By Martin D’Souza | Opening Doorz Editorial | March 08, 2018
Ask her to reveal something about her book which is to be released this year, and Dr. Ruby Dhalla smiles, keeping the suspense intact before saying: “Malala Yousafzai perhaps said it best: one child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”
Dr. Ruby Dhalla, who is from the ruling Liberal Party in Canada, has not changed since the time I first met her in 2005, as a first-time Member of Parliament in the Canadian Government. Her zest to make a change is intact, ditto her energy levels. If anything, she has only upped the ante where empowering women and ensuring their voice is heard is concerned. “Women need to be empowered in using their voice, not just finding it! Women’s rights are human rights,” she says with conviction when asked which area women should be empowered in globally.
With her extensive knowledge and network of both India and Canada Dr. Dhalla was instrumental during the visit of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in bridging the gap between both nations and highlighting the focus of a united India.
A global leader, Dr. Dhalla is the dutiful daughter at home. “I’m the daughter and the sister at home. There is no politician label. I have chores assigned to me like all daughters,” she offers when asked if she receives any special favours from her mother at home.
It was tough getting the dynamic politician, for who India is still close to heart, for a continuous chat. So over different countries, after her visit to India, we continued our chat to complete the interview in time for International Women’s Day.
Opening Doorz knocks on her doors and Dr. Dhalla is more than pleased to open her heart and mind as she talks about politics, people, promises, perseverance, passion and more.
“The first thing I do every morning and last thing I do every night is Pray,” she says.
Excerpts from an interview…
Since 2004, from the time you were first elected into Parliament, till date, how has your political journey been?
The journey has been fulfilling, rewarding, and eventful. They say that sometimes God has a dream for you that is bigger than your dream for yourself.
“Politics is not about power. Politics is about the hopes, dreams, and desires of people in which they believe if they can Dream it they can do it.” This is your thinking, your reason for being in politics, to bring about a change. Has the process been seamless or have you hit roadblocks along the way?
Being the first woman of Indian origin elected to Canada’s parliament and being one of the youngest woman elected to parliament, the process has been filled with many sacrifices, struggles, stereotypes, and challenges. But for every struggle and every challenge, I have been inspired by the strong and talented women that have come before me who paved the way for both myself, and women in general to have a voice. I have also been motivated and determined to persevere by a sense of great responsibility to the ideas, dreams and aspirations of girls younger than me. I want them to believe that with perseverance, persistence and passion they can succeed in achieving their goals and dreams.
“Women need to be empowered in using their voice, not just finding it! Women’s rights are human rights.”
Continuing with the earlier question, how difficult or easy was it for you when you first set foot into politics, especially, officially as a Member of Parliament for the Liberals?
Being young, being a woman and of a minority community, my election victory shattered the glass ceiling that existed at that time. Overnight, the election victory of a young Indo-Canadian woman and the first Sikh woman elected in the western world broke many molds. On one hand it was euphoric and inspiring to youth, to women and people of color of the heights that could be reached and the opportunity that was possible; on the other hand, it was a greater sense of expectation and responsibility on my shoulders to raise the voices of my constituents and community that elected me.
Taking a cue from you, have there been any other women of Indian origin in Canada who have shown promise in politics, or have been motivated to join politics?
When I was elected in 2004, I was one of the first woman of Indian origin elected in Canada and the western world. In the last Federal Election in 2015 in Canada, we elected 19 Members of Parliament of Indian origin with many women, four of them holding positions as cabinet ministers. In addition to the women elected, there are thousands of young women who are engaged and actively working and volunteering behind the scenes. The Indian diaspora has achieved tremendous heights in Canada. It is a nation of opportunity in which hard work makes dreams come true. This has been the most rewarding aspect of my journey.
Would you say the dynamics in politics would shift in India if there were more women willing to join? Or rather, should there be more women joining politics in India?
I always believe that promoting the participation of women in politics is about humanity. The voices of our mothers, daughters and sisters at the table are of incredible importance. Since women make up over 50 per cent of the population in India, it is essential that the voices of women are reflected in the programs and policies designed by the Government. Women need to transcend from being targeted as a voting block, to creators and implementers of policies and programs. Having the voices of women heard will ensure a stronger economy, stronger foreign policy and a brighter future for both boys and girls.
What would your advice be for women in India who are in the decisive stage of joining politics?
In the book The Secret it says, “Ask for it. Believe it. Receive it.” So I would give women the same advice: Just do it. Believe in yourself and your dream. Surround yourself with positive people. Dedicate yourself to your cause and your mission and remember, nothing comes easy but with hope and hard work anything is possible. This advice is not just for politics but applies to anything and everything in life your heart desires.
Did you have any nightmares vis-a-vis ‘sustained bullying’ from the men when you entered politics; Did you hear the snigger: “She’s a woman, what will she do”?
No nightmares, but I did have to work ten times harder than everyone else. While many of my colleagues went for dinners, I would be in my office working until late into the night doing research on policies, calling back constituents or reading about the issues I would be speaking about in Parliament. I believe, regardless if one is a woman or man, you have to perform and produce results. People may talk, but ultimately actions speak louder than words.
What has been that one motivating factor that has kept you active in politics for so many years?
I do it from my heart and give it all I got. I believe my life experiences have manifested in my ability to relate and to connect with people, their struggles, their hopes and their dreams, regardless of their socio-economic status. My motivating factor in politics is to make the impossible possible and to be a voice for the voiceless. Public service fulfils me and drives me.
“I always believe that promoting the participation of women in politics is about humanity. The voices of our mothers, daughters and sisters at the table are of incredible importance. Since women make up over 50 per cent of the population in India, it is essential that the voices of women are reflected in the programs and policies designed by the Government.”
Mr. Justin Trudeau has a 50 percent female cabinet, how did the men in the cabinet react to this?
It’s 2018. It was the need of the hour!
And how have the women taken to this responsibility?
They’ve ensured the voices of women are heard and reflected in the policies, programs and initiatives of the Government.
You were honoured by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in India as one of the 100 Jewels of Punjab honouring 100 distinguished Punjabis worldwide “for her contributions to Punjab, Punjabis and Sikhs globally”. How important was this recognition to you for your growth as a politician?
I was deeply humbled and incredibly honored but I don’t believe awards define me or my work. The true reward is when you make a difference in someone else’s life.
You launched your ‘first of its type charity in the world’ called Dreams For You to help victims of Fraud marriages in 2014. Till date, what has been the progress?
Dreams for You is one of a kind in the world. It helps young women who are victims of fraud marriages. In addition to providing educational programs in villages and empowering the girls with legal assistance, Dreams for You also works with the government to make policy changes to protect the daughters of India.
What got you to start a charity like this?
My desire is to empower women. When I heard of the stories and plight of these women I felt I had a human responsibility to help them and to raise awareness on this issue that was being silenced due to cultural stigma and stereotypes.
Have there been moments when you have said to yourself, ‘This is it for me. I need a shift in career’ I can’t take it anymore?
Your mind is the power of your thoughts. For me, politics and people are my passion. In times of those moments one must look inside themselves and be fearless and determined to keep moving forward. There’s a power in prayer and surrounding yourself with positive energy.
According to you, which is the most important area women should be empowered in, globally?
Now in 2018, Women need to be empowered in using their voice, not just finding it! Women’s rights are human rights.
Also Read: Opening Doorz to a man and three women