I have always hated the way I was treated differently for been born a girl. I am a 19-year-old Sri Lankan girl. My family moved to New Zealand 7 years ago, and coming from a South-Asian background I was always told how a girl should behave. Recently, after attending a family violence awareness training seminar with Shakti, when I was at a family friend’s house, my father and an uncle started discussing how Sri Lanka family dynamic teaches children respect, and I thought this was the day I can change their mind about gender inequality.
My father and the uncle talked about how in Sri Lanka, if we see a family walking down the road, head of the family, the father, walks a bit to the front of the rest of the family. They talked about how this is a sign of protection and that the man is leading and protecting his wife and kids. At meal times, the father or the grandfather gets food first because the wife respect the husband for providing for her. I do not see this as a sign of respect but authority and dominance men hold over women. Respect is not a one-way street, men and women both should respect each other and aimed be equal partners in a relationship. We also do not live in the 80s or 90s anymore. Most women work to support their family due to economic circumstances, which means the so called ‘family dynamic’ has changed. Women should not be obligated to do house work by themselves. Nowadays, men and women both have 9am to 5pm jobs. When they return from work, both partners should take responsibilities and help each other with work around the house.
Ever since I was little, I challenged my mother when she told me I should do certain things because I am a girl. I don’t mind helping my parents or doing a little housework but I am against the fact I should do these things because I am a girl. This bothers me more because I have an older brother who gets no responsibilities around the house just for been born a guy. I was told from a younger age how I should dress, sit, or talk if I ever wanted to get married. Now that we live in New Zealand, for many situations my mother argues, “We are Sri Lankans. Just because we live in NZ, don’t forget about how we do things in our culture”. Normally it is a good thing to hold on to the culture of the country we are from but it is not a valid reason to discriminate based on gender. It is time to change the traditional family dynamic that forces gender labels.
How girls should dress is something that often comes up in our culture. We are told to cover ourselves to stay protected. I tried to explain this to the uncle I was talking to, that girls don’t get sexually assaulted because of what they wear, and if that was the case western countries like New Zealand would have higher rate of rape than a country like Sri Lanka. Instead of telling girls to cover themselves and feel ashamed show their body, why aren’t we teaching boys to treat women with respect? The uncle responded by saying “why would you want to be vulnerable like that?” Women shouldn’t have to feel vulnerable and exposed when they wear comfortable clothes.
I have always challenged my parents when they tell me to be a “girl” and I will continue to do so. Even though my parents are set on their ways and not likely to change, I won’t keep quiet and accept. I am grateful for everything they have done for me, especially bringing me to a country that opened my eyes and can raise my voice to challenge these views of inequalities.