege reserved for one gender alone.

This personal account underscores a harsh reality – the struggle for women’s rights and equal access to education has been long and arduous, spanning generations and transcending geographical boundaries. Even in the modern era, a video circulating on YouTube caught my attention, reminding me that the fight for gender equality is an ongoing battle. This video poignantly highlighted the continued challenges faced by girls in various parts of the world, where access to education remains a distant dream. It served as a sobering reminder that, while progress has been made, much work remains to ensure that every child, regardless of gender, has the opportunity to learn, grow, and reach their full potential.

So, to return to the main topic, growing up, I always dreamed of a new kind of world where a young girl’s passion for physics or computer programming was met with the same enthusiasm and support as her male peers. I envisioned classrooms where teachers worked hard to break stereotypes and boost the confidence of their female students. These educators would inspire young women to fearlessly pursue their dreams, free from self-doubt or hesitation.”

“However, I have to admit that my own life was quite different from that of many girls, as I mentioned before,” I continued. “Raised among entrepreneurs and open-minded individuals, and due to traveling a lot, as I had previously mentioned, I was exposed to a multitude of approaches towards women from around the globe. This exposure left me feeling quite weird at times. Outside the confines of Afghanistan, I enjoyed a level of freedom that I could scarcely have imagined, receiving even more support and motivation than the young men around me. But in many countries, I felt like I was less than a man, that I would never be good enough to pursue the same high dreams as a man would.”

I took some tea and continued: “I remember vividly the encouragement I received from my family and mentors, who relentlessly championed my curiosity and thirst for knowledge. They instilled in me a belief that no pursuit was off-limits, no field of study too daunting or unconventional. Whether it was the intricacies of physics or the vast expanse of computer programming, I was urged to explore, to question, and to push the boundaries of what was conventionally expected of a young woman. This unwavering support was not merely confined to words; it manifested in tangible actions and opportunities. I was provided with access to resources, exposure to role models, and a nurturing environment that allowed my passions to flourish. While others might have faced skepticism or discouragement, I was met with a resounding chorus of affirmation, a constant reminder that my dreams were valid and worthy of pursuit.”

I paused and sighed once again before continuing, “Despite all the opportunities, as I matured and my mother’s need for my presence grew, I found myself spending an increasing amount of time with my parents. Inevitably, this meant that I was immersed in the realities of Afghanistan, a land that had become my new home.

It also meant that eventually, I had to bid farewell to my uncle Sulaiman as well, a man who had deeply influenced my life with his unwavering support and guidance. As I stood before him, I recalled our last conversation, where his gentle eyes held a depth of wisdom that surpassed mere words, leaving an indelible mark on my heart.

“My dear child,” he began, his voice resonating with a warmth that enveloped my very soul. “I hope that life has in store for you a future filled with joy and fulfillment. I understand the challenges you will face in spending time in Afghanistan, but never allow circumstances to dictate your path,” he said with a slightly saddened voice while bidding farewell to me.

He paused, allowing his words to sink in, and then continued, “Remember the lessons you have learned thus far, and never forget that it is better to try and fail than to live your entire life wondering what might have been if you had taken that chance. Live your life without regrets, embrace every moment to its fullest, for you are a precious soul gracing this earth for but a fleeting moment.”

Uncle Sulaiman’s gaze held deep understanding as he urged, “Contribute to the world around you; your good deeds will come back to you. Your actions will affect others more than you know. Always keep in mind that every obstacle presents an opportunity, a chance to close one door and open new, better ones in the end. Therefore, never allow circumstances to hinder you from pursuing your dreams in life.”

With those heartfelt words, he embraced me tightly, his warmth enveloping me like a comforting blanket. As he released me and turned to leave, a sense of finality lingered in the air, for at that moment, I did not know that I would not see him again until the year 2026.”

I paused and then continued, “So there I was, immersing myself in the harsh reality of Afghanistan, praying daily for God to grant me a new homeland, far removed from the turmoil—a place where I could transcend the limitations of being merely an Afghan woman, a land where I could accomplish great things not only for myself but for all humanity around me.

As if in answer to my supplications, when I reached the tender age of thirteen, whispers began to circulate that our time in Afghanistan was nearing its end. Political tensions had escalated to an unbearable degree, forcing my parents to abandon all they had painstakingly built, once more. Before I could fully grasp the gravity of the situation, we found ourselves transported to Amsterdam, the vibrant heart of the Netherlands.

The transition from the arid landscapes of Afghanistan to the lush, verdant surroundings of Amsterdam was jarring yet exhilarating. The city pulsed with a vibrant energy that infused every aspect of life, from the winding canals adorned with colorful houseboats to the bustling streets teeming with a tapestry of cultures.

My memories of those initial days are hazy, but one encounter stands out vividly. A police officer instructed us on our first day in the Netherlands to make our way to an identification headquarters, somewhere in Almelo, where we could formalize our stay in the country.

As so many years have passed, the finer details of our arrival have already faded in my mind, but the experience in Almelo remains etched in my memory. We were housed in white tents that resembled party tents, exposed to the relentless rain and stormy weather. Our temporary shelters were very small and furnished with beds, where we were forced to share cramped quarters with complete strangers. I remember that I could not sleep at all during those days we stayed there.

For a girl accustomed to opulence, a life where money flowed freely and desires were effortlessly fulfilled, the stark reality of Almelo was indeed a harsh awakening. The mere thought of standing in line, clutching a tray, to receive a meal of some cooked rice and chicken – no matter how well-prepared – was an alien concept, as I was not used to this kind of lifestyle.

Even though our stay in Almelo lasted only a few days, the emotional toll was immense. I wept bitterly, unable to reconcile this new existence with the life I had envisioned. My mother, my pillar of strength, remained by my side, offering solace and reassurance. “Be grateful that we are together,” she would say, her voice unwavering. “This is merely temporary. Soon, we will reclaim the good life, and you will once again have everything your heart desires, just as you were accustomed to.” Her words, though comforting, could not entirely dispel the disorienting sense of displacement that had taken root within me. Yet, in the midst of this upheaval, a glimmer of hope persisted – the promise of a brighter future, where the comforts of our past would be restored, and the trials of the present would fade into distant memory.”

Click here for Chapter 10.


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