Raising an Indian Daughter to be equal

my little Bubba welcomes our guest blogger, BrownBritishDad, for his first blog on living as a British Indian father to a little girl.

This is my first blog, so take it easy on me. I am a British Indian man/boy (however old we get, do we ever feel like we are more than boys who are just losing track of time), whose life was turned upside down when my daughter was born around 16 months ago.

I have always wanted a daughter, and I was ecstatic when I found out we were having a little girl. My immediate thoughts were that I was going to be the best dad to her – fill her with confidence, encourage her independence, dress her up in the cutest clothes, take her to learn ballet, get that pink bow for her….erm wait. Was I drifting into gender stereotypes?

I have had good intentions ever since (and before) she was born to raise a strong, independent and equal woman. But recently, I realised that change doesn’t happen because of general ideals floating in one’s mind – it happens in small increments, with specific actions snowballing over time. And it will take a lot of actions to change the 1000-years in the making Indian mindset over girls and women.

So this blog is actually a request to all of you out there who have/had girls/neices etc. – what actions did you take to raise them as independent, equal women?

I am the younger of two sons, and my parents have always wanted a daughter – although having a second son didn’t stop them from carrying on as if they did have one (everyone used to dress their younger son up in a dress and eyeliner every so often, right?).

As with most second generation Indians born in England, I’ve grown up in a world which is split into two – one half the “traditional” Indian world at home, and the other the “modern” English world outside, and it was often difficult to reconcile the two (although that is a blog for another day), although fortunately my parents were always of a “modern” mindset and had assimilated into English culture relatively well.

However, as with most brown people living in the West, my world as I was growing up was full of moments when the different treatment between men and women was all too apparent, either with my family or in the wider community.

Women would work AND be in the kitchen vs men working and then chilling on the sofa.

Women would wear traditional panjabis/saris everywhere vs the men wearing western clothes.

Boys were allowed out late drinking vs girls being told to come home early and having to phone in their location and plans every hour.

Ever notice how communities had mainly men on their committees?

And these are a drop in the ocean compared to what occur in more “traditional” families/communities.

And, now it turns out that the Western society which we all assumed was better in this regard, actually is not – the #metoo, the revelations about gender pay gap in the city, the amount of women MDs or partners in city institutions, showing that inequality is ingrained in all cultures, in all societies, just more hidden in some than others.

My daughter is lucky that she has great female role models in her life. She only needs to look up at her mummy to see a fierce, independent, clever, streetsmart and well-respected woman. Her godmother (yes, we chose to adopt that concept) is a passionate advocate of women’s rights, a woman pursuing a fantastic career and is not afraid to speak her mind, whatever the situation.

But….there’s always a but…the Indian mindset has not been learned over one generation, or two – the difference in roles is deeply ingrained in our psyche. A strong woman has traditionally been one who has supported her family, the highest honour comes not from a career but from how well she can make “batata nu shaak [potato curry]”, indeed even now both mothers and mother-in-laws often ask newly-married women not how their work is going, but what they have fed their husband that evening!

Following marriage, society (that dreaded, all-seeing, all knowing, but invisible beast) would compliment me for offering a drink to guests when they came over, or helping to put items in the dishwasher, while my wife would have to grin and bear it as she put on the fourth load of washing, having cooked and cleaned for the entire week (in my defence, I did work late so couldn’t help out as much!)!

And how do you explain the paradox in Indian culture to your children, where on a wider societal level, women Goddesses are prayed to on a daily basis, where India was one of the first countries with a woman prime minister, where women are held in the highest regard as the bedrock of the family, but at the same time, on an individual level, a woman’s achievements in her life are disregarded if she is not married by her early 30s.

So, back to my daughter – these are my aims for her:

  • be independent
  • pursue her interests, whatever they may be
  • believe she can do whatever she wants
  • marry whoever she wants
  • disregard negative judgments from “society”
  • ultimately, just to be happy

All lofty goals, I’m sure you can agree. And this is where the inspiration for this blogpost came up. As I mentioned earlier, change is not achieved by generic aims such as the above – by the time I am able to teach my little girl these ideals, she will be much older, and certain habits may already have been ingrained. Change is achieved by many, consistent, small actions. So my small actions while she is still young (1-5 years old) are as follows:

  • from a young age, encourage her to pick out her own clothes
  • take her to watch live football with me
  • encourage playing with cars and tools, traditionally thought of as “boy’s toys”

And here is where I need your help – what have you done with your daughter/neice to encourage her to grow up into an independent, incredible and equal woman? Please share your ideas to start sowing the seeds for change. 

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