I know that this title will remind you of a radio show from a neighboring country hosted by a popular actress. I found the title very attractive. I wondered who cared about what women want and what women should want. The topic has struck me on several occasions when women are praised as achievers – or on occasions when they are overrated or underrated as achievers. I believe that the time has come to be a little critical and evaluate the success of womanhood from different perspectives.
Let's start with good news. Recently, one of my female colleagues was awarded a scholarship and is going abroad for higher education very soon. It's very encouraging to see women as dreamers, as very few of our parents encourage us to dream big.
Instead, women are encouraged to have: a decent education, a good job, a successful husband, kids and, above all, a family. To see that some women are veering from the traditional track of womanhood and choosing their dreams over a conventional approach is truly praiseworthy. The question is, would she dare to follow her dream if her family did not allow her to do so? I can speculate that the answer is negative.
A postgraduate degree, a decent career, or financial independence do not guarantee that a woman will be a decision-maker.
Although the number of women who are going abroad for higher studies is still too low to be mentioned, I believe that the next few decades will see a significant rise in it.
Every year, we see the happy faces of female students on the front page of every daily at a particular time of the year – I mean after the publication of SSC and HSC exam results. However, the happy faces disappear with the passage of time; after graduate and postgraduate studies. Some women become entangled in numerous family responsibilities, some sacrifice their dreams for the sake of family and many of them struggle to balance work and family.
A woman going abroad to pursue higher education is not a very rare phenomenon now. However, women are criticized if they prioritize their education or career over family – or against the consent of the family. The consent of the parents, and later on, husband, is still considered to be a preliminary requirement for women who have all the qualities to study further. Very few are fortunate to have open-minded parents and husbands. And those who have been living their dreams, will they be able to cross the finish line?
The question occasionally occurs to me as these women still live their lives according to the consent of other family members. The emotional bond of a woman with her family still overpowers her rational mind. If education does not build the confidence within women to be bold and logical in establishing their views and beliefs, then certificates become a mere piece of paper. I may sound harsh, but someone should speak the truth. I am not asking women to be selfish, I am asking them to be self-conscious.
Marriage and dowry
A few months ago, I attended the marriage ceremony of a distant relative. The bride is a Bangladeshi-born Indian citizen and the bridegroom is a Bangladeshi-born Canadian citizen. I was invited by the bride's family. The bride completed her graduate and postgraduate studies in India and managed to secure a decent job there. So it was quite surprising that she would agree to an arranged marriage. As both the bride and bridegroom are from different continents, they had very little time to learn about each other. So, what caused this marriage to take place? Is it the alluring Canadian lifestyle for which the family of the bride was ready to spend five lakhs as dowry?
Yes, dowry still exists.
Bearing in mind the emotions of parents who were desperate to secure a better life for their daughter, I have to say that education has done little in having a remarkable effect on the bride's mind. How can she allow herself to be in this disrespectful relationship? Is this only the hope of a better life? I don't think so. It's something else. It's the mindset of the society which overshadows her education and sees it as subordinate, as a result making her compromise for something which will ensure her so-called better life.
In my surroundings I have seen a lot of parents who are still confused in choosing what is good for their daughters. Most of the time they have some easy solutions like purchasing successful grooms.
To my utter surprise, the bride's family was oblivious to their disrespectful actions; rather they seem to be relieved in securing their daughter's life. If this is the scenario in the middle-class and upper middle class society, I can easily guess the dire condition of womanhood living in peripheral areas. No wonder 43% of womenfolk in Bangladesh still become victims of domestic violence every year.
A question and several answers
One of my cousins who accompanied me to that marriage ceremony asked me a question on our way back home: "What should a woman do in deciding about marriage?" I was puzzled and could not answer the question in a single sentence.
Every life is unique; so is every story. As I was born and brought up by middle-class parents, I can understand their emotions and anxieties relating to their daughters. However, sometimes I think they overthink. I believe that it's our responsibility to make them understand the "new" thoughts, "new" hopes, and "new" lifestyles that women want to pursue. This struggle is not only between two generations, but also between two ideologies; one might secure a better life and the other will definitely celebrate the struggle of womanhood.
So my answer to my sister was this: I told her that if you want your life to be easy-going you can do what you are expected to do. This life might ensure your happiness at the cost of your independence and self-respect. However, if you want to establish your life on your own terms, you might not always get the support from your loved ones. You might bleed and there is no guarantee that you will succeed, but the process will make you strong and beautiful in your own eyes. Above all, compromises are necessary in human relationships but should not be encouraged at the cost of self-respect.
Dear girls, you are not princesses anymore and life is not a fairytale. Instead of waiting for a prince emerging from your dreams, you can be the architect of your own life. At the end of the journey, you don't have to have regrets.