Lohri For Her.
If you have an understanding of the South Asian and/or Punjabi culture, you’ll immediately recognize the powerful statements made by these simple terms.
Both of these campaigns were started by Nach Balliye, an organization working to promote gender equality and women empowerment through dance, culture, and positivity by celebrating the gift of life.
Lohri is a festival of Punjab, celebrated in January to mark new beginnings. It’s celebrated with extra festivities for newlywed couples, or newborn babies. However, being a culture of son preference, as a general “rule of thumb”, the South Asian community doesn’t quite consider the birth of a girl cause for celebration, and will often give sympathies and condolences to the parents or families at the birth of their daughter, and even give blessings of a boy for the next time around. So Lohri has traditionally only been celebrated for the birth of boys. There have always been the brave families and parents who would go against the norm and share their joy by celebrating Lohri for the birth of their child regardless of the gender, and Nach Balliye started Lohri For Her as a campaign to make this a norm in the community, instead of the exception.
Pink Ladoos was a spinoff campaign from Lohri For Her, as the realization set in that parents and families were eager to spread this message to the community that indeed, we are happy and wish to celebrate the joy of welcoming a new life into the world, regardless if it’s a boy or girl. Ladoos are sweets, that are typically yellow in colour and given out to friends and family to celebrate festive occasions, such as weddings and births. Similar to Lohri, ladoos have been usually reserved for celebrating the birth of a boy, thus the distribution of pink coloured Ladoos instead started to mark the occasion of of the birth of a girl.
Behind Nach Balliye’s enthusiasm to celebrate and promote the gift of life equally, is the vision of ending the cycle of violence that begins at or even before a girl is born. Whether it’s in the form of female infanticide or female feticide at the beginning of life, or in the form of overall discrimination and violence against her in the home, and community over the course of her life. For generations, the son-preference culture has dominated for the sake of having an heir and support for parents in their old age whereas girls are seen as a burden on the family. This is now simply a stigma that needs to be eliminated from the mindset of the community, and Nach Balliye is on a mission to do its part and accomplish this through celebrating life, celebrating daughters, and celebrating mothers, as equal members of our society and culture.
I personally started working with Nach Balliye because I truly resonated with the approach of using positivity and celebration within the cultural context to promote gender equality and women empowerment. It was wonderful and energizing for me to work with a group of individuals who are just as passionate about the positive aspects of the Punjabi culture as they are about ensuring that their sisters, mothers, and daughters live a full life and are encouraged to achieve their highest potential. It was empowering to be surrounded by and grounded in the strength of women, creativity, passion, and true potential.
In October this year, my view and experience of what Nach Balliye has been doing to date took a new turn when I helped organize the Pink Ladoos campaign on the International Day of the Girl Child. Until then, I hadn't quite realized the impact all this work was having - not only on girls and women, but on parents as well. As we delivered Pink Ladoos to parents of newborn boys and girls to promote awareness of issues around gender equality, I began to realize the importance of the work Nach Balliye is doing. Nach Balliye members always talk about having healthy conversations and educating ourselves on the issues girls and women face like sex selective abortions, female feoticide, domestic violence and the overall imbalance in gender equality within our homes and communities.
During this campaign, I realized that we have much to be educated on, and more importantly that we're not the only ones wanting to learn or have these conversations! There are many parents who share these feelings, and want to talk about the issues. They want to share their support for gender equality, but simply don't have a space for it, and hence go on to "accepting things as they are". Many of the parents with girls are tired and frustrated of hearing things like "maybe next time it'll be a boy", or, "when are you having a boy", or simply hearing sympathy and apologies at the birth of their child. They’re eager to send a message to the community that they are indeed very happy and feel blessed to have a child, whether it's a son or a daughter! Like all parents, they want their son and/or daughter both to have equal opportunities in life, and be strong, independent individuals who make a difference in the world.
Through events and initiatives like Lohri For Her, and Pink Ladoos, Nach Balliye is bringing together and forming an entire community that is proud of and willing to stand up for gender equality. It is a community that knows and understands change must begin within ourselves, our homes, our close circle of friends, families and our communities. Through these events and initiatives, Nach Balliye is creating a space for parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, husbands and wives, that all want to be part of a solution that says to the world, "Both our sons AND daughters are equally important and deserve equal opportunities in life!"
If girls and women don't feel like equals in their homes, or get equal rights, opportunities, and respect within their own families and communities, how will they believe and fight for their rights of equality in the "outside world”? By supporting families and communities to openly have conversations and discuss what holds us back, we can move forward together and become a part of the solution rather than the problem. Only by coming together as one voice, can we truly celebrate the gift of life equally for all, in our homes, and in our world.
Inderpal Wig lives in Toronto, ON, Canada. She is Co-principal at Suntra Consulting Inc., a digital agency and a Board Member of Nach Balliye. You can connect with her on Twitter @inderpalwig.