Where’s the respect

I just got back from speaking at a prestigious event organised by one of the most powerful organisations in the world. They invited me to talk to students as a role model for young people and a change-maker in my sector. I love events like this. They keep me going. I spend significant amounts of money and time commuting. Everything that happens in this country is always in the capital, never my hometown. I put a lot of effort into preparing for the event, whether it be a speech that I have to deliver, a panel I have to join, or a judgement I have to make. But I don’t mind because the way these events nurture my spirit feels like magic. I often meet CEOs, founders, investors, public figures, academics and ministers at events like this. They thank me for my contribution. I appreciate every act of recognition I get, even if it is just a smile or an approving nod. I try to establish a channel of communication between us afterwards. Networking comes naturally to me. I am sure some of the people I meet at these events will have a role in my career. Young people often approach me too because I make myself accessible to them. I help people in any way I can; work, projects, education, etc. The more successful people this country and the universe at large has, the better our lives will be… including my own.

On the way back home, I complained to my sister about how my family don’t appreciate my success. They make me feel guilty when I spend time working on a project. I work from home for three different companies which are based in the capital. I cannot afford to move until I have a full-time job. I received an excellent offer from one of the biggest international organisations. It was not for a role I have specialised in, but they know me and how capable I am of developing my skills.

I might turn it down, just because I do not want to stay in this country any more. I do not want to keep living with my family. I love them. They are not bad people. But they have regressive ideas. They believe that, for women, work is just a luxury. If they have money to spare, they refuse to invest it in my career development; they still take credit for my successes though. They’d rather spend it on their sons. I am sick of this unfair preference. I am the most accomplished member of my family, yet I did not get one-tenth of the support given to my younger brothers.

And these younger brothers feel entitled to control my life. My dad, who lives abroad, wants me to ask for permission every time I go to the capital. I have travelled alone, but I cannot move freely in my extremely safe home country. I don’t get the logic. I hold a bachelor’s degree in engineering, and a master’s degree from a prestigious European university. I get paid more than my father for some jobs, even though he has 40 years of experience. I have travelled to 18 different countries. I have delivered speeches in four continents. I have met world leaders. Yet I am living a horrible life, and it’s because I am a woman.

It kills me that I have to fight every time I travel, despite getting scholarships or sponsorships. It kills me that I have to ask for permission to go to another city in my home country. It kills me that my younger brothers interfere in what I do and where I go.

I spent the last two weeks working non-stop, except when I had to spend time with my family or guests. No weekends, no days off, no proper sleep. I submitted a business plan for a social start-up. I conducted research for one of the companies I work for and I did strategy writing for another. I spent two days preparing for an event, then two days attending it. My mother knew. I met my sister in the capital and we travelled back together. And yet, on my return, I was confronted by my brother, who is ten years younger than me. He was raging because I did not tell him I was going to the capital.

There is so much pushing me to quit my career; to become a girl who only cares about her looks and her marriage prospects. I do not want that. I know exactly what I want. This only makes it harder for me. People see my extraordinary achievements and they think I am successful. I don’t know how they’d feel about my suffering. I feel jealous when I see other parents support their daughters. My parents have never supported me. They appreciate a reason to brag in front of others, but that’s where it ends. My successes never encourage them to help me achieve even more. They would prefer it if it were one of their sons who was a high achiever. They would prefer it if I were more ordinary. This is not my interpretation of their attitudes: this is literally what they tell me. I have thought of seeking help, but parents are holy in this country; by religion, by culture, and in the law. Sometimes I ask myself why God exposed me to freedom, life abroad and wonderful, appreciative people who give me hope, when coming back home to my family makes me feel more hopeless by the day.