In a country where men are valued more than women, Shivani's parents believed in their daughters—even when it meant being abandoned by their family.
“If they could choose daughters over a son, even knowing the social consequences, how could I let them down?”
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 “Teej ko rahara aayo barilai” echoed throughout the room. My young cousins were running around excitedly awaiting all the treats they could eat and fun they could have without getting scolded.
As the music blasted across the room, Saloni, my sister, grabbed my mom by the arm and pulled her to the dance floor. My dad sat off to the side and gazed admiringly at my mom as she danced and showed off her moves.
Despite this happy moment, I suddenly found myself remembering how life hadn’t always been easy for my mother. She hadn’t always been allowed to dance to the tune of her own drumbeat. Born into a society where boys are valued more than girls, my mom faced difficult challenges being a woman. Bringing up two daughters was even harder.
In my mother’s family, girls were meant to stay home and do the household work, while boys could go wherever they wanted. And while she did have the chance to study until high school, immediately afterward her parents forced her to marry a man she had never met or seen.
My mother was raised in the hilly region of Nepal, but this man was from the Terai region. Here she was even more discriminated against for being a woman. She had to wake up at 2 am to begin her work in the household, and then continued working until around 11 pm, when she could finally go to sleep. If she was late doing any of her work, her new family punished her so severely that she was afraid even in her dreams.
After she got pregnant, though, everyone in the family was happy. They were expecting her to give them a son. But when I was born, a girl, they started resenting her even more than before.
At the time, my dad worked outside the country, in Delhi, India. So it was after my birth, on a visit back home, when he discovered his family’s treatment of my mom. He 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.
In Kathmandu, my parents rented a small shop to sell groceries for a living. My mom used to look after the shop while my dad drove a taxi for additional income. After a couple years, my sister was born. Having one more member in the family increased our expenses, so my parents started working harder and sleeping less.
People would tell my parents to have another child, a son. But my dad and mom refused, always saying, “My daughters will do better.”
Giving us an education has always been their first priority. My parents 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.”
Their hard work is slowing paying off. My sister and I are the first in our family to get degrees—the same family that abandoned my parents for having a daughter. It is because our parents believed in us that today I am an engineer and my sister is studying nursing.
Knowing how they have struggled to break with the cultural belief that falsely claims girls are inferior to boys has made me look up to my parents even more. They always taught me to be strong, no matter the situation. And whenever I feel like quitting or become upset because of the barriers I face because I am female, I think of my parents and am revitalized.
In a society where they were abandoned for not having a son, they brought up two successful daughters. If they could choose daughters over a son, even knowing the social consequences, how could 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.”
That August day, as I watched my mother dance at the festival, she came over and pulled me onto the dance floor, and I realized what a happy moment this was. I danced along with the crowd and realized that there is nothing to be sad about now. My mom and dad are both happy and proud of what they have done. They are proud of us. And we, their daughters, are even prouder of the example they have set for our society.