Featured Storyteller

INDIA: I Fought Gender Discrimination at Home

sujata gopal
Posted March 28, 2018 from India
Photo © istock/pixelfusion3s

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.


STORY AWARDS

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.

Comments 44

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  • Olutosin
    Mar 28
    Mar 28

    Yesterday, I read about a couple in Madhya Pradesh in India, they were dejected by the birth of the new baby girl and they named her "Anchahi" which means UNWANTED.

    I love your story, it has happy ending. Thanks for sharing.

  • sujata gopal
    Apr 09
    Apr 09

    So true Olutosin. The birth of a girl is still unwelcome in many households, though this seems to be changing, but gradually

  • sheila_3
    Mar 29
    Mar 29

    Your story of success is so encouraging.Attitudes such as those of those father are deeply ingrained but can and will change. I'm left wondering what he makes of your progress!

  • sujata gopal
    Apr 09
    Apr 09

    Thanks Sheila. Unfortunately, my dad did not live to see my progress. He passed away almost two decades ago

  • jlanghus
    Mar 29
    Mar 29

    Hi Sujata. Thanks for sharing your wise words and story. I'm very proud of you and congrats on the publication of your story!

  • sujata gopal
    Apr 09
    Apr 09

    Thank you dear sister

  • jlanghus
    Apr 09
    Apr 09

    You're welcome:)

  • Paulina Lawsin
    Mar 30
    Mar 30

    Thank you Sujata for sharing your powerful story. It is sad that while we look up to India in terms of advancement in science and technology, the discrimination of women and girls , who take care of the home and breed scientists, still prevails. You were a good child for taking your mother’s words seriously. And by living up to her words, you emerged a winner. May hundreds of girls get inspired of your story. May thousands more assert and stand up for their rights.

    Love from the Philippines,
    Paulina

  • sujata gopal
    Apr 09
    Apr 09

    Thank you Paulina. So true. One one hand, India is the world's fastest growing economy. On the other hand, the fate of majority of Indian women remains unchanged for decades.

  • Dhara Patel
    Mar 31
    Mar 31

    your story is inspiration for other girls who are facing the gender discrimination. I wish Educated women will not gift the same situation to the next generation as lesson begins from home only.

  • sujata gopal
    Apr 09
    Apr 09

    Thank you Dhara. Women in India are conditioned right from childhood to accept the treatment meted out to them by society, as their fate. Hence they are not even aware that something wrong is happening to them, in their very homes

  • anjali_2
    Mar 31
    Mar 31

    Sujata, Many accolades to your fighting spirit. You are a true inspiration to all of us, irrespective caste, creed and age.

  • Tamarack Verrall
    Mar 31
    Mar 31

    Dear Sujata,

    It is so encouraging to read that despite so many hurdles faced by your country, your community and your own father, you have kept your strong sense of fairness and the importance of what have to offer as women, to leap beyond all those social barriers. It is so touching that your mother made sure that you knew she wanted a different life of freedom and respect for you. I too, as Paulina said so well, hope that thousands of girls get to read your story and to meet you, as you are such a loving inspiration.

    In sisterhood,
    Tam

  • sujata gopal
    Apr 09
    Apr 09

    Thank you Tamarack.

  • Apr 01
    Apr 01

    This comment has been removed by the commenter or a moderator.
  • Manjula Ittamveetil

    Brilliant Sujata! True inspiration and you made it!

  • Clodine Mbuli Shei
    Apr 01
    Apr 01

    Dear Sujata,
    Thank you for this inspiring writeup. We can always fight our way through and turn adversity in to opportunity as you say. Thank you for living your mother's dream and supporting others to Empowerment. Ride on sister the sky is your limit!!!

