For Nino

Gunel Movlud’s letter to her daughter after emigrating from Azerbaijan to Norway

Gunel Movlud
Gunel Movlud

Gunel Movlud

is a writer, poet, and translator from Azerbaijan now living in Norway. On 18 August, her daughter Nino will celebrate her first birthday.

My father fought with my mother on the day I was born because I was a girl.

On the same day, a man in our village who had a physical disability had a baby boy. My father’s anger doubled. So-and-so had a baby boy but I had a baby girl, he said, and he didn’t take me in his arms for a year. He made up with my mother three years later – when his first son was born, he bought a gold ring and put it on his wife’s finger.

My parents would talk about this in front of me without any hesitation. It never occurred to them that they might hurt me by doing so. In fact, compared to everything that came later, those conversations really didn’t hurt very much.

On the day you were born, your father hugged you and experienced the joy of your birth.

Once, when I was in fifth grade, instead of using the road, I went home through the gardens in the village. I was a girl who read novels and wrote poems, and I appreciated nature, trees and beauty. Thanks to literature I was sophisticated for my age. When I got home and my mother learnt that I had come through the gardens, she beat me until blood started coming out of my mouth. She said, “If someone had come and raped you, your father would have been disgraced!” That was the only reason my hypothetical rape worried her – I didn’t belong to myself, I was the honor of all men in our family, and therefore I had to guard my body.

On that day, I realized that if something like that ever happened to me, if I was raped, I’d be sure to keep my lips sealed. I would be silent to stay alive, because my mother, who beat me so badly at the mere thought of rape, would probably kill me if I was actually raped.

Never in your life will your mother hit you. She will be by your side every step you take, whenever you are you in trouble, whenever you make a mistake.

Ever since the day I was born, people around me told me so often that I had to get married that a feeling of brokenness never left me until the day I married your father. Women in my country would sometimes show me their babies and say, “No one would sit in the shade of a barren tree – why don’t you have a baby?” Even though I had a job, opportunities, a future, and a full and interesting life, I was perceived as a hapless and incomplete woman who couldn’t possibly be happy right up to the day your brother was born. My mother thrust my dowry in my face, my relatives scolded me, my father and brothers almost threatened me, and others said, “What’s the use of a woman who has no husband or children?” and looked down on me as a second-rate person.

Two men got me out of that situation – those men were your father and your brother. It is owing to them that I became a wife and a mother and thus I asserted myself as a woman. That’s the only way a woman can assert herself in my country. There, the two symbols of womanhood are the wedding dress and the baby stroller. Until they appear in your life, you have not asserted yourself as a woman.

You, my daughter, were born in the world’s most feminist country. You were born in a country where women are so free and so united that their own freedoms are not enough for them. “As long as we’re not all free and equal, none of us is free or equal,” say the women of your country. In your country, a woman doesn’t view a man as a means of their self-assertion. She has a baby only because she wants to be a mother. In your country, a woman doesn’t think of marriage as the rule of life.

I won’t buy you a dowry or tell you to get married. You’ll have endless choices regarding your own life and regarding what kind of woman to be. If you never start a family, you won’t be worried at all, because for you it will be a matter of choice whether to get married, or stay single, or live in a civil partnership, or simply be a lover of life, and no option will take precedence over another.

In the country I was born in, the only genders are women and men. All other genders are cursed, beaten, killed, fired from jobs, and forced to hide their gender and start a family. In the country I was born in, your sex life is not yours at all. It’s not private, and everyone has the right and opportunity to meddle in it.

You will have a completely free sex life. Your body will belong only to you. You’ll be the only one making decisions about your body. You won’t feel ashamed about any partner you make love to, you will not think you are doing something immoral. You will not be anybody else’s honor, your body will not belong to anyone else but yourself.

I was born into such destitution and chaos that the danger of drowning in it, of being destroyed by it, was very real. In university I threw myself into my studies even though I was in a program that I had no interest in, and then I worked for 15 years without stopping to catch my breath. I worked hard when I had the strength for it and when I didn’t.

You will have lots of choices. You won’t face the same dangers that I did. Your parents and your country will be behind you. You can be an academic or an artist, you can be a programmer or you can sell kebabs – whatever you want to do, it’s your choice because in your country everyone is equal and is afforded the same prosperity and respect.

Before my arms and legs became strong, my mother taught me to do work that even adults find difficult. You were born with such advantages compared to your mother, my little angel. But believe me, your mother knew the taste of freedom and happiness despite the hardship, inequality, and taboos she was born into. And as your mother I will only teach you two things.

To be free and happy.

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