Sharmin Mollick ’14 was honored by Glamour magazine as one of the “20 Amazing Young Women Who Are Already Changing the World” at Glamour’s 20th Annual Women of the Year Awards in New York City earlier this month. The event was held at Carnegie Hall and attended by influential women, such as Hillary Clinton, Katie Couric and former A.D. White Professor-at-Large Jane Goodall.
Mollick, who originally hails from Bangladesh, received the recognition for defying traditional gender roles in the Muslim community that she was brought up.
“I didn’t even know about [Glamour’s Amazing Young Women award] … and they basically contacted me,” Mollick said. “A lot of women are actually forced into marriage at an early age [in Bangladesh] and don’t have an education, so it’s hard to stand against that tradition … I did whatever I could to achieve an education, and I hope other women can follow my footsteps.”
According to Human Rights Watch World Report 2010, women in Bangladesh still face rampant problems of sexual harassment and domestic violence. The report cited unfair laws against women as well as a lack of justice against those that abused them.
In addition, the U.S. National Institute of Health found that sexuality is used in Bangladesh to deny information to women, which is one of the methods used to reinforce unequal gender roles. Decision-making is controlled by males of the family, which contributes to problems such as dual gender standards and unwanted pregnancies.
Despite being pressured by her parents and her uncles to follow tradition and marry early, Mollick fell in love with biology in seventh grade and was determined to pursue higher education. Mollick said that a subject, such as biology, was viewed in her culture as not appropriate for women because it “corrupts one’s mind.”
“I believe that getting an education in any subject will not corrupt your mind and will actually help you to become a better person,” Mollick said. “Biology is my passion and I wanted to do something with my life.”
In her interview with Glamour, Mollick cited that her mother’s opposition to studying biology was the biggest challenge she faced, despite having to take on odd jobs such as street sweeping and manage her own finances in order to continue going to school. Mollick’s pursuit of education would continue when she moved to the New York City in 9th grade with her mother. In high school, she found time to care for her sick mother, learn English and participate in numerous extracurricular activities.
Mollick would eventually organize an LGBT prom involving multiple high schools across the city. She said she empathized with LGBT friends in high school who were frequently bullied.
“I could relate to them because I was put down for being a girl [in Bangladesh], and they were put down being LGBT,” Mollick said.
Mollick says Cornell was her top choice due to its well-regarded science programs and because it would allow her to “interact with more international students, which I love to do.” Mollick continued to aspire outside of the realm of academia; Mollick and about 15 other young women from Bangladesh and India are starting a group called the Muslim Organization of Young Women. Their goal is to help finance female education in their home country, which allows other girls to pursue their intellectual interests and create new opportunities that would be otherwise impossible.
“For the past two years, we have been trying to raise funds to help some of the schools in rural villages accept females … and hire female teachers to teach them,” Mollick said.
“When I get older … I want to go back to my country and open up schools for those who are deprived of an education,” she added.
Brendan Doyle contributed additional reporting to this article.
Andrew Hu can be reached at [email protected]
Original Author: Andrew Hu