Daughters Don’t Leave Home: A Memoir

Sunita Paudyal

 

I lived the first seventeen years of my life in bliss, not knowing whether I was a daughter or a son, in Damauli, my hometown in Nepal. My brother and I were like eyeballs for my parents, who always loved us, fulfilled our wishes, and enjoyed seeing us happy. But when I was turning eighteen, I was shocked to discover that I was a daughter, who could not do all the things that a son could do.

It was a fine and crispy day, and the result of SLC (School Leaving Certificate) was just out a few hours ago. The SLC exam is still considered an iron gate in Nepal because it is one of the toughest exams to pass. But I had passed the exam with a distinction.  All my family members and neighbors had gathered at my house to celebrate my accomplishment. I was very happy to see how my success had made my parents proud. They proudly announced to neighbors and relatives that I had been always a hardworking and talented kid. Then the conversation soon turned to my plans about college education. Raju Uncle (Raju Uncle is in fact just a neighbor but we regard neighbors as relatives and call them with appropriate relations instead of using their names) approached me and asked, “Sunita what are you going to study in your college?”  With excitement, I replied that I wanted to become a computer engineer. I was so thrilled that I did not realize that I was talking in a voice loud enough to attract everyone’s attention.

When my parents heard about my plan for college, they were shocked. Since there was no college that offered engineering degrees near my small hometown, studying computer engineering was possible only in Kathmandu at that time. My father’s face turned red with some expression of disapproval and discomfort. After a momentary silence with his jaw dropped, he approached me and said, “But Sunita, we don’t have computer engineering program in Damauli.”

I replied, “I want to go to Kathmandu.” My response made my parents angry.

My mother deliberately said, “Sunita, remember you’re a daughter. Daughters don’t leave home to live in Kathmandu alone. What will our neighbors think of this?” This was a very shocking and distressing moment for me. Before this event, I never knew that daughters were treated differently than sons. My parents had never given me a chance to experience this difference before. They had always treated my brother and me equally. For the first time I learned that being a daughter is different from being a son.

My inspiration to become a computer engineer came from Uday dai, our neighbor’s son, who had gone to Kathmandu first and then to India for his study in computer engineering. When he came to Damauli, he talked about several things about computer programming and the roles of technologies in our lives. I listened to him patiently, wanting to learn more about how technologies were simplifying people’s lives in developed countries—an area of study which was still in its developing stage in Nepal.  I was so inspired by his stories that I determined to study computer engineering in my college.

Since it was an inappropriate behavior to argue with one’s parents, I remained silent after my mother’s announcement that I was a girl and couldn’t leave home to live in Kathmandu alone. But that evening I tried to convince my father that there was no difference between a son and a daughter. I tried to assure him that I was confident and strong enough to live in Kathmandu, but he was not ready to send me alone. My father had confidence in me, but he was more concerned about the potential criticism from our neighbors for sending a daughter to a big city alone. Our society mostly did not allow unmarried girls to go to a city for their study. Therefore, I had no choice other than joining a local college in my hometown that offered degrees only in humanities and business.

Since I had learned appallingly about the position of daughters on that particular day, I chose to do my undergraduate degree in sociology. After two years of my study in sociology, I learned a lot about the social, cultural, and economic structure of Nepal. I was surprised to learn that most women in Nepal were living inside the veil and in darkness. They were not given equal educational opportunities, forcing them to depend on men. I had heard from Hindu mythology that men and women were equal like two wheels of a chariot. But this statement was never practiced in real life. Learning about this reality helped me build confidence and better understanding of Nepali society.

In my leisure time, I met with several old people in my hometown, and we talked about women’s issues. I started bringing in awareness by having frequent meetings with women in my hometown. After two years, when my parents decided to send my younger brother to Kathmandu for his study in civil engineering, I confidently asked my parents’ permission to go to with him for my further study in Kathmandu. I explained to them that women are not inferior to men but it was our society that positioned them as inferior. I told them that it was gender disparity in education that forced women to become inferior and dependent on men. Finally, they agreed to send me to Kathmandu with my brother although I did not understand the reason. Perhaps I was able to convince them about gender equality. Or it was also possible that they agreed because they were sending me with my brother who could be a safeguard to protect a vulnerable daughter!

Living and studying in Kathmandu was a very thrilling and adventurous experience for me. There I also started working in an international organization based in Kathmandu. It was at this place that I met Binod, my husband. After one year, I was married to him and came to the United States. Although my interest in sociology was growing, deep inside my mind I always wanted to pursue my dream to become a computer engineer. After coming to the United States, I could not join school immediately because Binod was pursuing his graduate degree and it was too expensive to afford money for both of us. Therefore, we decided to have a child in 2010. Finally, I joined Salt Lake Community College in Fall 2013 to pursue my Associate Degree in Pre-Computer Engineering. I am planning to transfer to the University of Utah in Fall 2015 to complete my Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Engineering, my childhood dream. Although I still have miles and miles to go before I achieve my dream to become a computer engineer, I am already on the board and working diligently to reach the destination. Looking back into that shocking moment ten years ago, I feel how vulnerable I was at that because of my gender. But after all these years of perseverance, I am now transforming my vulnerability into empowerment.