Growing up in Afghanistan, CU-Boulder student Lima Esslam came to understand the pressure that many young women face to accept offers for arranged marriage. Now, a senior pursuing a degree in women and gender studies, she has career aspirations of working with organizations that promote women’s safety and education.
When Esslam recently returned to Afghanistan for family weddings, she became even more aware of the reality that young Afghan women often face.
“I found out more about how girls are getting married at a young age, and I read about it and did more research,” said Esslam, who also volunteers at CU-Boulder's Women’s Resource Center. “About 57 percent of girls who are under the age of 16 are forced into marrying an older man.”
Esslam explained that arranged marriages have not historically represented such an age gap. But because there are less young men present during years of war, more families are offering their young daughters to marry older men. Additionally, marriage symbolizes both honor and security for the bride and her family.
“It’s a cultural thing. Even if a girl receives an education and goes out on her own, she might not be safe. She might get kidnapped,” Esslam said. “Then there would be a spot on the family’s honor.”
Esslam recently participated in an international event called One Billion Rising, a movement dedicated to ending violence against women, where she created and performed “Child Bride,” a performance that was inspired by a CU class she took called “Performing Voices of Women.” During the semester, each student created four theatrical performances to share with fellow classmates on a given topic. After Esslam’s final performance, originally titled “Child Marriage,” theater professor Beth Osnes encouraged her to connect with One Billion Rising.
Along with her parents and five brothers, Esslam came to the United States in 2004, spending the latter part of her childhood in Thornton before coming to study at CU-Boulder. Returning to Afghanistan, she said, is part of her long-term goal.
“It could be dangerous for me, but I’m not really scared,” said Esslam. “I could build up a dozen lives there.”
She also has come to understand the value of education for women around the world.
“Education is freedom,” Esslam said. “It helps women get out of the box and break all the barriers. It gives them the freedom to share their voice.”