By Kulshan Gill
“Every time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it, possibly without claiming it; She stands up for all women” – Maya Angelou.
I was born and raised in India, in a Military family, with three generations of the family serving in uniform with the Indian Armed Forces. As a child, I grew up in a family where work ethic, hard work and service towards community and country were forefront. This experience in turn taught me to respect other people’s views and ideologies. I was encouraged to speak my own mind and be independent while respecting my surroundings and the environment.
And, amidst all this, I was also gently reminded that I was a woman first and had social responsibilities - getting married and raising a family (common cultural expectation! My 106 year old grandmother wanted me married at age12!!)
Immigration itself comes with its own set of challenges, not only uprooting from one country to another but also a change at the mental, emotional and environment level. It is especially challenging for immigrant women who come from third world nations. They have to merge in a diverse culture different from their own but also their identity as a woman in a developed nation becomes complex. At times there is confusion, how to proceed with a lifestyle that is adapted to their new homeland but also rooted in the values of their old country or culture.
Today, I feel blessed and proud to call Canada home. Being a foreign trained medical professional, I encountered challenges to pursue my medical career in Canada. Despite the hurdles and unsuccessful attempts, I did not lose hope. Since, I was passionate about health and wellbeing; I transitioned into areas of alternative and holistic medicine, never stopping from learning new skills.
From Healthcare to Politics.
I chose to join politics, not because I was asked to, because I believed I was capable and will add value to an organization. I could represent, encourage and motivate other women to participate and more importantly because I am worth it! I believe that women can play important roles in leadership, be it in an organization, a government or even their families. I also know that seeking political office provides an opportunity and platform for public service to bring change and influence communities for a better future. There is great meaning in service and often, it leads us to be our best self. I wanted to continue in Public service and decided to run for political office. Each of my endeavors as a health professional connected me to people from all walks of life and diverse backgrounds. I understood the many sacrifices families are required to make to improve their community, their province, their country and the world in general. My work experience in healthcare and exposure to diverse cultures within Canada and the world have been assets for public service and provide for unique and exceptional leadership, communication skills and critical thinking.
Were there challenges? Absolutely! As an immigrant woman of ethnic background running for political office, I had a few of my own! On the campaign trail, where on the one hand I was preaching policies of the party I affiliated with, on the other I was dealing with Intersectionality.
This became front and center as my campaign went on. I was repeatedly questioned about my ability (as a female) to be in politics or run for a leadership role. Common questions were ‘what did my spouse think of me transitioning into politics’? Or ‘who is taking care of my kids while I was campaigning’ Or ‘I don’t have kids so I have time for politics’ Or ‘I didn’t look old enough to be a politician?? Or ‘I was pretty to look at’ or just ‘don’t want a ‘brown’ immigrant candidate in the government!!’ And my absolute favorite – ‘why do you want to join politics? You are a medical professional, be in the noble profession and leave the politics to the men folk!!’ I wondered if my male colleagues running for office had similar experience. Sadly No!
It is interesting, majority of people were encouraging me as a health professional and they would gladly seek my care and put trust in me with their health or for that matter there ‘life’ in an emergency! But didn’t have faith in me if I were to represent them or make decisions at the political level. People didn’t look at my capability or intellect but simply judged based on my gender. However, this did not deter me from working hard on my campaign and showing up at the constituent’s door every single day until Election Day. And I am proud I did!
My advice to women is that first, believe in yourself. Your biggest barrier to your own success is your own belief! Believe in your womanhood and be proud of it. Believe that you are worth it and value yourself. It does not matter if you are a successful career women or a stay at home mom or if you bring in a paycheque or not. You are a valuable and productive asset to not only your family but to society at large. I encourage you to engage yourself and be an active citizen of our society. Quite often we get lost in our dynamics and characterization of who we are or how we should conduct ourselves. I say, that we rise above all and embrace our feminism with grace and honor and show the world what we have to offer. A woman has been blessed with the ability of being beautiful and sensual and yet when the need arises she can be fierce and destructive. It’s no surprise that we address our natural surroundings as ‘mother nature’.