She Chose to Walk Away – #YoungWomenSay

This blog post was originally published by The Torchlight Collective and Say It Forward as part of the #YoungWomenSay campaign.

Being born into a Pakistani family, it’s not easy to stop listening to what people are saying about you: about the way you dress, you walk, you talk, or you smile. I had to choose between walking away or giving in to people’s expectations. I chose to walk away from the negative aspects of my life and find myself. I believe that taking a stand and leaving behind everything that’s hurting you is the only way to grow, so that’s what I did.

She knew she could struggle, but she had the choice to sparkle.

She knew she could beat herself up, but she had the choice to praise herself instead.

She knew she could hide the scar, but she had the choice to be the star.

She knew she could cry again, but she had the choice to try again.

She knew she could not avoid the existence of pain, but she had the choice to believe in the existence of gain.

She knew she could give up, but she had the choice to act up.

She knew she could lose hope, but she had the choice to cope.

She knew she could keep lingering on, but she had the choice to keep forging on.

She knew she could fade away, but she had the choice to run away.

She knew she could keep waiting, but she had the choice to keep walking.

She knew she had the choice;

And so, she chose to walk away.

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My Voice is my Purpose, What’s Yours? – #YoungWomenSay

This blog post was originally published by The Torchlight Collective and Say It Forward as part of the #YoungWomenSay campaign.

I believe in introspection, where one digs deep in their heart to search for who they really are and what their purpose is. This introspection isn’t just for personal gain, but to meaningfully improve the lives of those around them. This process led me to realize that girls and young women often suffer in silence. This has motivated me to speak louder and begin my journey of elevating the voices of the voiceless.

I am eager to affect change that will make my community a better place for girls and women.

Menstruation is a natural phenomenon to girls and women; it has no shame. Yet, even today, girls and young women in my community are still using cow dung, leaves, and unhygienic pieces of cloth during their menstruation. Every month, girls miss school because they feel shy to walk the 15 kilometers to school with cow dung or leaves stuck between their legs.

The situation is only worsened during the day because some schools don’t have the facilities the girls need to wash themselves. Teachers are often forced to send these girls home until their periods are over. This is a major blow to a girl’s education because missing a few days of school every month makes it hard for her to keep up with her coursework. The lack of sanitary products is not only striping girls of their right to education, but also of their human dignity.

Many girls in my community never finish high school. This is caused by society’s negligence to award both girls and boys equal educational opportunities. It is this negligence that has created social imbalance where most girls and women are not able to read or write coherently, while boys and men do both with ease.

Gender inequality limits girls’ options, and it is a malicious way of making sure girls and women remain incapacitated.

Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, a Nigerian novelist and my role model, once said, “culture doesn’t make people, but people make culture.” This is a powerful reminder for me that my community can change. The girls in my community need knowledge. Knowledge will give them the power to fight gender inequality perpetuated by a culture that gives more value to boys than to girls.

This is why I believe that we need a new way of looking into the future, while learning lessons from the past. The past makes the present coherent, and the past will remain horrible for as long as we fail to assess it fairly.

Equipping girls and women with knowledge will serve as a stepping stone and an antidote to gender inequality.

I believe that one day, girls and young women will not be trapped the same way our mothers and grandmothers were. My dream is to encourage girls and young women to live the lives they desire, dream about the life they want, and break the silence!

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The Power of Periods – #YoungWomenSay

This blog post was originally published by The Torchlight Collective and Say It Forward as part of the #YoungWomenSay campaign. 

The first time I was embarrassed of my period was the first moment I got it. There was no pretext to that feeling of shame. It was as innate as my breath. There isn’t anything specific from my childhood that led me to this feeling of dirtiness and humiliation. It was just there. I can remember wiping and wiping, urging the blood to go away. I was disgusted by myself.

As I grew older, there were many more moments which consolidated this feeling. There was the secret handshake used for swapping tampons at school, so that no one knew you had your period. There were the hysterical laughs and “ewws” when my period leaked in my white trousers. And, there was the look of disgust and subsequent break-up after my boyfriend felt my period during sex. I learned to hate my body and its monthly function.

