by Tim Fitzgerald, Contributor
For Deesh Sekhon of Abbotsford, the moment she realized she could no longer remain quiet may have been triggered by a documentary, but the roots of her discontent go back much further.
For more than a year now, Sekhon has been crusading on behalf of the rights of girls facing infanticide in India and China.
More accurately, Sekhon describes it as gendercide – the title of Mary Ann Warren’s 1985 book – that has come to categorize China’s one-child policy or in countries where male children are prized and baby girls are discarded.
The cultural acceptance and willingness to mute the conversation is the focus of the acclaimed documentary It’s a Girl.
Shot in India and China, the film not only depicts the struggle facing women and young girls, but looks for ways to change age-old traditions in which females are viewed with little regard.
After seeing the heart-wrenching documentary, Sekhon decided to take action.
It started with her initial fundraising efforts, through which she collected more than 170 pounds of items for her Save a Girl Clothing and Supplies Drive in January 2012. The items were delivered by family members to the New Unique Home For Girls in Jalandhar, India in March.
Then she started the GirlKind Foundation, a charitable and non-profit organization with a goal to raise awareness for abandoned and orphaned girls in impoverished countries like India and China, as well as generate funds to support care homes for children and mothers trying to break a cycle of violence.
Sekhon has launched a new website, www.girlkind.org, along with hosting screenings of It’s a Girl, most recently in Vancouver.
The documentary that placed Sekhon on her journey certainly plays a key role in her newfound activism. But the seed was planted when she was just a little girl.
Around the age of nine, her much older sister reminded her of the day she was born. Quite matter of factly, her sister told her everyone was crying.
“I was really mad, I was really choked,” explained an emotional Sekhon. Describing herself as the perfect daughter who did what she was told, never rebelled, Sekhon went looking for an explanation.
“I went and marched over to my mom, and said, ‘I don’t care if the whole world was crying, but did you cry? Did you cry when I was born?’ ”
Sekhon said her mother made herself busy and evaded the question. But the nine-year-old persisted and her mother finally relented.
“For a mom, a child is a child, no matter what,” she recalls her mother’s explanation. “If you were a boy or girl, I was going to love you regardless, it makes no difference. However, when the community, the environment and the people around you are sad, you tend to have the same feelings. And because I wasn’t strong, I cried.”
Sekhon doesn’t pretend to be a victim like the girls she so wants to help. Her parents didn’t commit the unthinkable act of infanticide, based solely on her being a girl. She wasn’t sent away to live with a relative or given up for adoption, but the underlying fact remains that a community was sad upon her birth. And it’s that notion that she hopes to change.
“If it helps to save one girl, then we’ve accomplished what we set out to do. If we can empower a woman who’s sitting at home pregnant, and hoping it’s a boy this time around, and give them the strength to say it’s OK that it is a girl, then we’ve done what we’ve set out to do.”
But Sekhon hopes to accomplish much more.
The United Nations estimates that as many as 100 million girls have gone missing across the globe because of the preference of males to females. The UN also paints a picture where birth rates in some regions of the world’s most populated country are way out of line with what are widely accepted as the normal ratios. In China, there are about 124 males for every 100 girls born, compared to the average of 103 males for every 100 females.
According to the UN, those same ratios exist for regions throughout parts of Eastern Asia.
Sekhon hopes her foundation, which she says plans to be more vocal in 2013, is to help change the prevailing mindset.
“I think, in certain cultures, it’s almost like the attitude of your elders is that your family is not complete until you bear a son. There’s that unspoken weight on women that you have to have a son before you are complete, so you can carry on the name and have a fulfilling family. “
But Sekhon believes the more the issue is discussed openly, the more it empowers women. She says the shift needs to focus on a healthy child, not its gender.
While Sekhon, a young mother, looks to the future to change a world where her now two-year-old son won’t grow up with the preconceived notions that cost young women equality, and in so many cases, their lives, her journey has not been without its critics.
She has met opposition to her work over the past year. People ask her to be quiet, and not bring shame to their communities. But it’s precisely this attitude she hopes to overcome – to put the burden of responsibility on the shoulders of people, government and law officials that do nothing to stop the violence.
“This problem isn’t going to go away in 20 years. But if we start today, maybe in 100 years it won’t be there. It’s going to take time. But if we start heading in the right direction we can make a difference.”