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Lilly Singh is fighting to change this sexist tradition into a powerful message of gender equality

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While cultural traditions are an important part of your personal identity, it’s always worth stepping back to realise they don’t always age gracefully. Youtuber Lilly Singh has done exactly that and gone one step further, calling out a popular Sikh holiday for its ingrained sexism and evolving it in the name of gender equality.

Recently, Sikhs like Lilly Singh celebrated Raksha Bandhan (also known as Rakhri), a holiday in which brother and sister relationships are celebrated. A colourful bracelet called a Rakhri is tied around a brother’s wrist by his sister, as a ward to keep him safe from evil as he vows to take responsibility for her protection. However Lilly, who’s perhaps better known as ||Superwoman|| online, wasn’t having any of it. She and her brother decided to take the holiday in stride and bring it into the 21st century.

She explained, ‘Today is a very special day for me. My entire life I, like many other girls of Indian descent, celebrated Rakhri (also known as Raksha Bandan) which is essentially a tradition that entails tying a decorative string on your brother. The general idea is to ward off evil eye from your brother and the brother is supposed to promise to protect his sister.’

‘For years I did this without questioning why or even critically thinking. Having traveled the world and met so many people, abroad and right next door, who are negatively impacted by sexism in really severe ways, I now do critically think about these matters. I think about why a girl I’ve met in a village in India thinks it’s okay for her brother, uncle or cousin to abuse her. I think about why girls feel they can’t speak up. I also think about why parents in so many places view daughters as a burden.’

Today is a very special day for me. My entire life I, like many other girls of Indian descent, celebrated Rakhri (also known as Raksha Bandan) which is essentially a tradition that entails tying a decorative string on your brother. The general idea is to ward off evil eye from your brother and the brother is supposed to promise to protect his sister. For years I did this without questioning why or even critically thinking. Having traveled the world and met so many people, abroad and right next door, who are negatively impacted by sexism in really severe ways, I now do critically think about these matters. I think about why a girl I've met in a village in India thinks it's okay for her brother, uncle or cousin to abuse her. I think about why girls feel they can't speak up. I also think about why parents in so many places view daughters as a burden. One of the reasons is that so many traditions we practice in many cultures around the world have sexism embedded into them and if we don't change that, they will always seem the norm. Girls shouldn't be raised to believe that brothers should protect and sisters require protection. Rather, they should be taught that they are equal and should both make a promise to each other. Sisters, daughters and mothers should be celebrated in all the same ways brothers, sons and fathers are and if a tradition suggests otherwise, then it's time to change that tradition. Just because something has happened for a long time, it doesn't make it right. To all my sisters and brothers, it's time to make it right. Today I got my first ever Rakhri tied on me by my baby bro and I'm overjoyed 🙏🏽❤️ #GirlLove @spreadgirllove

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She and her brother Amar Singh are pictured in the Instagram post, holding up matching Rakhri bracelets as a symbol of their vow to protect one another. It’s a powerful message that both men and women are capable of protecting themselves and also have the responsibility to protect one another, rather than lumping antiquated ideas that ladies are too weak to defend themselves.

The Canadian vlogger continued, ‘One of the reasons is that so many traditions we practice in many cultures around the world have sexism embedded into them and if we don’t change that, they will always seem the norm. Girls shouldn’t be raised to believe that brothers should protect and sisters require protection. Rather, they should be taught that they are equal and should both make a promise to each other.’

‘Sisters, daughters and mothers should be celebrated in all the same ways brothers, sons and fathers are and if a tradition suggests otherwise, then it’s time to change that tradition. Just because something has happened for a long time, it doesn’t make it right. To all my sisters and brothers, it’s time to make it right. Today I got my first ever Rakhri tied on me by my baby bro and I’m overjoyed 🙏🏽❤️ #GirlLove @spreadgirllove’

Lilly Singh is renowned for her efforts to end what she calls ‘girl-on-girl hate’, setting up a popular campaign called Girl Love to encourage women to support one another. While her YouTube channel generally revolves around comedic sketches, she’s taken the time to talk about preconceptions about her Sikh heritage as well as to pen inspiring books on how to be a #bawse and make it in a male-dominated world.

More recently, she was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in July with a mission to use her powerful platform to empower young people everywhere. She said in a statement, ‘I am honoured to join UNICEF as a Goodwill Ambassador, and to use my voice to support its mission of reaching every child. The children I have met here are overcoming so many challenges – and they are living proof of what a child can achieve, if given a chance.’

With her UNICEF appointment, sold out international tours, bestselling books and twelve million YouTube subscribers and counting, it sounds like she’s the last woman that needs protecting. I mean, she’s literally Superwoman.

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