“Reflect on the stereotypes and prejudiced views you may apply to others. Recognize if you’re discriminatory, and rectify your behaviour. Change starts with you.”

-Sonia Lal

Age: 18

Hometown: Edmonton, Alberta

Currently Residing In: Edmonton, Alberta

Affiliations: John Humphrey Center for Peace and Human Rights (ACGC Member) Students Invested in Health Association, Live Different, Big Brothers Big Sisters

What influenced you to become a change-maker?

From a cheerleader with a bow in her hair to a Taekwondo competitor gearing up to spar on the mat, I’ve earned my fair share of scoffs and eyebrow raises. Society conditions us to believe that there are only two types of women: tomboys and girly-girls. Strict gender roles perpetuated from a young age insinuate that women can’t be multifaceted and must be fit into neat separate boxes. However, boxes are for toys, not people. No activity should be restricted by gender, and no one should feel intimidated or ashamed for passionately pursuing any “contrasting” activities. As an athlete and community leader, I work to break the negative notion that engaging in certain activities automatically files one into a certain stereotype. Be it on the field, in the classroom, or out on the streets, anyone should be able to pursue their passion without barrier or fear of societal rebuke.

How does your work promote gender equality in Canada and around the world?

When choosing which bathroom to go to, I simply look up at the sign with the skirt and proceed to walk in without a worry. However, this lack of thought is a privilege I’d never acknowledged until I talked with Tess Adams, a student from the LGBTQ+ club at my school. Gender-neutral bathrooms are scarcely available, and the importance of having accessible and inclusive bathrooms for students of all gender identities is often overlooked. As an ally, and through my position as editor in chief for the school Newspaper, I worked with Tess to mould an article shedding light on the situation. In doing so, we raised awareness about the lack of facilities to the administration and successfully implemented a gender-neutral bathroom at our school.

What inspires you to make a difference in the world?

Through the Students Invested in Health Association (SIHA) Local Outreach team, I’ve been working to simultaneously address gender inequality and SDG 3: Good Health and Well Being. Currently, I am helping coordinate the installation of menstrual product dispensers around campus in women’s bathrooms. Menstrual cycles aren’t voluntary and can come unexpectedly. No one individual should have to use wads of toilet paper as a substitute for pads or suffer embarrassment from the dreaded red stain. Providing the proper resources for those who menstruate is pivotal in creating the sparks that ignite change and extinguishing the stigma around reproductive health that exists today. Sanitary products are not a luxury or a privilege; they’re a human right.

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