  • Urmila Chanam
    Apr 02
    Apr 02

    Thank you Sujata for believing that it is wrong to be treated as an inferior even when you were a little girl and questioning why your brother was treated like a king. While most women live in denial I am in awe of you for paving your own way. And I believe, the story is not over yet. Your parents may realize how worthy a daughter can be. In India where society is obsessed with having a son and does not mind terminating end number of pregnancies in the want of that boy totally disregarding the risk involved for the mother, these prized boys and men are not looking after their parents in old age as was hoped. Care for the old is becoming a growing problem in the country where sons are deserting parents. They deserted daughters in their youth.

    I am so happy to read your story and look forward to continued contributions.

    Much love,
    Urmila Chanam,
    Bangalore,
    India
    urmila.chanam@gmail.com

  • sujata gopal
    Apr 09
    Apr 09

    Thank you Urmila. We, four sisters looked after my father, when he was suffering from cancer. My father passed away two decades ago

  • Rahmana Karuna
    Apr 02
    Apr 02

    Sujata, thank your for sharing your story. powerful path of determination. what a wonderful mother, definitely not what MY mother said to me. the opposite "You just wait, you will see". oh how i wish i had your mother's words of encouragement.

  • sujata gopal
    Apr 09
    Apr 09

    Thank you Rahmana. Indeed, i had a wonderful mother. Her illiteracy did not come in way of her progressive thoughts

  • Sister Zeph
    Apr 05
    Apr 05

    This is a most facing issue by girls all over the world and specially in South Asia we have to face discrimination as girls from our birth from home and from the community but you are very brave and I respect you a lot, thank you very much for being an inspiration my dear bless you

  • sarah_2
    Apr 07
    Apr 07

    So touching.......
    I'm happy you took a bold step and made a change.
    Keep it up!!!

  • Loreen Meda
    Apr 08
    Apr 08

    I'm challenged and I am encouraged. At 42 I am looking at how to improve myself. I feel that anything is possible.

  • sujata gopal
    Apr 09
    Apr 09

    Thank you Loreen. So true. Anything is possible

  • sarah ann
    Apr 08
    Apr 08

    Sujata, your bravery and early instincts, reinforced by your mother, are inspiring examples of wisdom, determination, strength ...putting one foot in front of the other every day toward change, equality, independence. You and the women your story reaches, are proof that when there is a belief, a voice, a community..there is a way. Thank you for leading by example and for speaking up. Keep climbing sister, you're propelling other women forward with you!

  • sujata gopal
    Apr 09
    Apr 09

    Thank you Sarah

  • Ndimofor Aretas
    Apr 08
    Apr 08

    Dear Sujata,

    You are a champion indeed!

    Overcoming the guilt was really a challenge.

    I identify with you because there are some of those words that I heard from my own family members that had a severe adverse effect on my progress in life.

    Everywhere I have an opportunity, I foster gender equality and I encourage girls and women to take on leadership roles when the opportunity arises.

    I always remind them that "Someone's opinion of you doesn't have to be your reality... it doesn't matter the person!"

  • sujata gopal
    Apr 09
    Apr 09

    Thank you Ndimofor. Fighting low self esteem and overcoming guilt are two big challenges that we face.

  • Evelyn Fonkem
    Apr 09
    Apr 09

    Great piece thank you for standing tall despite the upheavals

  • sujata gopal
    Apr 09
    Apr 09

    Thank you Evelyn

  • Veronica Ngum Ndi
    Apr 15
    Apr 15

    Hey Sujata
    Congratulations for the story award.you are such a great person.I am inspired
    Love
    Veronica

  • Lisha M
    Apr 17
    Apr 17

    A truly powerful story. Thank you so much for sharing. Gives me great support and inspiration. You are extraordinary.
    God Bless,
    Tilz

  • kitty
    Apr 17
    Apr 17

    Dear Sujata,
    You are truly inspiring!
    As a girl living in the US with gender discrimination, I can only imagine how it must be ten times worse for you. Please keep up the good fight for all of us!

