I was born to a Muslim family in a small town called Mymensingh in what then was East Pakistan. Today, after gaining independence, this country is Bangladesh. It is a nation of more than 140 million people—one of the most populous countries in the world, where 70 percent of the people live below the poverty line and more than half the population cannot read and write.
My childhood was little different from that of other girls of middle-class families. I was sent to a coeducational school until I reached the age of ten. When I turned eleven, I had to go to a girls’ school. From the sixth to the tenth grades, there were no coeducational schools. Girls frequently dropped out of school when they were fifteen or sixteen, when they often were given into an arranged marriage by their parents. Once married, most girls were not allowed to continue school or take a job. They became totally dependent upon their husbands.