When Jolia Tombek was a child, she was forbidden to play soccer with the boys outside.
The eight-year-old had cried, wondering why Sudanese girls were not equal to boys.
Now 26, Ms Tombek said it was one of the reasons she was grateful to call Australia home.
The Sudanese-Wagga woman shared her story from oppression to freedom amid the city’s International Women’s Day celebrations on Thursday.
The threat of military conflict had forced Ms Tombek and her family to flee Sudan in the late 90s, seeking refuge in Egypt, where they remained for six years.
“The government was being tough on its own people,” Ms Tombek said. “Especially the males – the young boys.”
The family lived with a grim reality the five young men could be taken, given a weapon and forced to fight, without warning.
“If young men were seen just hanging around, they were taken,” Ms Tombek said. “My mother was afraid … so my parents decided it was safer to leave.”
It was a difficult decision and one that came with great sacrifice, according to the 26-year-old, who said there were many things about her home country she still missed.
But a cultural norm she was happy to live without was the great divide between men and women – a divide enforced when a girl was about 10 years old and reclassified as a young woman.
When puberty hit, Ms Tombek said it would be time to get the dowry sorted and look for a potential husband.
From this time on, a woman’s place was in the home; cooking, cleaning, raising children and looking after the husband – and sometimes his family too.
It was an idea Ms Tombek said she struggled to comprehend and could not abide.
“I had a fire in me,” she said. “I wanted what they had … that respect … I worked hard for that and I wanted it.”
She said coming to Australia in 2015 had been a bonus for her and her family.
The 26-year-old now works in early childhood roles and said she was looking forward to a future that she chose.
“If men and women don’t have an understanding of each other, it creates conflict,” Ms Tombek said.
“When women are educated to be perfect for men, but men are not taught the same, it’s not fair … it’s boring.
“I would rather die.”
She said life should be about what you want.
“It should be beautiful and enjoyable,” Ms Tombek said. “I would like to have children one day, but I will bring them up how I choose.”