Every time I go to the part of town nearby that is heavily populated by the East Indian community here in Vancouver, I get followed, leered at, or whistled at.
Today was no exception. An older man around 55 or 60 stared as I walked into the market, and then began to follow me around. He kept making strange guttural coughing sound right behind me so I knew he was only a few steps behind me all the time. Then, when I stopped at a busy stall, hoping he wouldn’t follow, he slid right next to me – five inches from me – and mumbled something or the other. He got very close. I didn’t look. I didn’t answer. Just grabbed my stuff and feld the market without even finishing my shopping.
I remember visiting India as a little girl on one of our many voyages between East Africa and Sri Lanka. Once, my parents left my little sister and I (8 & 6 years old) in the children’s department of a local museum in Mumbai and went to get coffee. As soon as they left, a big hairy man (that’s how I remember him) followed us around the exhibits, making low whistling noises. I remember feeling really scared but didn’t know what to do. We were just kids. At one point, I looked behind me to see the man had exposed himself and was staring at us from only a few feet away.
All I recall is grabbing my little sister’s hand and running toward the coffee shop, heart pounding like mad. We never told our parents. We didn’t know how to – it was too surreal, too bizarre.
That’s just one story. There are many more such experiences from my travels to South Asia. I’ve been groped, followed, cat called, and worse. My girlfriends from the Indian community in Surrey tell me that’s “just how men are,” that it happens all the time and they probably mistook me for an Indian girl. They told me that I’m probably a “target” because I go shopping and for walks by myself and because I wear shorts and summer dresses in the summer (imagine that). Their suggestion is to not wear shorts and to always be with someone else when I’m out of the house.
Responses like these make me sick to my stomach. So now, I shouldn’t walk alone to get my vegetables? Perhaps I should find a male guardian like they do in Saudi Arabia? Or why don’t I just find myself a goddamned frigging burka?
For those who think I must adjust. I have. I’ve changed what I wear (longer skirts etc…) and I watch where I walk and at what time of day to lessen the chances I get subject to this kind of behaviour. I’m now hyper vigilant everytime I go near these neighbourhoods where it’s worst. This certainly does not create a happy or relaxed environment for me when I go shopping. I’m seriously considering dying my hair blonde just to stop anyone from “targeting” me. I don’t give a crap what that will look like as long as I get left alone when I go for a run, a walk or to the market by myself.
But why should I make all these unnecessary changes while these sick, backward men get to go scott free and harass at will? How fair and just does that sound? It’s twisted and despicable. It’s wrong.
This kind of behaviour does not make me feel safe in my own neighbourhood. This does not make me feel like I have the freedom to walk around on my own without being harassed. And this is wrong.
And no, I refuse stay silent like my Indian girlfriends suggest I do. I refuse to pretend “this is not such a big deal” like they wish I did. Call me what you will (I’m sure some of you are now itching to throw the racist card at me), but this kind of abominable behaviour MUST STOP. These men must learn to respect women (as well as other men, transgender or otherwise of course!).
If you come from this community, please stop excusing or ignoring this behaviour. And tell them this is NOT ACCEPTABLE. Not in Canada. Not in India. Not anywhere in the world.
It’s been a year since I quit my job and here’s what I’ve learned. Entrepreneurship is tough.
I have to pave my own path not knowing what the end result will be or if I’m even going in the right direction. I work longer hours than I did as an employee and I’ve learned to protect my dream and focus, focus, focus, no matter what’s going around me.
But for the first time in my life, I’m doing work I absolutely enjoy and jump out of bed every morning eager to start my day. I’ve got five books out since December, have hit a few best seller lists and already see results which are amazing.
I’m normally a happy and healthy person. Over the past four years, I’ve managed to start and maintain several behaviour modifications in all areas of my life. I now exercise every morning, eat vegan, get good sleep and wake up feeling grateful to live in one of the most beautiful parts of this country—a move I purposefully made.
But there’s still one area of my life I haven’t conquered yet. It’s the most difficult part of my life journey so far and it’s been bugging me quite a bit lately.
Almost every day, I struggle with niggling little worries like: What a crappy chapter. No one’s gonna read this. Will I even make it? I’ll end up making no money, running out of savings and going bankrupt. Who am I kidding anyway? I’ll die a lonely death and get thrown in an unmarked grave or even to the sea. And on and on and on.
