100 Years With Progress Yet to be Made | The Immigrant Experience

By Brindha Kodlapur, age 17

We are raised to conquer our dreams, not to be reared for marriage

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“एकनौकरीपानेकेलिएएकमात्रउद्देश्यएकउपयुक्तपत्नीबनानेकेलिएहै”

“The only purpose to women gaining a job, is to make a suitable wife”.

100 years later, and this Hindu moral still applies to the lives of many Indian women around the world. Historically, marriage in many cultures is an everlasting social construct placed upon women. Whether it is the 21% of women married before the age of 18 in Pakistan or the widely popular ‘mail order bride’ program prevalent in Russia, marriage has often been a dynamic preventing women from achieving their goals in life. Marriage shouldn’t be a hindrance, but rather a personal choice.

Women in these marriages are often forced to stay at home, thus giving up their forward dreams, or are  subject to the constant desire of their husbands in order to produce children - often causing domestic violence. Of course, the causes for this constant discrimination can often be attributed to our culture's social roots of males exerting their masculinity over females. Yet, this is no excuse for the way women have been treated. Although most Americans believe that these orthodox ways are limited to third world nations with a plethora of poverty, it is time to accept that America may not be as perfect of a country as immigrants hope it to be.

 As much as women in developing nations feel shame for embracing their femininity, it isn’t obsolete in our motherland. Immigrant Indian children in the U.S. often face the similar hardships from their parents and society for being a girl, just as much as those in other nations.

One clear example, is my Model UN career. As an avid debater, I love all things Model UN – the idea of meeting and collaborating with people around the globe for a weekend fascinates me, but it doesn’t go without prejudice. When I try to lead a group of people, I automatically am labelled as a “bitch” or a “slut.” When I try to express my thoughts through a powerful speech, I am considered a “try hard.” When I try to work with others, I am considered “bossy.” Just this season , at the conference I attended, I was seen as one of the more powerful delegates in the committee. Because of this, a small group of men refused to work with me, pondering why they would ever be seen working under a women. It is because of this mindset that the girls participating in model UN, or any other competitive club, are discouraged from not only playing an active role, but from taking on leadership positions.

Especially being an Indian girl, I have shared my difficulties in a setting (Model UN),which is supposed to stimulate modern day business life. How can women be able to take on leadership roles in their life, if they are discouraged from a high school level? This has to do with the repugnant stigma amongst boys and girls thriving today –

Other than the fact the children as young as 12 years old seem to think girls becoming leaders is a horrid idea – family life for Indian Americans isn’t too bright either. Most immigrant girls are forced into academics, discouraged from participating in other activities such as sports and theatre. These girls are forced to become “engineers”, “doctors”, etc just so arranged marriages will come easier. This needs to change.

Initially, my parents were concerned when I decided that I wanted to study law and potentially become a senator one day. They were devastated; worried that a girl like me would not able to tackle a male dominated field – stigma alert!! People, starting with parents, seem to think girls are weaker than men. We need to encourage women to choose their careers based on their own personal likes – not expectations set forth on them.

 Being an immigrant girl, I am considered by my family in India to be very fortunate – and I am fortunate. I am grateful to have access to the best resourced education – but I want to be able to conquer my own dreams – not the dreams of an ‘ideal’ Indian woman. I want women everywhere to be able to have  careers without facing discrimination. I want girls, as young as possible, to feel that they are equal to boys – Because that’s all I ask for: Equality


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