Mar 112008
Authors: Cece Wildeman

Being born a woman is sort of like being born with a disadvantage, so says Sagarika Sarma.

But the CSU graduate student from India said she doesn’t let that bother her. After she graduated from a women’s school in her home country of India, Sarma moved into a male-dominated career, she told students at a panel celebrating International Women’s Week Tuesday.

Sarma and the other six women who spoke discussed the ways in which they overcame that disadvantage through education.

“Education is the most important thing because if you don’t have education, you won’t know right from wrong,” Sarma said.

Sarma said the teachers in her women’s school in India brought women’s rights to the surface and made her really think about the issue.

“After being around all of those men, I learned what it means to survive outside the security of your own home,” she said.

After hearing Sarma speak, the other six women told their personal stories, focusing on education as well.

Jocelyn Johnson of Turkey and Saltanat Tuyakbageya of Kazakhstan both shared stories of gaining respect for choosing to further their education. Johnson was born in Turkey and moved to the U.S. at a young age. After beginning her college career, she traveled back to Turkey to study at a university there.

She then traveled to Kazakhstan to complete an internship. In both countries she was shown great amounts of respect for becoming an independent woman and furthering her education, she said.

Tuyakbageya was born in Kazakhstan but lived in India with her family for a number of years, where she began attending a women’s college at age 16. Her family left India when she was 17, but she decided to continue her education at the women’s college — a move she said earned her respect in the community.

While all of these women attended or are currently attending college, they said others are not as fortunate.

“I was lucky to be born into a family where there were no restrictions for women,” said Saira Rashid, a native of Pakistan. Rashid said most families in Pakistan did not support their daughters 10 years ago.

Although about 70 percent of women in Pakistan are currently uneducated, Rashid said the number of educated women is rising, and that one to three educated women are coming out of each family.

Petra Marlin, a native of Germany, also talked about the support of her family as well as her challenges. Marlin moved back and forth between her homeland and the U.S. all throughout her life. After returning to Germany at age 11, Marlin decided to enter German school to re-learn German. She said that one of the biggest challenges was the combination of nervous adolescence and a language barrier. Sudeshini Bandara, of Sri Lanka, shared a story about her personal challenges with education as well.

She attended a women’s school in Sri Lanka and when she graduated, she said, she felt as though she had not had any real exposure to the world. She continued into a job field where she had to deal with a lot of men, something that she said she was not yet comfortable with, but overcame as time passed.

“It’s just a different experience and a different culture,” she said.

Senior Reporter Cece Wildeman can be reached at

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