  • Gladys Muthara
    Apr 18
    Apr 18

    Wow Sujata, you are so admirable. I really loved reading your story and I smiled all the way to the end of it, because like you, my mum always wanted us girls to pursue highest level of education, a career, get our own money, and buy our own houses. She was denied education for fear that education would make her 'un-marriageable', so she ended up marrying at a very young age and living a life she really never desired. I am so glad, however, that she did strive hard to ensure we got education...and today, when I tell her that I want to go back to school for my Graduate studies, she is a very proud mum! With Love, Hope, & Light

  • Shofali Agarwal
    Apr 18
    Apr 18

    Sujata, what an inspiring story! Thank you for your strength and leading the way for millions of girls who need to hear such stories of success. I am a mother of 2 boys and I take it upon myself to raise them to be like my father. My father who was belittled at work when he announced he just had a second daughter (me) and brought treats to share with his friends. When he announced his third child (my brother), he brought no treats to work to make a point that there is nothing better about having a boy than a girl, they are equal and his happiness with each child was equal.

  • Aramide Oikelome
    Apr 22
    Apr 22

    Dear Sujata,

    You have done so well! You broke the glass ceiling and now you stand as liberator for other women and girls.

    Thank for sharing your inspiring story. You are indeed a woman of courage and strength.

    In Solidarity,
    Aramide

  • Juliet Acom
    Apr 23
    Apr 23

    Hi Sujata,

    Thank you for rising beyond gender discrimination. I admire your work.
    You are an amazing woman and an inspiration!
    I can relate to your story - where I come from it is considered important for women to give birth to boys to continue the paternal lineage; when this does not happen a second or third or fourth wife is taken by the husband to ensure that this happens leaving the first wife dejected and ridiculed by society. It is sad

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    Best wishes

  • Lisha M
    Apr 26
    Apr 26

    Dear Sujata,
    Thank you for sharing your inspiring story. I am so proud to be a woman. You have made such great accolades. Sadly, gender discrimination amongt the Indian community in South Africa (my home country), is on the rise as well. Women just want to be recognised as equals, nothing less or nothing more. Such discriminative mindsets in our society, lead to critical issues globally.
    Truly wonderful story. Thank you. May God always bless you

  • AbdulRaheem Dirisu
    May 09
    May 09

    Dear Sujata,Good stories.Keep fighting for old norms to be change.There are many out,who are waiting for that but they are silent in their voice.STAMP your voice and values,You find those who will back you up in India soon.

    Keep it up and always watch your back.

  • QueenVirtuous
    May 15
    May 15

    Dear Sujata Gopal,

    You're a very brave woman. So is your mother! I love that she not only took care of her girls but also that she taught her girls how to be independent and not wait for a man to provide them with a means of livelihood. I love also that she did not teach you girls to hate your father. Yes, he was a terrible human being, and so was my father (in fact, my father was worse). But fury always destroys the container before it destroys the target.

    What I'm saying? It's commendable that you have channeled your energy towards giving yourself the life you've always wanted, the life you want. It wasn't easy and you had every reason to burn with hate. But you remained focused on your dreams, you achieved greatness through your sheer determination and focus, and that's why this story appeals to me so much.

    Hugs, hugs, hugs. Please write us some more stories about your journey. I'd love to read them.

    One love in sisterhood.

  • joyce nelly
    Jun 12
    Jun 12

    Great write up sister .Thanks for sharing your story to the world to see very touching .am happy you finally achieved your goal and you allow no man not even your father to stop you from achieving

  • Tecenta Achiri
    Jun 14
    Jun 14

    Dear Gopal
    Your story brings tears to my eyes and a weight to my soul.. I celebrate and appreciate your courage and endurance.. I believe our experiences will make us better advocates so as to help other women to be saved from these adversities

  • Tiffany Brar
    Jul 02
    Jul 02

    Hi Sujata.... i really respect your mom's ideology of equal respect for women and freedom..definitely the situation will change in our country, as the coming generations will have a strong hold on this...

    looking for motivating posts from you on gender discrimination