#IWD2019: Why I Left My Arranged Marriage

Ladies, this week marks International Women’s Day yet again, a Christmas equivalent for my calendar.

One that rains in presents in the form of the awareness and celebration of womanhood. In case you missed it, International Women’s Day is a day where women all over the world are recognised and celebrated for their achievements.

It’s a day where we highlight our successes in everything from entertainment and community, to politics and the economy; a day we celebrate the woman who puts in the hard yards to get that big promotion, the mother who juggles a small business while raising three kids, the girl who is the first in her family to graduate from university.

However, International Women’s Day is also a day for us to reflect on how far we’ve come in our struggle for equality, address barriers that continue in our society, and call for meaningful change. This year’s theme from the UN is #MorePowerfulTogether. According to the IWD website, it:

Recognises the important role we all play -- as women, men, non-binary and gender diverse people. It takes all of us, working in collaboration and across that which sometimes divides us, breaking down stereotypes and gendered roles to create a world where women and girls everywhere have equal rights and opportunities.

If you pay attention, you’ll notice that each year around Intentional Women's Day, we’re pushed to “Be Bold For Change” and “Balance For Better” -- but what does this actually mean?

For me, it’s a clarion call. It’s a reminder that we need to stand in unison for gender equality. That every single one of us should heed the call for change, because no matter who you are, you CAN make a difference. I know this is something you’ve probably heard hundreds of time before, but it is something that I deeply believe in.

After all, it happened to me.

I was brought to Australia when I was just a year old and grew up in a loving household but within an entrenched patriarchal society that constantly expected me to be the “good Indian girl”. And, of course, there were certain things all good Indian girls did: get good grades, respect your elders, and marry a good Indian boy when the time was right.

Like any rebellious teen, I had a “secret” boyfriend and my parents also soon found out. However, unlike many teens, when our parents found out, they sat down and started planning the marriage. I was 17 at the time.

Good Indian girls are meant to marry good Indian boys when the time is right. (Image: Getty)

I wouldn’t say my was marriage arranged, and this is certainly not true of Indian culture, where ‘arranged’ means not knowing your future spouse until the official introduction (think MAFS but without the cameras, drama and well, know). However, I was young and eager to fit into a mould I thought the world wanted to see me in. I wanted to please and to fit in. Looking back, I so badly wanted to be ‘accepted’, and by extension, be ‘good enough’.

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But once I was married, things didn’t get any easier. The reasons for which are deeply personal and unique, and yet one of which, was ever universal: I was so busy trying to be what everyone else wanted me to be, that I lost track of what made me truly me.

So I chose to leave.

In doing so I knew I risked losing my family. My community. Even my friends.

I essentially risked burning what I knew to be my life down to ashes.

I was 17 when my family started arranging my marriage. (Image: Getty)

But then, I realised something. Failure was not an option. And when you think about life that way, you search hard for ways to push through to the other side. I was lucky enough to have some savings and that financial independence gave me the opportunity to make choices that wouldn’t have been available to another woman. I had my own trade (financial planning), the means to earn a wage and the tools to shape my own reality. And so I did.

It wasn’t easy. There were times when I faced impossible discrimination and times when I wanted to give up. Times when that little voice inside my head kept whispering, "You’re not good enough.”

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But I pushed and fought. And in fighting for myself and my independence, I was reborn stronger, wiser, and braver. Doing so taught me that I could do it and that the power to be bold, the power to change is within me. Realising this has helped me mount the insurmountable. It’s given me the strength to tackle self-doubt at every turn, before launching my business -- a mentoring and coaching support network for women -- staring at possible failure in the face and moving forward anyway.

Just think of all the amazing women who have succeeded against impossible odds. Despite being repeatedly molested by her cousin and uncle, giving birth at 14, and being told she was unfit for TV, Oprah is now one of the most powerful and admired women in the world.

READ MORE: Has Feminism Sucked All The Fun Out Of Motherhood?

Despite being diagnosed with life-threatening juvenile (Type 1) diabetes at the age of seven, Bronx native Sonia Sotomayor learned how to boil water, sterilise syringes, and give herself insulin shots, before becoming the first Latina Supreme Court Justice and the third woman ever to serve on the Court.

Lady Gaga was bullied horrendously throughout school, and when she first submitted her demos to studio Def Jam, was told that her music was “disgusting”. She had a boyfriend who told her that she’d never succeed, never be nominated for a Grammy, never have a hit and hoped she’d fail. Did she let that get her down? No.

“I said to him someday, when we’re not together, you won’t be able to order a cup of coffee at the fucking deli without hearing or seeing me.”

So many of us trying to fit into a mould of someone else’s definition of success and this is what truly holds us back. It’s the deeply systemic nature of patriarchal norms (telling us we have to look a certain way, act a certain way, feel a certain way) that is holding away from our true selves. And real power, is the one within us, when we listen to ourselves, and our true calling.

READ MORE: 'You Forgot To Invite Women': Gender Equality Awards Fail

In my career, I've spoken to hundreds of women and asked them what they would change in their lives if failure wasn’t an option. Their responses have blown me away, and given me all the proof I've ever needed to know, just know, in my bones that change is possible. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about business or relationships or skydiving. You have the power to start that new business, leave that unhappy relationship, and take a leap into the unknown.

If there is anything I’ve learned from speaking to so many women it’s this: We need be busy making ourselves successful, instead of being busy convincing others we can be successful.

READ MORE: Rose McGowan Lends Voice To #WalkoutOz For Pay Equality

That's when we'll really be more powerful for ourselves and each other. Then, and only then, regardless of what day of the year it is, International Women’s Day can just be a day for pure celebration -- and not a moment to remind us of how far yet we have to go.

So the next time you doubt yourself and don’t push forward on your dreams, just think where the world would have been without the likes of inspirational Oprah, Julie Bishop, Lady Gaga... and most importantly you.

Shivani Gopal is the founder and CEO of The Remarkable Woman; accelerating the path towards equality for women and for the world.