Science has shown that negative thinking (just like negative people) can ruin a career, relationships, even life. Negativity reduces the brain’s ability to think clearly and stay productive. It’s lowers our body’s defence mechanisms and triggers sicknesses. Plus it’s a massive waste of time.
My anxieties aren’t about what others think or say or do or whether someone else is getting ahead or not. I cured that problem after working in places like NATO. A few weeks there and I’d already had the hide of a rhino! No, my worries are all about how I feel about me. I am my own worst enemy.
There’s a saying that it takes a positive attitude to achieve positive results. As Victor Frankl shows in Man’s Search for Meaning, events are neutral. It’s our choice how we respond to them. The decisions we make today determines our lifestyle tomorrow.
Okay, but how in the heck do we control the mind then?
Today, I decided to try an experiment. A low-tech one. Every time a negative thought crosses my mind, I’m going to drop a red bean in my brand new Stinking Thinking Jar.
Here’s the plan.
Whenever a negative thought pops into my mind, I’ll ask myself if that thought has any benefits to me, anyone else in the world or if it’s aligned with my core goals. If the answer is no to all three, then in the jar a bean will go.
Every night when I journal about my day, I will add up the beans and post the number in a corner of the page. This will measure this activity in concrete terms—i.e. number of red beans—so I can’t bluff my way out or hide from the truth. I know the competitive nature in me means I will very quickly try my darndest to decrease the number of beans in the jar so I can “win.”
And that is what will reduce my stinking thinking behaviour.
I’ll update this post in 30 days to share my results. I’m confident I can do this!
In the meantime, here’s an amazing video compilation that I know will inspire you.
This week, many of our brave sisters in Iran are risking their lives by standing in public without their mandatory – legislated – head covering. Yes, a woman not covering up is tantamount to a criminal activity, not just in Iran, but in other parts of the Middle East and Asia. Yes, this is 2018 and we’re still dealing with these barbaric and backward practices. Depressing, isn’t it?
But there’s something that depresses me even more. I have a hard time understanding why some Canadians and other Westerners – many who call themselves liberal and open, and bend over backward to be politically correct – vociferously defend face, head and even fully body coverings that are usually dictated by archaic traditions and customs where women are treated as second class commodities, with very strict rules and roles to follow.
Such women are usually told the coverings are for their “safety” – as twisted that logic is. This kind of sentiment is not just degrading to the women, but disrespectful to those men who are more than capable of controlling their impulses and live in society as normal, law-abiding citizens.
If this practice is so “noble” – as some purport it to be – then why is it only forced upon women? Why is this practice enforced in communities where women must sit in the back of religious institutions while the men sit at front? Is this what egalitarianism looks like?
Yes, there are some adult women who dress a certain way willingly, as a sign of their beliefs and faith – and to those women, I offer my respect for their freedom to express themselves as they wish.
But a majority, especially girls and young women, are coerced by their own misguided mothers, patriarchal fathers and brothers, as well as community and religious leaders, and told if they will be ostracized if they don’t comply. As we, humans, typically live in group environments and seek validation from our community, these young girls follow through, not wanting to be punished or be seen as not being dutiful.
Remember that young woman in Quebec who wanted to cover her full face in public institutions? She was never without her male guardian. Then, a journalist asked her if, just like she wants the freedom to cover up fully anywhere here in Canada, would she confer that same freedom of dress to her sisters in Iran and Saudi Arabia who are currently fighting this oppression enforced by legislation. Her answer? “No, they MUST cover up.”
The hypocrisy is deafening.
Yet no one raises their voice to defend this type of subjugation that comes from misogynistic practices common a thousand years ago. No one wants to offend these cultures. If we acted with the same mind-blowing apathy about other issues, we’d still have slavery in America and apartheid in South Africa.
For those who say “but it’s their culture,” I’d like to remind you that girls are human too, regardless of their culture, race or background. They have feelings and dreams, and desire freedom of speech, dress, movement and education just like any of us. Don’t take away their dignity by treating them like some alien race.
Your silence only thickens the age-old cultural veils behind which blatant human rights abuses hide. Your silence allows these backward practices to continue today. And that’s really a shame.
