A recent Instagram campaign has generated discussion about the complex relationship surrounding money and power in the South Asian community.
Perminder Tung, a Surrey-based lawyer with Lindsey Kenney LLP, started the campaign to raise awareness about a woman's right to her inheritance.
In the video created by Tung, a grandmother is seen explaining the role of the dutiful daughter to her granddaughter. She explains in a voice reminiscent of the comments many young brown women have heard growing up—of how it is our job as women to constantly give to our families, expecting nothing in return. We watch as the little girl does the dishes and helps her grandmother, while her brothers play video games.
In our community, cultural norms dictate that everyone shall benefit from the service of women. Our value is often placed on what we can offer others, and are forced into positions where we become dependent on the men in our lives, financially or otherwise.
We are taught from a young age to always inherently be of service—to do the dishes, to drive our parents and grandparents to appointments, and to take care of the entire household even as young girls. When we grow up to become women, we are rewarded with the responsibility to manage not only one, but two households, while boys get to be boys, who eventually become men that revel in the luxury of the house and the money that they inherit from their parents.
Not every South Asian household functions like this, but more often than not boys are socialized to receive preferential treatment from a young age, and girls are taught to give said treatment.
Brown women are also taught to act like guests in their own homes and in the homes of their husbands. Once we are conditioned to not belong anywhere, why would we ever feel entitled to someone else's house?
This experience is encapsulated in the video, which Tung said has received an overwhelming response.
He said he’s received countless calls and messages from women who are sharing their experiences of being forced to feel insignificant their whole lives as a result of this narrative.
“Some of these are professional women, doctors, psychiatrist lawyers, saying, ‘I’m well established now I've got my own kids. I'm out of the house. My parents are still alive. It's not like they left everything to my brother. But ever since I was young, they made me feel inferior in my home,’” said Tung.
A woman explained to him how visceral this inequality can feel like. Growing up, she and her family lived up the street from their uncle and grandma. She was told to go walk down the street to pick up food their grandmother made for her brother.
“‘It was just enough portion for my little brother,” she said. ‘I'd grab it, I could smell it, it was curry chicken, it smelled so good. I would smell it while walking, I’d want to eat it, [but] I'd get home, and I'd have to put it on the table for him.’,” said Tung.
According to him, this woman's experience is representative of how boys and girls get conditioned from a young age by societal norms.
It isn’t just about money, and growing up women are regularly reminded of their real place in their family, often being made to feel secondary to their brothers.
“When you're young and people say, as a woman as a young girl, you have this responsibility to give yourself to your family.
“And then there's the stories, (in Punjabi) “We give everything to the boys, but the girls are the ones that do everything for us.”
The concept of inheritance, specifically for South Asians sons and daughters, is extremely symbolic to Tung. It represents a lifetime of preferential treatment of boys over girls, and the way we socialize our daughters to inherently see themselves as having lesser importance and value, despite all they give to their family. They are then taught not to question why their brothers deserve more than them.
For so many brown women, it’s not about the money per se. It’s about what the money implies—that men are somehow more deserving of the inheritance although they have never been given the same burden of responsibilities.
“It's just so symbolic of the relationship in [the] home,” said Tung.
Because of their upbringing, women question their value and inherently feel inferior to men.
This leaves women in the position to be not only mourning the loss of their parents, but also to consider the financial disparities that will impact them as a result of not getting what they are rightfully entitled to. Women are left not only financially disenfranchised, but impacted on a psychological level, as they are left to question their value or lack-thereof in their families.
Seeing this campaign was a reminder that dismantling toxic norms starts at the top and has to start early within families. Financial disparity is an important issue in many communities and the impacts are often felt more by women than men. This campaign is an important conversation starter but also the foundation on which to start working for equality for women in the South Asian community.
According to Tung, B.C. is the only province in Canada that has the “Wills, Estates and Succession act,” where a will can be contested if unfairly distributed. The act was put in place by Wally Oppal, B.C.’s former attorney general, and allows people to challenge a will for things such as discrimination “based on outdated values.”
This means that a daughter can contest a will in court in the event everything is given to her brother, solely on the basis of gender. Often sons are thought to carry forward the family name and lineage, while women get married and leave their families. They're reminded of this throughout their childhood, to the day of their wedding and beyond.
Tung explained however, that the conversation around this should start much sooner than this.
When asked how we continue to challenge cultural norms that often leave women in vulnerable positions, Tung spoke of his own daughter, 10-year-old Amira.
“This girl's a little challenger of everything. She sees this and she goes, ‘well that’s not right.’ She has progressive parents that are going to be talking about [this.] When we say you can literally do anything in this world, there's nothing that's gonna stop you.”
“We are going to be the ones to really set the tone about this stuff.”
The social media campaign is about starting a conversation at the dinner table and setting the stage for conversations that are often overlooked or ignored in our community. It’s a reminder that equality for women cannot be achieved if cultural norms such as this are not dismantled.
Inheritance isn’t just about money. It’s a fight for freedom, power and independence. It's a reminder that women should have the same opportunities as the men and the fight for equality starts with the nuclear family, starts with the discussion that no one is entitled to anything, and that boys and girls are equally valued.
“Hopefully, my sisters in the community and like our female friends, when they're having these conversations around the dinner table, that they're not sitting back, because they've been conditioned to sit back and do nothing. Hopefully, they come back and say, No, this isn’t right.”
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