By Ella Tanner, International Representative (Dubai)
When I meet her, Asha is wearing bright red lipstick. It highlights her white teeth. She is bubbly and warm and welcomes me with a smile.
Asha is from a middle class Indian family and she grew up in the fast paced suburbs of Delhi, India. Asha’s family are Sikhs which make up under 2 per cent of the Indian population. Despite living a modern lifestyle, being 27 years old and holding a full time job, as Asha is unmarried, she still lives at home and is completely supported by her parents. That’s why, when her father was relocated to Dubai with his job several years ago, Asha followed.
Coming from a culture where most of us haven’t been in our parent’s care since we were 18, I find it hard to imagine what living Asha’s life is like. Asha explains to me:
“This is so normal. Women all around the world live their lives like this. This is not just typical to Indians but spans many countries and cultures”. Asha laughs: “Also, my life is great, my mother makes my dinner every evening and does all of my laundry!”
Despite this, Asha is keen to tell me how independent she really is. She holds a law degree and works long, hard hours in her full time job. She is smart and empowered, a gift given to her by her parents when they encouraged her to pursue her education rather than marry at a young age like some of her friends.
An option that many girls in her home country don’t have.
In India especially, disproportionately, girls are left behind. Too often, despite free education and political programs aimed at getting girls in school, girls in rural and poor communities simply can’t participate. Their families need them to work. Widely reported by UNICEF, educating girls is a sure-fire way to raise economic productivity, lower infant and maternal mortality, improve nutritional status and health, reduce poverty and wipe out diseases.
So Asha is eternally grateful that she was able to get an education. But, despite her extensive study to achieve her law degree, she still cannot call herself a lawyer. Because she moved to Dubai with her family, she didn’t have time to finish her post qualification study. She, nor her family can afford to pay for her to complete the final year study at a Dubai university. Therefore, she must call herself a paralegal. While some may argue that titles don’t matter, they matter to Asha. Especially when her pay, promotions and respect from her peers reflect her title.
So, I ask Asha what is next for her? She doesn’t know. Dubai is not forever, she wants to be a lawyer. But she doesn’t know if going back to India is the way forward.
She laughs as she tells me that the UK might be an option for her. She recently downloaded a dating application on her phone and has met a British man whom she is now dating. Her parents think she is out with friends when she meets him. And things are getting pretty serious. She grins at me with her red lips:
“Maybe we will move to the UK and start a family and finally I can fulfil my dream of being a lawyer.”