If you want to learn more about Iranian women’s fight for their rights, here is a great place to start: http://mystealthyfreedom.net/en/
EDIT – 1 February 2018
Some have asked why I wrote what I wrote here. Here’s why.
There’s a group of almost a million determined and brave women who have gathered under the banner My Stealthy Freedom and who are fighting for their basic rights and dignity in Iran. I’ve been quietly reading their stories for the past two years, feeling lucky that I have the opportunity to live in the free world.
Then, on Tuesday these women came out in force and asked on their forum whether we – those of us living in the West – care for women’s rights around the world. They asked if we even know what’s going on and asked why we’re so silent? That made me sit back and think.
I know many of us who look away and pretend nothing’s wrong, lest we offend another culture. Many have chided me for bringing international women’s issues up because that can be construed as “racist.” This mindset, I believe, only aids and abets the abusers and enables heinous crimes to carry on under our own watch. I certainly want no part in that, so I told these women that I’m a writer and that I will write.
I told them that what I’ll say will not be popular, but my feelings of discomfort or any concern for losing popularity are nothing compared to the human rights violations these women go through. So I wrote this to open everyone’s eyes. And I did so unapologetically. Because I’d never want to get to the end of my life, knowing I remained a silent coward while others suffered.
If speaking up for women’s rights and for the most vulnerable population on earth makes me a racist, so be it. I will wear this badge proudly.
To my sisters around the world, I say, stand strong. Even if no one else will, I will stand for you.
Every morning, I do my exercise routine at home listening to motivational talks from a Youtube playlist called Top Ten Rules, and it just happened that I clicked on Martin Luther King today – on his 89th birthday.
I write stories based on how young women around the world are mistreated by their own families and communities, and I realized as I listened to Mr. King that the struggles these women, and especially girls, face in these traditional cultures are no different to what African Americans faced during his time. Forced marriages, honour killings, female genital mutilation, suppression of freedoms of movement and of speech are just the tip of the iceberg. These practices are shockingly entrenched – yes, even in 2018.
Then I heard Mr. King say this: “We must come to see that social progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts of persistent work of dedicated individuals. Without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. So time is always right to do right.”
I felt my chin lift a little higher and I stood a little straighter. Yes, we must not be too complacent, hoping one day these societies will modernize. We must never be too fearful to speak up for fear of offending other cultures. Human rights violations are human rights violations, regardless of where or when they occur.
As much as we’d like to think all traditions are sacred and cannot be criticized, we should never fear to speak up when we see atrocities, especially when the victims are girls, mere children.
Immigration is not the answer to the world’s problems. It’s a band aid, feel good (for some) solution that does little to progress the planet as a whole. And I say that as an immigrant myself.
We must empower people within their own nations and force their leaders to value their own people. Having lived on four continents and travelled to countless places now, I’ve observed and experienced, time and time again, gut wrenching corruption, unbelievable nepotism, mass scale and at times legislated discrimination against women, entrenched abuse against the poor, the disabled, and LGBTQ community and other marginalized populations. These problems are rampant and chronic.
There are many countries where young girls are still subject to forced marriage, female genital mutilation and honour killings—barbaric acts perpetrated and upheld by community and political leaders. You’d be surprised to know this happens even in our own backyards, within communities that quietly engage in these stone-age practices. These happen because we allow it to happen. These happen because we’re too afraid to offend “their culture,” and turn a blind eye to blatant human right violations.
Just like we rallied against apartheid, we must call abusers out even if it means losing trade or business opportunities or make us “politically incorrect”. We must hold foreign leaders and community leaders accountable to how they treat their own people and not reward them with charity, aid or business which only lines their own pockets, while the majority struggle to make a living.
It’s astounding to see the ruling families of some countries been driven around in luxury super sedans while right next to them are slums where their own people scrounge for food. It’s heart breaking, frustrating, maddening.
There’s something inherently misaligned when we’re solving some of the biggest science and technological problems and even considering becoming an inter-planetary species by populating Mars, while girls here on earth are still denied an education by their own families and children don’t have enough to eat everywhere.
We must stand up for what’s right and do so unapologetically. We must stop tolerating the intolerable.
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