What is freedom for you? For me, freedom is when you have a choice. When you decide how to live your life, what to study, where to work, who to marry, get married or not, have kids or not, and the list may go on and on. Do we all have a choice? Unfortunately, not. Some of us have to fight to have a choice. Some of us have to take risks to get our freedom.
My name is Ila and I’m from one of those countries where a patriarchal society, arm in arm with religion destroying women’s lives. I want to tell you a few things about the patriarchal society I was brought up in:
1. I’m from a place where girls have no value and a girl’s hymen determines her future.
2. I’m from a culture where women are forced to do things: get married; get pregnant and give birth the first year of their marriage; to be obedient; to be patient; to be useful in the kitchen and in the bed; and to be invisible outside of those places.
3. I’m from a society where giving birth to a boy is a big celebration, while giving a birth to a girl is a shame.
4. I’m from a place where girls don’t have a proper education, but they are trained to be good girls and good wives.
5. I’m from a country where women are under a man’s control and they need to ask a man’s (father/brother/husband) permission for almost everything!
6. I’m from a culture where “boys will be boys”, “he’s a man, he has needs”, “what were you wearing?”, “what did you do to make him beat you?” are commonly used excuses to justify men’s actions.
7. I’m from one of those countries where religion claims to bring equality and women’s rights, but in reality, it sees women as second-class people*.
If I have to describe everything in one word, I’d say that a woman is a SLAVE!
Would you like to be a slave? A prisoner? I didn’t want to. I wanted to live my own life, to earn my own money, to make my own decisions. I wanted to be free and independent! And I was determined to do so!
I know, it sounds crazy, it’s like escaping from a prison. It’s risky, but it is possible! How do I know that? Because I escaped from my prison. And I want to share my story with you.
Let me describe myself very briefly. I was a very shy, quiet girl. I liked to study, read, learn. And I always was a model child. So, my parents couldn’t possibly expect anything ‘wrong’ from me. When I was almost 9 my family decided to move to Russia, because it was difficult to find a job in my country. The decision was made – things were packed and we moved to Russia.
It was the first big step in my life.
As a girl from strict and conservative family, I was surprised to see that girls and boys could talk to each other, play together and that all of this was normal in Russia. This environment changed me. Slowly and steadily. I started thinking as a Russian. 6 years later we moved back to my country and I felt as a foreigner there. The only thing I could hear was “don’t look at him, don’t talk to him, keep your head down, keep your voice low, don’t wear that, don’t do that, etc.”
That was a difficult 5 years in my country. During those 5 years my elder sister got married, my younger sister got engaged, and then it was my turn. But I wanted to study. I wanted to have a higher education. And let me tell you that it’s not a common thing in my country. But I got lucky. My dad let me study. And this was the second big step in my life.
5 years later we moved back to Russia where I continued my education. I was 20 when I started uni. Usually girls from my culture are supposed to get married by the age of 20. But I was studying and it was the key to my freedom.
Being back in my home country for 5 years made me realize how different I’d become from my people, my family, my culture; that I didn’t want to get married. I wanted to study, work, be financially independent, travel, explore the world and live my dream life. I started thinking about it – every day. I didn’t want to imagine it, I wanted to make it real. I knew that it would be difficult, but I also knew that it was possible.
I wasn’t scared to make it happen even though it was risky. I was scared of NOT making it happen. I was scared of living an unhappy life with a question in my head “WHAT WOULD IT BE LIKE IF I RISKED TO LIVE THE LIFE I WANT TO LIVE?!”
I made a plan.
I needed to complete my education, get my degree and find a job.
I had to apply for a Russian citizenship so I could live in a country without the same restrictions; so, I could work and travel.
I needed to earn and save some money during university, because I knew that it’s not easy to find a job right after graduation.
I needed to make sure that I’d have a place to live when escape.
I had 4 years to work at this.
And you may think that’s enough time to make these plans happen. But let me tell you that it wasn’t easy with my super-strict family, under the eyes of my father, who ruled all I had.
