My Brother Got to Go to School Whilst I Stayed Home

A Story of a Surplus Girl Child
Picture this: you live in a developed country where education is free. You are given all the opportunities to make the best of your life. Sometimes the government will even pay you to go to school. Then, your parents decide that education is not an option for you. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Who doesn’t want education, right? The reality is that such things happen and they happen often under the radar. Unless you have been the victim of discrimination in that way, you will never know the signs. We are the invisible ones who go to the supermarket but cannot really speak to anyone. We are on the streets but separated from the community.

I was one of the few lucky ones. When my parents finally married me off to a rich family, my new in-laws were shocked that I had not gone beyond elementary school. I could just about read and write at a very basic level, but no more. They indeed asked my parents about it. My father’s response was heartbreaking “that is not her work. She is healthy and will have many children”. That was it…my father had effectively given me away for the price of prestige and the gifts that they had brought for them. His view was that I would become a protected housewife and maybe help my in-laws in their businesses once I hit my 40s.

What he did not reckon with was that the man I had married was the kindest, gentlest person you could ever find. I fell in love with him the moment that we were introduced. It was an arranged marriage but I could not be happier. He was tall, handsome with a deep voice. When we talked, he was so nice. I could not believe that someone had not snatched him before we met. He later told me that his parents had warned him right from the beginning that he was going to marry a “good girl” and that they were going to make the choice for him. Consequently, he never really had any serious relationship throughout university because he knew that he would eventually have to enter into an arranged marriage.

The Glaring Gaps

I was 18 and had been betrothed since I was 15. My husband was 28. He had a PHD in chemical engineering and was rising up to the very top of the pharmaceutical company he was working for. I was almost illiterate compared to his achievements. It was not just the decade that separated us. They were wealthy. We were not. Despite everything, my four brothers each had a degree and were working. My sister had long been married off to an abusive man. She regularly came home begging for refuge which was naturally denied. At the time, she had entered into an abused women’s shelter and her irate husband had instituted divorce on grounds of abandonment. He had threatened to pour acid on her face if she resisted the divorce terms in which she got nothing.

My sister was even worse off. She had been born before we came here and so was actually illiterate in every sense of the word. Her English was nothing to write home about since she had never really socialized with anyone apart from our family friends. We girls had been living in a prison all our lives. The only saving grace for me was that I was born here and therefore entitled to certain rights which also helped my parents. They also knew that social services would come in if someone ever gave a report about what was really happening in our home.

I was so embarrassed about my situation but did not want to bother my husband with it. Meanwhile we were falling more and more in love with each other every day. My husband used to say that he had hit the jackpot at the first time of asking. You see, arranged marriages are like a lottery. You get thrown with anyone that comes up and that can bring out some very unexpected results.

It is our love that gave me the courage to finally confess to him everything that had happened to me. He was horrified. His sisters had been educated well even if their parents had had a big input in finding their husbands. One of them had rebelled and had been ostracized for some time but eventually reconnected with the family. Her crime was that she had married a white man. In the end, Jack won them over. He is and will always be an absolute darling.

Correcting a Historical and Monumental Injustice

You may be wondering now how someone that was so poorly educated can write like this. It has taken me many, many years to get to this point and I am not even where I need to be. My husband has been with me all the way and I would be nothing without Ali’s support. He has picked me up when I was falling into depression after my disastrous first day at the adult education center. I was over-ambitious and chose “literature” as my major; not knowing that my language skills were so poor that it must have been something of an insider joke that I was taking on this course. I was completely lost in the first few lectures. The tutors might as well have been speaking Russian for all the sense it made to me.

My Ali then suggested that I go back to adult literacy school before starting the degree. I was a bit ashamed of going back to school when I was already a married woman with children but when I got to the center, everyone there was either my age or even older. I eventually got myself to the point of being able to handle the lectures. Eventually I got my degree and a postgraduate diploma in teaching. This is how I ended up in my current job as an adult education tutor.

Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been had my parents been more progressive and sent me to school. Then I remember that without that series of unfortunate events, I would not have met my Ali. Nevertheless, I would have like to have a choice even if in the end the right choice was made for me in terms of a husband. There is no question that my two daughters are going to study as far as they are able to. I would never ever countenance the idea of repeating what happened to me.

My Parents Tried to Explain

To their credit, my parents have admitted that they got it wrong. My father said that he wanted to protect me from all the Western bad habits including having “boyfriends”. I tried to see their point but cannot really see it. Why was I denied the opportunities my brother got? Why was my sister effectively enslaved all her life and eventually sold into a form of sex servitude to a brutal man she did not love? Did my parents think they were doing us a favor by placing us girls in such circumstances? What they did think about the fact that at the age of 18, I was hardly literate and my sister was completely illiterate; despite the free education that was available to us?

My parents say that at least I made a good marriage. This annoys me a bit. Ali is a great man and it was not them that turned him into a great man. They just searched around for a rich educated man and Ali happened to fill the bill. Just because he turned out to be a prince is no credit to my parents who would have been quite content to let me marry a man that I hardly knew, let alone loved.

The “Conservative Older Generation” argument does little to convince me much. We had been given an opportunity to stay in a very progressive country that valued women. It was shocking that despite all these opportunities, my parents still preferred to retreat to the old discriminatory habits. You cannot mask your bigotry by laying it at the doorstep of your age or generational categorization. I think my parents wanted to control us girls and increased the temperature because they thought we might escape and find freedom in a Western world.

Making a Difference

Rather than being too bitter about things (I am still resentful); I have decided to make a difference. As an adult educator, I actually do outreaches in order to identify those girls and women that are in a similar situation to what my sister and I suffered. They tend to sign up because they somehow feel that they are talking to a fellow woman. Ali has been supportive and sometimes does the rounds to places where I am still forbidden to go as a woman. Our community has a long way to go before we can truly claim to be civilized.