Pink ladoos handed out at 2 hospitals to promote gender equality

A group of women is distributing a South Asian sweet treat at two Toronto area hospitals on Tuesday to promote gender equality.

Sweet treat made of flour, sugar to celebrate birth of baby girls

Harbir Singh, Canadian campaign director for the Pink Ladoo Project, says volunteers are handing out pink ladoos at two hospitals in the Toronto area on Tuesday to promote gender equality. The sweet treats will celebrate the birth of girl children, she said. (CBC)

A group of women distributed a South Asian sweet treat at two Toronto area hospitals on Tuesday — in the hopes of birthing a new tradition to celebrate baby girls. 

The group handed out ladoos, a sweet made of flour and sugar and rolled into balls, which are typically given to mark the birth of a baby boy. On Tuesday, the ladoos, given out at Brampton Civic Hospital and Etobicoke General Hospital, were coloured pink in part to mark the UN's International Day of the Girl Child.

It was all part of the Pink Ladoo Project, an international movement designed to eradicate gender-biased South Asian practices, customs and traditions. 

Harbir Singh, the Canadian director of the Pink Ladoo Project, told CBC's Metro Morning that members of the South Asian community distribute ladoos during periods of celebration. 

"Families travel door to door and go to their families and friends throughout the community and distribute this sweet as a celebration," Singh said Tuesday. "Traditionally, it's only been for boy children. What we have done is coloured this ladoo pink to represent gender equality for the girl child."

No sweets handed out when girls born

Singh, a mother of two daughters, aged two and six, said the tradition was followed in her family and it was part of what she calls "male preference culture." When she was growing up, Singh said celebrations were held for her older and younger brothers, but not for her — and these traditions made her question her value in the family.

"Traditionally, growing up in a South Asian family, I never saw anyone come to our door and celebrate the birth of a girl child, or hand out any sweets, or book large parties with their families and their friends to celebrate. That was an issue that impacted me as a child," she said.

"Therefore, I have become involved in this as an adult. I want to raise awareness and I want to address this issue of male preference culture so my two daughters never have to have this conversation."

Another tradition that affected Singh as a child is that she was told from a young age that she was born into one family but would belong to the family of her husband when she married. 

"You are sent a message very early that your true home will be your husband's home," she said. "That affected me as a child. I felt that I was a part of my family. I felt a lot of difficulty with connecting with this part of the culture, so I want to change that."

Campaign manager Baljot Grewal has witnessed gender inequality firsthand while studying dentistry in India the last five years. "I've become more aware of the value that's being given to women by men and society in these cultures," she said. "Men are seen as the breadwinner and the carrier of the family name. Historically, they have been deemed more important than women and it's time to change that."

Pink ladoos to promote change

Grewal hopes the campaign sparks a needed conversation. "I want people to start asking why we're not celebrating girls the same as boys and why a dedicated day is needed to raise awareness," she said. "We've been doing a lot of explaining to families today who don't know about the imbalance. Education is key." 

Singh said distributing pink ladoos at local hospitals is a small way to promote larger change within South Asian families by creating a positive tradition that celebrates girl children.

The event is a way to counter traditions, cultures and rituals associated with male preference culture, she said.

"We are starting with this one small step, but hoping we will inspire a much larger conversation," she said.

She said the group believes that if a family celebrates the birth of a girl child, and there is awareness of gender equality at birth, then that family is more likely to have other conversations about sexist traditions as the girl grows up. 

She said her older daughter, for example, now thinks pink ladoos are handed out when girl children are born. She acknowledged that it's how change happens.

Pink ladoos are also being handed out at hospitals in Ottawa, Regina and Edmonton.