Yesterday I was at an Aspirations Day in a North London school talking to a group of year 9 girls about the job that I do and how I got here since finishing my formal education. It was a refreshing event and I was so happy to be in a room full of young girls who had ambitions, felt hopeful at seeing successful women in front of them and wanted to have a better life for themselves.
On my way home I was quite emotional because although I often plague myself with self doubt, it reminded me why I started up my own business and how far I’ve come despite having faced so much adversity.
During my presentation, I shared my own personal story and spoke about something that, until then, only my immediate family had known. I’ve been discussing many topics and having conversations with individuals in the run up to International Women’s Day. I was speaking with Rani Bilkhu, a campaigner and founder of Jeena International, an organisation that is passionate about combating gendercide and sex-selective abortions, when I opened up about something that happened to me when I was younger.
The work that Bilkhu does touched a nerve with me because it’s something that I am all too familiar with. When my parents split up, and my mother abandoned us. At the same time, she also burnt bridges with me. At the time, I was fourteen, and when she left the house I asked her: “Why can’t I come with you?” to which she replied, “I don’t want you. I never did because you’re a girl. Stop talking to me.” It’s sad that I remember this phone call because I didn’t know what it felt like to be unwanted until I heard those words.
Until my presentation yesterday, I hadn’t spoken about this with anyone, because for a long time I felt ashamed to be a girl. I felt like it carried a burden, a pain and was something bad. It hurts me even now that someone who is supposed to love and care for you unconditionally dislikes you because of your gender – even though they were once a girl and ironically come from a very large female-centric family. It affected almost every area of my life and I grew up feeling inadequate; something that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Weirdly enough, my paternal family were thrilled when I was born because I was the first girl after 28 years.
I grew up feeling conflicted. On one hand, I was loved and protected, but in the back of my mind I felt like I couldn’t really relax or trust the love that my father’s family gave me. I even met up with her in my final year of university, with the hope of changing her mind, but even after all those years she hadn’t changed which stung. On my own terms, I knew that there nothing I could do and that it had never been my fault so I cut ties for good. It’s something that I’ve never regretted because I knew that I did everything in my power to try and repair our bond. It just didn’t work out and I am better off for it. I am glad that I am. now, in a position to use my line of work to give self esteem, hope and confidence to young girls and women of all backgrounds.
Incidentally, yesterday, MPs voted against amending the law to criminalise gender-selective abortion. It is wonderfully explained in this must-read blog. Whilst some may be shaking their heads in disagreement, I’m personally glad that MPs did not vote in favour of this amendment because it would have put a lot of vulnerable women and young girls at risk.
For those who purse their lips in disapproval, amending a law is not going to stop this from happening. Even if the law had been amended, people would have resorted to back-street abortions and gone abroad to abort female foetuses. This is an issue which is deeply embedded in pockets of different ethnic communities and cultures which needs to be addressed. It’s a bit like only giving a person with a broken arm painkillers and not binding their injury. Until we begin to challenge these thought processes, begin to respect and defend women and girls of all ages, then we might see the green shoots of progress and a better tomorrow start to grow.