So it’s me Anissa, but I prefer to be called Nissa. I landed in Libya 19 years ago, and I truly consider myself lucky!
As you read, know that I am not exaggerating because this letter is a place to be real. I was different from most people in Libyan society because I do not wear what is familiar as Hijab, the “head-covering veil”. I get harassed on daily bases in the streets of Tripoli, receive cyber bullies on my personal social media accounts for the way I chose to live. I get criticized by my society everyday for choosing to be educated and independent instead of starting the holy conquest to find a husband to feed, and trap myself in his cage. I have a supportive family who loves me through it all, who unconditionally loves me. I know that no matter what I do, no one can take that away from me. That makes me powerful enough to face the world.
Many girls unfortunately, don’t have such support system; they always feel like they need to behave and think in certain way in order to be accepted and loved, dear world!
I’m not sure that you know what love truly is. I’m not sure that I do myself but here is what I know: I’m not lucky for being able to go to a good university, nor am I lucky because I get to determine my own life decisions. I am not lucky because I get to do what I want and go wherever I want when I feel like it. Luck has nothing to do with any of my rights as a human being. It hurts knowing that for many girls these aren’t rights, but some sort of privilege, and they’re willing to give their rights and dreams up in order to get married. How could they!? They use the most magical, profound emotion known to man as an excuse to interfere in women’s lives—love. What kind of love is this that takes away a human’s freewill?
Us women, we are just as guilty as the rest of the world. We are not empowering each other; instead we are bringing each other down and we normalize sexism. Mothers ask their daughters to do all of the work around the household and emphasize the importance of this as a practice for their future, but what if your daughter had different plans for her future that are much bigger than just settling and starting a family? My frustration is that it is 2017 and marriage is still celebrated more than academic and professional pursuits of women. It’s time for society as a whole to re-evaluate what aspect of women’s lives we value most.
I don’t proclaim myself as a representative for my gender, but I know that if I succeeded I will inspire many more to do the same, and I am trying really hard to live up to this responsibility. I want to use this opportunity to voice an invitation to both genders; we only rise by up lifting each other. We’re two halves of the same community. My success is your success, too. We must do it if not for ourselves for the 133 million girls and women who have experienced FGM, for the 700 million women who got married as children, and for every single person whom was objectified or victimized by sexism.
My vision of the future is not as bright as wished it to be. I’m not a pessimistic person; I am a realistic one. I know that we have come a long way and things have improved over the past century, but at this point it feels like we’re moving backwards. I hope this message can be awakening. This endless world war between genders must stop before we self- destruct.
Age 19, Libya