“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

“But you need a shelter…a man to provide security to your family” – a well-intentioned relative advised, trying to convince me to marry when I was seventeen.

“I will be my own shelter…I may not know how but I have faith in myself” – I protested while fighting the self-doubt inside of me.

Growing up, I saw men take the ‘head of the family’ chair at the dinner table in most families. My parents, however, refused to believe in traditional gender roles. They taught me “you are our hope – you will stand for your siblings after us.” I did not realize this moment would come so soon but I am thankful for the values they instilled in me.

Twelve years ago, my parents and I were in a driving accident in which they both passed away. I survived the accident with a scarred face and a head injury but immediately after, I had to step up for my three younger siblings. What could I do? The words echoed in my mind “You are our hope.”

Years of hard work, perseverance, and optimism have made me a strong and independent woman today. I celebrate my life now with a man I married not because he provides me shelter but because he is my friend.

I want to inspire young women, in my home country and beyond, to overcome setbacks and achieve their dreams.

— Onaizah Panhwar