McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

McMaster student talks gender equality with Michelle Obama

By Tina Depko, Health Sciences
Published: December 5, 2017
Kanwarpreet Karwal - fourth-year Bachelor of Health Sciences student
Kanwarpreet Karwal - fourth-year Bachelor of Health Sciences student

It was an opportunity of a lifetime and one that Kanwarpreet Karwal won't soon forget.

The fourth-year McMaster University Bachelor of Health Sciences student had the rare opportunity to hear Michelle Obama speak in Toronto recently, as well as have a one-on-one conversation with the former U.S. first lady.

She said it was a surreal experience speaking about gender equality with Obama.

"When I met Mrs. Michelle Obama, I first congratulated her on her incredible advocacy for educating girls around the world," said Karwal, who is from Brampton.

"It is education that allows individuals the capability to understand and then participate in decision making in areas like politics and economics, helping close inequality gaps which may exist. The fact we were able to share a conversation about gender equality, which is something I am passionate about, was amazing."

Karwal, 21, was one of two ambassadors selected through a nation-wide contest hosted by Plan International Canada. Participants were asked to submit a one-minute video on what world leaders could do to advance gender equality alongside two essay questions.

As a winning entrant, she was a guest of honour at Obama's event titled: "The Economics of Equality, Advancing Women and Girls to Change the World." She also had the chance to meet Madame Sophie Gregoire Trudeau and other leaders at the event that attracted a crowd of approximately 3,000.

"My definition of gender equality has been greatly influenced by my Sikh faith," Karwal said.   

"In our holy book, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, we have a quotation: 'So kyon manda aakhiye, jit jamme rajan' which means, 'Why call 'her' inferior? From her, the Kings are born.' Therefore, to me, gender equality means that whether you are a woman, man or an individual who transcends cisgender norms, everyone should be treated equally."

It was Obama's approach to adversity and failure that resonated with Karwal the most.

"Mrs. Michelle Obama explained that there are going to be instances in one's life when one will have challenges and there will be times, one will be unsuccessful," Karwal said. "She said it's not the failure that matters, but rather how strongly you bounce back, and what you learn.

"She's a strong, powerful, world leader who inspires millions of people and to hear her say she experienced failure gives me hope."

Karwal says she is more inspired than ever to create a brighter world.

"Ever since I was a young girl, I wanted to be part of initiatives that made a difference in the lives of others," she said, noting she is planning to attend medical school after completing her undergraduate degree. "I hope to take what I learned from Mrs. Michelle Obama and implement it in my own life. That way I can be part of initiatives that make a positive contribution and inspire others to do the same."

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