It was early September 2007; I had just received my exam results for my secondary school test (thnawiya alamma). I was overly excited for my future as my father had promised that I would be allowed to travel to Malaysia for my bachelor’s degree. I didn’t bother about the grades, after all, my father would pay for my higher education just as he had done for my elder brother. But much to my surprise, this was not how things would turn out.
I still recall that Friday evening in September, my father and uncle had called me downstairs to the living room to share their verdict on whether or not I could travel abroad. My father had never looked so serious. Little did I know that the words he was about to say would change who I was forever. “My daughter” I recalled him say, “I know you have always wanted to study abroad but I don’t think this is the right path for you as a girl, you need to stay close to your family and eventually find a good suitor.” He had discussed with my uncle and they had decided that I was too young to travel abroad alone. It had only been three years since we moved to Yemen. My father wanted me to get to know my culture better, make good friends and find a good husband. I was devastated and felt betrayed as this was not our original plan. I thought my father would treat me equally to my brother who was already in Malaysia undertaking his bachelor’s degree. But for the first time, I realized that this was not the case. My gender restricted me and I would always be treated differently. I was torn from the inside and cried a lot, I had no other choice but to accept his decision. After all, I thought to myself my grades were not good enough to guarantee a good scholarship. After weeks of thinking it through, I decided that this would be the last time I would ever depend on anyone to help me achieve my goals. I decided from this point forward that I would work even harder and I should walk toward the path I knew that would make me even happier.
Forcing myself to be content with the decision that was enforced upon me, I went on to find a university in Yemen that offered programs in English and I applied for Information technology (IT). I signed up for community service as an extra-curriculum activity with my university and I began to work on projects that would help Yemeni people. For the first time in a very long time, I felt I was truly alive. I was doing something I felt genuinely passionate about. I was very active and loved interacting and helping people.
My mother always hated how extremely social I was. I would always get scolded for being out too late or spending too much time with my friends partaking in one activity or the other. Fortunately, I was always on the dean’s list and was one of the top students in my class.As a result she was never able to use my grades as an excuse. While studying and taking part in extra-curriculum activities, I was on the lookout for any opportunity to develop my myself towards my dreams. To my luck, in the middle of my second year in university, I came across a scholarship program.
It was an exchange study program on developing women’s leadership skills in the U.S and it was exactly what I needed to become empowered. Without a second thought, I applied. A few weeks later, I received a call informing me that I had been accepted for the scholarship. At that moment, I felt both gratitude and extreme satisfaction. I finally made it, this was the first step to prove that I could walk my own path. No more disappointment or relying on others to help me achieve my dreams. Albeit the fact that my happiness was short-lived, I remembered that I had to seek permission from my father. For weeks, I racked my brains over how I’d tell him about it.
I finally mustered up the courage to text him, as I never had the courage to speak to him, and patiently awaited for his call. A few minutes later, my phone rang and the debate went continued for almost a month. He was uncertain and we ended up quarreling about it. I held on strongly to what I believed and wanted. I had never been more persistent in my life. I believed this was a stepping stone for me and I was not intending to back down. I had learned from my lesson and I had to change his mentality. Few weeks later, after numerous daily phone calls and over a thousand interrogatory questions; I finally got his approval. His approval meant the world to me and only then did I feel completely victorious.
From that moment, I went on and traveled to many countries and earned other scholarships to study abroad. I inspired others, including my younger sister, to follow my footsteps and gain equal freedom. I realized that true power lies in our hands, we have the ability to change our own destinies. If we do not challenge ourselves and fight against all odds, then our dreams will always remain at stake. We have to take control of our lives, become the decision makers and agents of change regardless of what society or others say and do against us.
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