I was allowed to study but only if I continued being a ‘good’ girl. I could only go to uni and back home. I wasn’t allowed to go out and celebrate with my uni friends. If my lecture ever ran overtime, I needed an email from my lecturer to prove why I was late.
Besides that, I needed my dad’s permission to apply for citizenship!
Long story short, I managed to do all of this. But I had to lie. A lot. I knew my dad well, and I prepared my answers for times he would suspicious and ask questions.
I finished uni, got my degree. A month later I finally applied for citizenship.
It was lots of paperwork and I did everything myself. It took 6 to 12 months to get the citizenship after applying. Such a wait as I was afraid, I’d be sent back to my country and married off.
So, it was time to leave. My decision was made. My things were packed and I’d written my letter for my family.
August 14th 2015 – I left home without saying a word.
That was the third big step in my life.
I was a 24 years old “kid” just starting an independent journey. I hadn’t worked before (except tutoring to save some money during uni), I’d never lived alone, I’d never made my own decisions. But I was excited to start my journey.
I thought it was a HAPPY ENDING, but no such luck. My parents tried to find me and bring me back home. They contacted the local police who started investigating my case. The police contacted me through social media and asked me to come to the police station to file a report saying that it was my decision to leave home, and that I was safe. I was scared to go to the station because I thought that it was a trap. I couldn’t think what would happen to me if my parents were there waiting for me. Eventually, I went and to my relief it was over.
I found a job and lived with my friend for the first few months, which allowed me to save. 9 months later I got my citizenship. However, in Russia you should have a proof of address stamped in your passport. My parents had removed me from our place, so I had to find another. Luckily, I have good friends. One of them helped me prove a temporary address for 6 months. I then needed to find another place urgently which I did. I rented for a year and this allowed me time to think of what to do next.
I didn’t want to stay in that small town any longer. Remember, I wanted to travel, explore the world. Well, I started working on it.
I made a plan.
I needed to save up money, and apply for travel passport (you get 2 passports in Russia; one is for traveling); and I needed to find a job abroad. Since I was an English teacher, I started looking for places where I could teach English. I found an agency that was connected with agencies in Asia. Long story short I had an interview; got a job; and packed my things. Tickets were bought. I moved to Hong Kong. PS: this was the first flight in my life. I’m still very proud of it.
Hong Kong is one of the most amazing places. It is, however, pretty expensive. I’ve here now for 3 years and I’m scheduled to extend my working visa again next week – wish me luck!
During 3 years I’ve been able to travel to several countries in Asia and beyond. I’ve been to Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and solo traveling to the UK for a month. I never thought I would do solo travel, so, I’m very proud of it.
I already have made a plan for the next year (hopefully our lives will be back to normal soon).
So, was it easy? Hell NO! Was it possible? Oh yeah! Was it worth it? Without a doubt – YES!
ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE if you really want to make it happen! And we girls are capable of anything!
So, keep your head down, keep your voice low and MAKE YOUR DAMN PLAN!
I went through it. I know how it feels. I was scared. I kept changing my mind every day. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents. But I had a friend who was there for me, who was supporting me and gave me someone to talk to, to share my plans with and to get advice. And I want you to know that I’m here for you.
I created a YouTube channel and now I use my voice to share my story. I call out the problems we women face in this patriarchal society, so that we can create change.
My channel is called ILA WELTY and I’d love to see you visit my channel and support all women! https://www.youtube.com/c/ilaWelty_FFF
About the Author
I am ila Welty and I am a feminist, a badass and a teacher. I believe that we are all equal, regardless of our gender, race, colour, disability, nationality, religion or sexual orientation. I believe that we must live the lives we want to, because we live just once. I believe that we all should be entitled to an education, because it builds a better future for all.
I escaped from patriarchal prison at age 24, and yes, it is never too late! What I want right now is to inspire and to motivate other girls to fight for their freedom! I’m sharing my story to show everyone that anything is possible. Your actions today determine your future. You go girl! You can do it!