Protecting our Daughters

I love having a daughter.

I always knew I wanted a daughter. When I became pregnant with our first child and even before we found out the gender, I was already having mental images of a mother and daughter hanging out, of me dressing her up, tying her hair in different styles of ponytails and French braids, of us going shopping together for shoes and pretty dresses and sharing many slices of indulgent cakes and desserts.

I wanted a daughter whom I could mould into a better version of myself and to pass on my life-long lessons of growing up as a girl and then a woman in an evolving world where traditional meets modern, where the value of women are starting to be recognised in the workforce and society and where ample opportunities are being made available.

And then when Maya came along, she turned out to be the daughter and the little girl that I have always wanted – sweet, beautiful, intelligent, funny, cheeky, slightly quirky and a little too defiant. I watch quietly in pride as she grows up and I quite often thank the powers that can’t be seen for gifting me with this precious girl.

However, as much as happiness and pride as this little girl has brought me, at the time she was born was also the time when I started experiencing fear and anxiety like I have never experienced before in my life. For the first time, I was experiencing the feeling of overwhelming love that a person can have for another being – and I started to realise that the more love you have, the more fear that results from the potential inability to protect that person whom you love.

From when she was a baby I was constantly worrying like a new parent would and I saw safety threats in all aspects of everyday life – is her cot safe, is there a piece of cloth covering her face, will the heater in her bedroom overheat, is she playing with toys that she might choke on, is there a cup of hot water that is too close within her reach, is every cabinet in the house secure in its place – and this list could go on for another two pages.

As she grows up and I see my baby turning into a little girl, I started to worry about all the horrible and unthinkable things that can happen to girls and young women, imposed on them against their will, as we have seen in all parts of the world from as long as history has been recorded and continue to witness. Are we making progress? I’m not sure; but it has certainly gained more visibility.

The recent incident of the rape and murder of a young woman in Melbourne as she was walking home from work at night has brought about various emotions in me. I felt sadness; at a death that was so senseless and unnecessary. The girl had only just entered adulthood and she would have had so much ambition, so much dream, so much to look forward to in her life. I felt disappointment; that a crime like this could still take place in a country which I thought was relatively safe and civilised. I felt anger; at how someone felt like they had the right to violate another human being and then proceeded to take away her right to live.

But most of all, I felt fear; fear knowing that the incident could have easily happened to any other women, and by how little else that young woman could have done to save herself. Women had always been made victims but not been equipped with the strength to be able to fight back – even before we start, we are already behind (yes, I guess I was a little disappointed in God too). I felt fear because I have a daughter and I will not always be around forever to protect her in a world where women are continuously being made victims of crime just for being women.

As a woman I have felt anxious in many instances in the past were I had to walk in quiet places by myself, and now it clearly strikes me that my daughter also has to go through the same experiences growing up. The world has not changed much. In advance of women’s independence and freedom, I wish I am able to say to her that she should live her life without worrying about what others might say or think or do, and that her life is hers to live, but unfortunately I know that is not the case. What we say, how we dress, how we act, will affect our lives and I cannot see this changing in my lifetime or hers.

How can I best protect her? If I could I would hold her hand at all times and walk with her by my side, I would keep her under the roof of our house for as long as we can in order to protect her, but I know that at some stage she would have to (and would certainly want to) learn her independence and the ability to look after herself. As a mother, I feel that the only thing I can do for her is to provide her with the advice and the skills and the tools to be vigilant, and to reiterate to her again and again, the need to be so.

And until the day that we can trust all men would do the right thing by all women, I will continue to worry and to pray that she will always remember the advice and that she will not cross the path of people who seek to harm her.

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