Freedom in Canada -India’s Rampant Gender Inequality

Pulp Cottage | Culture | 10 min read | April 24, 2020

Freedom in Canada -India’s Rampant Gender Inequality

I moved to Canada 9 years ago and now I freak out over the thought of ever moving back to India. If I had a daughter, I would have banished her notions of ever living in India. Yes, as a woman who has now experienced true liberty here in Canada; who was raised in India—I  experienced severe gender based harassment for most of my life. Activities as simple as walking down the street, contrast heavily here in Canada from anywhere in India. India still struggles with rampant gender inequality. I am FREE here in Canada. I feel SAFE here in Canada. I can birth a daughter here in Canada.

In India, I  had all the privileges, financial independence and constitutional rights like men. On Paper. Yet, out on the streets, our daily life as women did not reflect our “paper-rights”. I survived the daily ogling by men while I walked to the bus-stop  to access my work place. And while shopping for food. Accomplishing any public task that you can imagine was an invitation for sexual harassment. I wore culturally appropriate clothing most of the time and was still whistled at and subjected to obscene sexual innuendos and gestures. I barely survived being touched inappropriately in public transports before I started earning enough to use private transportation. I worked hard and studied hard to claw my way out of those physical daily placements.

Despite my achievements in life I was often made to feel small, dirty and loathsome in my own skin by many men because I’m a woman. Growing up in India,  it was all part of life. As a mother, now naturalized to Canada,  I would want my daughter to have an easier way.

Freedom in Canada for Women

Innumerable Indian women have been successful as doctors, scientists, business women, artists and other professions due to their unique dedication and determination. Most often, families support their daughters as they quest for higher education. But some daughters are forced to go against their family’s wishes to achieve their dreams. For girls and women in India, there is a constant struggle to exist and thrive and this is why….

Indian mythology designates women to the status of Goddesses. This ideology raises a woman’s status much higher than men. That all sounds pretty cool, right?  Yet, there’s always one giant caveat to this “rule”: A woman is to consider her husband a God and is expected to worship him. Unconscionable in Canadian or western world value systems.

There are many factors influencing men’s behaviour towards women, in India. Raised in homes that support this outdated generational ideology of male superiority is primarily what keeps this “cycle” alive. Secondarily how we marry and experience life’s milestones is also a crux point. It’s most ironic as a woman in India to be liberated to vote, to be identified and counted, only to disappear on the streets of India society in a wasteland of sexual abuse and harassment.

The zealousness of male sexuality is just another manifestation of this hierarchy of:  Male control, domination and intimidation to promote subservience.

Women are objectified to serve the men. We are “things” we are simply assets.  To stay short and crisp, I would just highlight the mentality of such generational men who openly punish women by molesting them, physically, mentally and psychologically.

Male Hierarchy in India

Mythologically and religiously, a son is the most important asset parents can accrue during their lifetime due to various superstitions and misconceptions, hence the feeling of superiority comes with the gender. Furthermore, women are raised as “family assets”.  A daughter is considered “Laxmi” the ‘goddess of wealth’ and once she is married, that wealth (along with the woman herself) moves to her husband’s home. Parents must have no share in that wealth or their daughter and they must pay a large dowry (money) to the groom’s family to get her married. This is widely how it operates today. Moving beyond folklore in Canada and insisting on reality in India.

The birth of a daughter is still mourned in many Indian communities to this day. Wealthier citizens often travel out of country for gender identification ultrasounds (illegal in India) and quickly abort female fetuses. Over and over until a son is conceived.

In India, as a woman, I felt unwanted by society and the need to justify my existence was overwhelming. I would try to prove that women were worthy of as much respect as men, using my own achievements.

You CAN wear shorts and spaghetti straps in India. But typically only in few places meant for relatively privileged class designate people. The very same privileged women would need to cover themselves more appropriately while stepping out of their privileged and protected territories. And still, covering yourself up completely doesn’t guarantee immunity from sexual harassment. This is the paradox of the Indian culture. There are freedoms for women protected on paper. There are recognized illegal acts such as aborting gender ID’d fetuses, but the cultural divide needs much improvement to reach those paper-rights. And life moves on in India everyday, this way. 

After moving to Canada, I felt an immediate sense of security as a woman. It took me sometime to stop watching my sides for potential miscreants while walking alone on a street. It felt amazing to be able to walk, run and exercise outdoors without needing another person’s company for safety, or to worry about what exercise gear I should be wearing.

I felt completely at ease wearing what I felt good in, without people giving me those stares. My family members no longer had to ask me to change my clothes in concern that my skirt was only 2 inches below my  knees.

In these nine years, while testing out public transportation in Canada, I have not once experienced personal risk for my safety. Even a drunk or addict is more respectful to women on public transportation in Canada—amusingly so!

And the best part, I can do my own liquor shopping without anyone batting a single eyelid! That is called real freedom (okay, I am just exaggerating right now. Though it is definitely a big milestone!) I can select my own wine for a public party with my girlfriends and we can all wear whatever we like. Wow. Having a cup of coffee with a male friend or colleague doesn’t make me a characterless woman.

In Canada, I drive almost everyday, without ever being hooted at or bullied for being a female driver.

Not a single person in Canada told me about how important it was to have a boy child, which was a huge relief during my pregnancies away from India! I won’t go into detail about how some of the well wishers back home were extra happy about me bearing sons, because HERE, in Canada, that simply doesn’t matter.

India has a rich heritage and a colourful culture. That is TRUE.  There is a lot of warmth in Indian hearts. It is sincere. But sadly, it is not the best place to be born as a girl.  I can’t ignore the limitations women face in India or in similar culturally inept and unequal countries. The World has come a long way, yet there still remains too many cases of gender harassment, molestation, domestic violence, rape etc. Canada is far more socially and culturally advanced, but is not immune to gender based inequalities and how this can wreak havoc on the very threads of civil and safe societies.

For me, as a WOMAN, Canada feels way more comforting. I really love my new found freedom and I appreciate it! I have respect for all those who fought for it and who are still struggling to protect women and other gender-based rights in Canada. My freedom is the single and most important reason for me to stay in Canada. I am thankful.

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Dr. Vatsala Sinha is a new writer to Pulp Cottage and an international medical graduate focused on Clinical Research and Public Health and Medical Aesthetics.  Art, fiction and poetry continue to be special interests. Currently, she is working on her second fiction book, along with going pandemic-crazy with her kids.

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