My Experience with Gender Inequality
I recently had the opportunity to speak at a virtual event, hosted by a local school, on the topic of gender equality. I was on the panel with three other incredibly inspiring women. I was compelled to speak about my unique experience with this social issue since I’ve experienced it in two different cultures.
I was born in Pakistan and moved to the USA in 2005, so I’ve had the opportunity to live in both an Eastern and Western country. I saw the effects of gender inequality in both cultures in implicit and explicit ways. In Pakistan, there were many women around me who were victims of gender inequality, including my best friend. She was my classmate in elementary and middle school. She used to write amazing poetry, and maybe she still does. However, she was not allowed to pursue a college education because her family’s tradition was to get girls married by the time they turned 20, forbidding them from any higher education after high school. They kept this tradition going even though her brothers were highly educated.
Traditionally in Pakistani society, women were expected to get married by their late teens or early 20s, settle down, and start a family. Even if women did receive higher education, many did not continue working after marriage and kids. For context: I grew up in Southern Pakistan where education stats are slightly better than in Northern Pakistan. Still not great but since we were closer to the city, there were more opportunities.
As for my experience in the USA, gender inequality is prevalent here but subtle. It can be instances such as men making you feel unheard or invisible in the office. It’s not unusual for women to have fewer opportunities or to be passed up for promotions for which they’re well qualified. I will share a personal experience – soon after I was promoted as a Vice President at my company, a company-wide meeting was held where I was expected to address everyone, share my plans, etc. One of the guys came up to me afterwards and made a remark that I must have practiced my speech for a very long time. It was a subtle remark – but I understood completely – he was doubting my skill set. As a leader at Edible, I don’t take gender inequality lightly. We have an extremely diverse team and a culture of women empowerment. No matter what your field is, it’s important to know your rights, voice your concerns and believe in yourself!
I was also asked to answer, what impact did education have on you as a child?
For me, getting an education was like a lifeline. I know that sounds shocking, but it’s true. I was very fortunate to have parents who wanted me to get a good education. My mother was a teacher, and my grandmother was the only woman in her village who could read and write. She was incredibly proud of me for going to school and was ecstatic about my plans of getting higher education and one day owning and running a business.
I grew up knowing that I was living in privilege and had lots of rare opportunities many other girls did not. So, I cherished them and worked extremely hard. My father bought me my first computer when I was 13, despite other people poking fun at him for investing in his daughter. My father also taught me how to drive when I was 14. I drove my grandmother to her village one day, and she made me stop at all her friend’s houses to show off that her granddaughter was driving. This was in 1995 in Pakistan by the way, when very few women used to drive. I now realize with my own kids how driving is taken for granted these days. Because of my father’s support, I was able to attend college. I was the first girl in my family to do so – and that paved the way for higher education for all my younger female cousins.
Even today, many of these opportunities like driving, sitting in a nice/safe school, having teachers, books, clean clothes, etc. are not available for so many children around the world! As a kid, I was very aware that my education was a privilege and that the same books I was reading, other kids may not even be able to touch them because their parents could not afford or allow it. It’s unfortunate that this is still the case for many today. Seeing the circumstances around me created this motivation in me to succeed no matter the difficulty. I’m working on instilling the same spirit, gratitude, awareness, and motivations within my own kids.