By Tessy Aura via UN Online Volunteers
In my culture, a woman belonging to one is not celebrated and rarely tolerated. The consensus is that when a girl is born she belongs to her father or her brothers and when she is of age, she is then given away to another man, her husband who is now responsible for her.
Growing up I remember hearing countless stories about women being evicted from their matrimonial homes just to return back to their birth homes to be rejected there as well;
Stories about girls who spoke out of turn and thus never got married or got divorced; stories about women who suffered immensely because they never found a man to love them enough to take care of them physically, emotionally, mentally and financially;
Stories that served to warn me against being too independent or else risk being alone and being banished to a life of economic destitution.
The consensus being that there is no silver lining to being an independent woman. Further, not having a father, brother or husband in your life to manage your independence was the quickest road to poverty.
The other day I learned that our language does not even accept the ownership of property or the implication of it by women. I was visiting my grandmother, and when it was time to leave I told my uncle, “It is time for me to go back to my place.”
And surprised he asked, “Are you married now?” and I responded “what does that have to do with me going home?”
He made me aware that when a woman says that she has a home or a place, it is assumed that she is either referring to her parents’ home or her husbands’ home and since my mother was in a different country they knew I was not going there so the latter option was the only possible one.
But in actuality, I was going back to my apartment that I religiously paid rent for every month so while I didn’t own it, the only other human being who contributed any money towards it was a woman, my mother, who had been paying her own rent since she was in her 20s and owns multiple homes and properties that are in her name and her name alone– with money she earned.
So, I asked my uncle, “what about when my mother says she is going home?” He and the other men in the room all laughed and said that my mother was an exception and not the rule and that I needed to change how I spoke, be less argumentative, and more docile if I ever wanted to get married and not go through the same suffering my mother did.
I had always had trouble internalizing these stories and practices as the norm because I was raised by a single mother who defied these odds; a woman who was independent, a woman who despite the death of her father and the absence of her child’s father was able to celebrate herself and not tolerate anyone, irrespective of their gender, putting her down.
Further, when I was old enough to understand my grandmother told me stories about the adversity she had to go through to ensure that the income she earned went towards educating her children and not my grandfather’s pockets to decide how the money was handled.
The women in my blood have prioritized education and independence and strived to make that our legacy.
It is this being the reality for the future generations of women that my mother and her mother have fought for and not the cultural practices upheld in my community that contributed to me having my first job at the age of 16, completing high school and going to college and subsequently attaining a Masters’ degree by the age of 23.
For every remark about my intelligence and independence being a flaw, I was encouraged to sharpen my skills, read more and work harder to achieve all that I wanted in life.
For every time I was ridiculed for being too smart, and every time I tried to “dumb it down” to be more feminine and confer to men as the only possible authorities in the room, my mother insisted that I speak up and let my presence be known. For every time, I was told to focus more on being pretty and silent to attract men, I was motivated to be opinionated.
So although, the stories the masses chose to share are of women who were doomed for their intelligence and independence, the consensus of the women in my family has been that it is imperative to share their success stories about their intelligence and independence and that is why my story is one that defies those tales.
Through not shaming me and instead sharing with me their stories about their choices and struggles and how they have all contributed into making them the woman that they are today, they have shaped the woman that I am today.
They have instilled in me the same legacy of sharing to make a difference, sharing to inspire, and most of all sharing to encourage acceptance and freedom.