I first read Kbora Ali’s story on SBS’s Facebook page earlier this week and it’s made such a deep impression on me that I decided to write a blog post on it.
Kbora Ali made the news everywhere; not because she’s female and has joined the Australian army but because she dared to follow her heart, her passion with a single-minded focus – and because she comes from a community with clear, defined roles for men and women just like the Indian community to which I belong.
Women belong in safe, female oriented industries while men…they are free to follow their desires and ambitions in all aspects of their lives.
Kbora and I have something in common: we come from communities where there are very strong, defined rules about what each gender can and can’t do.
I grew up listening to constant messages from different members of the society I lived in; “Don’t sit like this, don’t talk too much, don’t play with the boys, girls should be seen and not heard, you’re too outspoken for your own good.”
I also saw my society place different rules and standards of behaviour for girls and boys which I hated even then and now and rebelled against it, whether consciously by signing up for the girls’ soccer team or by speaking my mind – I refused to be submissive, I refused for my voice to be silenced.
A part of me rejected these messages. Perhaps I knew deep down, that I was as good, if not better than many of the boys I knew – that belief in myself has propelled me forwards through every life challenge.
Another smaller part of me has absorbed these messages which I fight to silence daily.
So far, I haven’t let my gender be an obstacle to doing what I really want to do.
I also try and get other women; friends, family members to see the potential of their own female offspring. To not try and stop them achieving their potential simply because they happen to be female.
If there’s one thing we’re not, it’s weak.
Many times, I’ve seen women around me, myself included, handle problems and issues that would weaken even strong men. Through it all, we stand steadfast and stable with our partners, parents and children. We prop them up when they need it, solve their problems, help out financially and emotionally in a way that many men cannot.
As women we’re told we need to sacrifice and live according to an unseen societal doctrine. Even it costs you your happiness, you must be the one to bow down before the wishes of your husband, brother, or father or even son. Put everyone else first and yourself last is what’s expected of women in male-led societies.
Kbora has shown me and every other woman who comes from traditional, patriarchal societies that you can be true to your heart if you know your mind.
She will help in changing the messages that every little Indian and Afghan girl will hear from now on – you can do it if you set your mind to it.
It’s possible to achieve success on your own terms without worrying about what others will think of you, be what you want it to be, not what your partner or parents or family want it to be.
It’s important to speak up, to be true to who you really are on the inside – not what someone else’s idea of you is.
It’s very likely she’s made many people uncomfortable in the Afghan community, I know my views are also seen as being a little ‘out there’ among my own. I believe if I say it over and over again, it will help another girl who’s struggling to do what she really wants to do.
The rhetoric is changing too slowly, and will take a generation of women like Kbora to turn the tide.
It’s better to have lived your life on your own terms than try forever to please a society that constantly raises the bar for women, and lowers it for men.