“My daughters will do better.” In a country where men are valued more than women, my parents had the wisdom to speak out and believe in their daughters, even if it meant being abandoned by their family.
It was a lovely August day and my entire family had just gathered to celebrate the annual Nepali festival of Teej. My relatives were dancing around in their colorful kurtas as the lyrics, “Teeja ko lahara ayo barilai,” echoed around the room. My cousins were running around excitedly awaiting all the treats they could eat and fun they could do without getting scolded. As the music blasted across the room, Saloni, my sister grabbed my mom’s arm and pulled her to the dance floor. My dad sat on one corner of the room and glazed at my mom as she danced and showed off her moves.
Despite this happy moment, I soon remembered that life wasn’t always easy for my mother. She wasn’t always allowed to dance to the tune of her own drumbeat. Born in a society where boys are valued more, my mom faced her own challenges for being a woman. Bringing up two daughters was even harder.
My mom was born in a family where girls were meant to do the household works and boys could go wherever they wanted. And while she had a chance to study until high school, her parents immediately forced her to marry a man she had never met or saw. Raised in the hilly region of Nepal, she was married to a man from the Terai region, where she was even more discriminated for being a woman. There she had to wake up at 2am, do all the households, then go to sleep at around 11pm. If she was late doing any of these works, she would be punished so severely that she feared even in her dreams.
After she got pregnant, everyone in the family was happy, not because she was pregnant, but thinking she could give them a son. When I was born, a girl, the family only started resenting her more. On a visit back home after my birth, my dad found out about his family’s treatment toward my mom and fought with them on her behalf. When the fight got worse, my grandma stopped and yelled:“The one who couldn’t give birth to a son shouldn’t have a loud voice.”
Hearing this, my dad replied, “Let’s see how your grandsons do in life. I can guarantee you that my daughter will do better than all of them.” That day, my mom, dad, and I headed to the bus station, bought three tickets, and came to Kathmandu to start a new life.
My parents rented a small shop for earning. My mom used to look after the shop while my dad drove a taxi. After couple of years, my sister was born. Having one more member in the family made the expense increase. So my parents started working harder and sleeping less. Having just two daughters, people would tell them to have another child, a son. But my dad and mom refused saying, “My daughters will do better.”
Giving us education has always been their first priority. They never bought nice clothes for themselves because they had to pay for our school fees. I still remember the time when they said to me, “Listen, if it’s for your studies and career, we would sell ourselves to get it for you.” And their hard work is slowing paying off. My parents made my sister and me the first ones to get a degree in their family—the same family who abandoned them for having a daughter—all because they believed in us. It is because of them that today I am an engineer and my sister is studying nursing.
Knowing the struggle they have made to break the cultural beliefs has made me care about my parents even more. My parents always taught me to be strong, no matter what the situation. And whenever, in any point of my life, I feel like quitting or become upset because of the barriers I face because I am a girl, I look up to my parents and feel satisfied. In the society where they were abandoned for not having a son, they brought up two successful daughters. If they chose daughters to a son knowing the consequences, why would I let them down?
My dad always said, “God has made every child equally and with the same effort. If you think God didn’t give you strength like boys, remember that boys can never be blessed with the capability to give birth. If you think girls can’t do what boys can, remember you are the first one in my family to graduate. If you think being a girl is your weakness, remember you survived in a society where people support boys even though they are wrong.”
While I’m in the middle of this thought, my mom pulls me in the dance floor, and I realize what a happy moment it is. I start dancing along with the crowd realizing that there’s nothing to be sad about now. My mom and dad are both happy and proud of what they have done. And we, their daughters, are more proud of what example they have set for our society.
Shivani Chhetri is a 2013 graduate of Women Leaders in Technology.