As the year begins, I am reflecting on what a year 2022 has been & what’s in store for 2023.
I’m beyond grateful for the recognition I received via the Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award in 2022, and look forward to celebrating the Governor General's Award in March of 2023. These events, in addition to my approaching 50th birthday in February, remind me of how far I’ve come and how far I still plan to go.
This Governor General’s Award holds a special place in my heart. I am so honoured to share this recognition alongside five other inspiring women. Not long ago, in 1929, Canada’s highest court declared that the term “person” included both women and men. The case was brought forward in 1927 by five women from Alberta, known as the Famous Five. Until then, women weren’t considered people in the eyes of the law. This decision meant that women could secure greater rights and security in many aspects of life.
“Recipients of these awards continue the tradition of courage, integrity, and hard work that the Famous Five on the Persons Case inspired.”
As a psychiatrist, researcher and advocate, I have been fortunate to have worked toward change in the area of women’s mental health. When women are supported, the entire community is lifted up. My work in this area has been dedicated to advancing the science, education and treatment of mental health and addiction in women and girls, including the highly stigmatized area of treating addictions in pregnancy. I am beyond grateful to receive this award, as the furthering of women’s rights has deep personal significance to me.
I was born the 5th child of hard-working immigrant parents in Calgary, Alberta. As I reflect on how my family and my country have given me so much, I think of my mother and grandmothers and what they could have achieved if given the opportunities I had. My mother and grandmothers never went to formal school, yet all of these amazing women taught themselves to read and write. They valued hard work, a positive mindset, family & community. I am so thankful for their lessons and hope to pass them on to others.
My maternal grandmother, Udham Kaur, had nine children and was the heart and soul of my very large maternal family. Her legacy of kindness remains an inspiration to me. Although she had little opportunity for education or leadership herself, she planted the seed in my mother to aspire for more. She encouraged my mother to leave everything she knew and immigrate to Canada, thereby changing the situation of her life. I recall being nervous about going away to medical school at the age of 19, working in rural hospitals in India and moving to Boston for my fellowship. Each time, my mom would echo the fearless and supportive words of her own mother. I’m grateful for all of the support I have received for my own dreams and goals.
My paternal grandmother, Chanan Kaur, was a mother of 10 children and powerhouse in her village. Her parents were in Canada and would send money back that she would use to develop crucial services in her village, such as schools and medical clinics. She was a chosen leader, or a kind of an elected mayor, of her village. She would handle many disputes within the village and was a crucial part of the leadership—a role not common for a woman to hold in the mid-1900s. A tiny woman, she had a strong spirit and mind that served her well.
When I think of the women who have come before me, from the Famous Five to my own grandmothers and mother, I’m reminded of how we’re stronger together as a community. It’s through the strength of those before us that we can continue building for our daughters, sons and all. There is a Punjabi concept called Chardi Kala. This belief is that of maintaining optimism to lift yourself and others up despite adversity and challenge. This was modeled to me by the women in my life. It has been a guiding force for me and helped me deal with my significant health issues and chronic pain. It helps me through the ups and downs of my personal and professional life and everything I do for myself, my family, and my community.
On a personal level, this year will be the beginning of a new chapter for motherhood as I will officially have three teenagers. This is both a challenge and an exciting phase of parenting, including my oldest Joesh going off to university! This year also marks 23 years of marriage to my best friend and supporter, Jeevan. I also have an exciting year of travel planned and will be announcing a few surprises on my birthday in a few weeks!
This past year has inspired me to continue moving forward in 2023. We launched the new Future-Ready Minds at the end of 2022, and this new brand and vision will allow us to reach more people, expand globally, and have an even greater impact.