The 2007-2008 year was one of the most wonderful years in my life. I journeyed almost 8000 miles from Tajikistan to the United States to spend a year as an exchange student. Not all people can have such valuable life experiences, and I truly appreciate the opportunity to be involved in the FLEX (Future Leaders of Exchange) program. Through this program, I was able to join a diverse group of students who are curious, enjoy adventures, and actively look for ways to help people and their countries.
The FLEX program led to an opportunity for me to pursue higher education in the U. S. Most girls in my home country are not this fortunate and never get a chance to finish high school. The education of girls in Tajikistan has been forgotten over the past few decades. Many girls are missing out on an education as “tradition” dictates they don’t need it. Traditionally, a father looks after his daughter until she gets married through an arranged marriage, and then the responsibility passes to her husband. This marriage usually occurs when a girl is 17 or 18 years old.
One reason for keeping girls out of school in Tajikistan is that educated women are seen by some as unattractive marriage material. They are less likely to assume the dutiful role they are expected to assume towards the husband’s entire family. Although a lot of families who take their daughters out of school blame poverty as the primary reason, sons from the same families are allowed to continue on to higher education. This clearly shows that there are different expectations for each gender.
Day by day the number of Tajik women who make significant contributions to the economy and to the family finances is increasing; however, we still do not see an increase in the number of girls attending high school or college in many rural cities and towns. Those few young women who believe that one day we will see equality among men and women in education and all aspects of life are trying hard to reach that goal. There are many young women like me who seize every opportunity that comes along to gain an education and learn leadership skills. Through these experiences, we can help other young women in Tajikistan secure more rights.
The exchange program offered a pathway for me to go to college in the U.S., and I believe this pathway will lead me and others like me to challenge the existing systems that prevent women’s voices from being heard, whether in my home country or in other countries. I believe that one day we will make a difference and help other women gain their education and make valuable contributions in their society.
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