As a child, Sujata Gopal was made to believe she and her sisters were inferior. After learning to be proud of her gender, she has a message for others.
“Every girl child in India faces gender discrimination at home, and I am no exception. But I chose to fight.”
Discrimination against female children is pervasive across the world, but it is especially predominent in my homeland of India. We are ranked 125th out of 159 countries in the Gender Inequality Index. Regardless of caste, creed, religion, or social status, the overall status of a woman is lower than that of a man and male children are preferred. The birth of a boy is considered a blessing and it is celebrated.
Every girl child in India faces gender discrimination at home, and I am no exception.
But I chose to fight.
This is my story.
I come from a family of four sisters and one brother. My father was always very unhappy because he had so many daughters and only one son. As a child, I would always hear him tell my mom that he would have to pay a lot of dowry to have us married.
My brother always got the best food and clothing. He was the center of my mom and dad’s lives. I always wondered why he got this special treatment.
When I asked my mom about this, she always said, “You are a girl. You will get married and leave us some day. Your brother will be with us and take care of us when we grow old. He will perform our last rites after we die and give us Moksha.”
To my dad, women were inferior beings. He would embrace any opportunity he had to humiliate my mom. Sometimes, during an outburst, he would fling the food she served him. My mother would quietly clear the mess. The mental agony was too much for her, and she suffered from clinical depression for decades.
My sisters and I were also humiliated at times. Many times at lunchtime, I would hear my father complain, “I have to work 24/7 to feed your stomachs.” He hardly ever spoke to us daughters. Whenever my sisters or I fell ill, my mom would take us to the doctor. But when my brother was sick, it was my our dad who would take him in.
With this conditioning, I developed a constant feeling of guilt. I believed I was a burden on my parents. Not knowing how to fight this, I would cry myself to sleep every night. I never asked for food, clothing, or toys from my parents; I just accepted whatever was given to me with a feeling of immense gratitude.
One day, when I was in secondary school, my mom told me, “Never depend on a man financially. Earn your own bread. Pay for your own clothes. Buy your own house.” She went on to say, “I am illiterate. I have to depend on your father for my food, shelter, and clothing. I have no choice but to tolerate his atrocities because I have five of you to look after. Marriage is not important.”
Mom’s words have remained with me. At that moment, I resolved that I would earn my own livelihood and pay for my own education and necessities.
When I reached Class XII, I began teaching children in my spare time which allowed me to pay for my education and buy my own clothes. Most of my needs were met from the tuition fees that I received every month.
There was no looking back, and I financed my own education. From there, through sheer hard work and grit, I went on to establish a career as an executive for a corporation. I bought a house of my own, as my mother had advised. I decided to live by the words: “I will never compromise my self-respect, dignity, and values.”
Today, as I look back, I feel a sense of achievement, and I have a message I would like to share with all women: "Have a voice. Speak up. Never compromise on your dignity, and live with a growth mindset. Turn adversity into opportunity."
I look forward to working with women’s organizations to help others lead independent lives, as I have done. Because today, despite the messages my father tried to instill in me, I have a sense of pride for being a woman.
This story was published as part of the World Pulse Story Awards program. We believe everyone has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.