I have grown up among women. From my mother, grandmother and aunts at home to my teachers at school, a lot of what I know and who I am was built from the lessons all these powerful women taught me. When thinking of writing for the occasion of International Women’s Day, I had a long list of ladies I had in mind but it was still quite easy for me to pick the person that I did. So, let me introduce you to Nusrat Nasim Meraji, a mentor, a friend and an inspiration.
I met Nusrat when I was fourteen years old and she was twenty-two. Immediately, she was like an elder sister that I never had. There was always something about the air around her – she was beautiful, confident, smart and unwavering in her beliefs. She embodied everything I wanted to be when I grew up. I had also found someone to fangirl with about books and someone who loved writing as much as I did. She wears her heart on her sleeve and has the most infectious smile I have ever seen. But above everything else, she was my first window into seeing what being an adult looked like and she always kept her experiences very real with me. Nusrat isn’t afraid to be open, to talk about her best days and her worst. Watching her was like giving myself permission to fall and falter as many times as I needed to before I arrived where I needed to be.
Seeing her eight years later recently, she is as powerful and astounding as she has ever been. She is a Barrister-at-Law and a force to be reckoned with. She works with a Bangladeshi NGO and has been working with victims of gender-based violence and also the Rohingya community who are taking refuge in Bangladesh. Having known how passionate and vocal she has always been about human rights issues, I cannot think of a better place for her to be at. However, I was curious about what it was like to practise law as a female in a patriarchal society, because from an outsider’s eye, to me, it seems like a male dominated industry. Nusrat had quite an optimistic view on this:
“There are challenges women face exclusively, as opposed to men. For instance, due to the unfortunate fact that we live in a patriarchal society, a woman is expected to bear most of the household related workload. Granted we are getting better collectively in terms of respecting and understanding equal rights. However, we do have a long way to go. But nothing beats starting conversations about this, in order to combat this once and for all.”
I asked her what the hardest decision was that she ever had to make and she said it was to come out of her victim-mode and understand that we are all responsible for our own choices. She said that coming out of her comfort zone and loving her true self was the most difficult thing that she has to do.
“Self-love and self-care are very different things, and not at all just about long baths and chocolates. Self-love is putting yourself first, it is looking yourself in the eye and really getting down to the uncomfortable bits, especially the bits you don’t want to face or always have ran away from. And it’s about embracing your fears”.
And that is what I want to leave you with today, to urge you to stand up for yourself and love the woman you are today. Once we break through the fear, we are unstoppable. There is a powerful goddess among all of us, may we be them, may we raise them.
Author: Protiva Iqbal
Editor: Gwendolyne Cheung
Illustrator: Lisa van der Loos