Fast forward ten years from my first period and I was introduced to the menstrual cup, a small silicone device that collects period blood. Getting up close and personal with my vagina utterly terrified me, especially during my period. But, I gave it a go.

It leaked the first few times I used it. I had to insert and remove the device from my vagina and tip it out and see my blood up close after every use. At first, it was gross. Then, after repeating those actions again and again, I became fascinated by the workings of my body. I was no longer concerned about my menstrual blood. It wasn’t disgusting, scary, or dirty; it was incredible.

For me, the menstrual cup was my first step into understanding my body and its functions. It was my gateway into taking ownership of my body and acknowledging all the amazing things the female form is capable of. As women, we are constantly told that we are weaker and less capable than men because of our bodies. We are shamed as irrational and dirty because of our hormonal and menstrual cycle. The most empowering moment in my life was realizing that all of that is completely fictional.

The most important thing we can do as women is to love every inch of our bodies and rise above the negativity that is cast upon it. Allow yourself to be empowered by every bodily function and understand the intricacies of your body’s mechanics. Then empower the women and girls in your life to do the same. If we are all able to harness that knowledge, we have the power to do anything.

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Life Advice from a Life Advice Addict – #YoungWomenSay

This blog post was originally published by The Torchlight Collective and Say It Forward as part of the #YoungWomenSay campaign. 

I am asked more often than I thought I would be how I got to where I am today.

It’s a position I wouldn’t have believed I’d be in ten years ago. When I was nineteen, I was close to exhausting the articles, listicles, and books on the ‘Right Way To Live Your Life,’ and walking away with my head swimming with conflicting, and often irrelevant, standards against which to measure myself.

What career should I pick? Non-profit? Corporate? Should I put family before career? Did I want children? Should I want children? Would I want children? Did I want to get married? Am I a failure if I don’t? What was going to happen? How should I handle it?

Growing up as a mixed race kid in a culture different from my parents’, I was still figuring out my priorities and what made me happy. I was unsure of the future after a financial calamity brought the global economy to its knees and was feeling internally at war with myself, not unlike many nineteen-year-olds. I could find no real answers.

At 21, I earned a degree in Spanish and English Literature (which my scientist parents gamely tried their best to pretend they were happy with) and graduated with a stack of volunteer work under my belt, determined to change the world.

At 23, I was home, unemployed, and searching for career experience after the job market hit me with the reality that a fearless attitude was insufficient on a resume.

At 26, I got a Masters degree and a fellowship in journalism that had me traveling from Chicago to New York to Mexico City to Berlin, guzzling coffee and squeezing in foreign language classes whenever I wasn’t working.

Now, at 28, I am in marketing and just now beginning to figure it all out after nearly three decades, multiple relationships, two degrees, and a mountain of debt.

There is a sea of opinions on how you should live your life, especially as a woman. Finding your own true north is a complex and constantly changing art. When we are young, we think we have a great deal of control over the direction of our lives, and that our character will be reflected in our ability to follow through on our plans.

Life will surprise and frustrate you in astounding and equal measure. Your character and your strength as a woman will mostly like not be the ability to bend life to your will, but to absorb the punches, weather the disappointments, and continue forward, with compassion and heart, courage and good humor.

To everyone who asks, I have to gently admit, I don’t know how I got to where I am today. I stumbled, blindly and often foolishly, until I found my footing. But I can also say, it has been the greatest challenge and greatest joy in my life to discover that there are no signposts except for the ones we carve and erect for ourselves.

#YoungWomenSay is a collaboration between SayItForward.org and The Torchlight Collective in support of International Youth Day 2018 and culminating on International Day of the Girl. This campaign features blogs from incredible young women from around the world, and is designed to harness the power of storytelling and social media to drive attention to the lived experiences, dreams, and aspirations of young women around the world

We invite you to follow Say It Forward on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram and follow The Torchlight Collective on FacebookTwitter , Instagram, and use their hashtag, #TheTorchlightCollective.