The first thing that strikes you about the newly appointed Consul General of Canada in Mumbai, Diedrah Kelly, is her love for India. Wearing an Indian outfit for an event in Pune, Diedrah, who took charge six weeks ago, admits she loves the chaos of a big city. The energy, she says, is contagious, the people are friendly and they “never hesitate to offer advice, whether it’s on their favourite food, or their favourite places to visit.” Secretly nurturing her love for Bollywood, Diedrah spends time on Instagram and is serious about taking some Bollywood dance classes. In an exclusive chat with us, Diedrah shares her plans of building on the trade and investment relationship between Canada and India, the close association with Humsafar Trust, the misinterpretation of the word feminist, and her personal thoughts on the crisis in Ukraine. Excerpts: You’ve just taken charge. What has been your impression about India and what is going to be your immediate focus? It’s my first visit to India. I love the chaos of the big city of Mumbai, and we’ve also had an opportunity to go to Goa. People are so friendly and the architecture fascinating. Arriving in Pune, what struck me was the green space. And, I dare say, it’s a peaceful city by comparison. It’s calming, because you can see the skyline, and there’s trees and plants in every direction, so it feels like you’re driving through a large park. In terms of work, there’s a lot. Given that we are in Western India, the focus is building on the trade and investment relationship between Canada and India. Other than trade and investment, I would love to build on some of the great initiatives that my predecessors have already been doing. Specifically, I think of Canada’s feminist foreign policy, and the work that we are doing around gender equality and diversity and inclusivity. We already support the Humsafar Trust, which is working with the LGBTQI community. We will also work with women’s groups to raise awareness on issues like violence against women and girls, and things like accessing finance to women entrepreneurs.
You also mentioned that you are working towards gender equality through community leadership. As we celebrate Women’s Day today, your thoughts on what we’ve achieved and the path ahead… If you just look at the word feminist or feminism, I see that word still strikes fear in some circles. To give you an example, I was having my nails done a few weeks ago, and having a lovely chat with the woman who owns the salon, and she made a reference, about you know ‘those crazy raging feminists’ and I thought ‘Oh! So, there’s still this bias that exists with regard to a lack of understanding’. And for some it creates images of these militant women that are out to terrorize. But what needs to be understood is that it’s about inclusivity, and it’s about better representation, equal opportunity, and levelling the playing field. As sad as that is, we are still having to talk about those issues. So, I think the first step is breaking down the barriers that exist in that toxic reaction to the word feminist and saying, it’s nothing you have to be worried about. Feminism is about equality. It’s about equal access and equal opportunity. Repeated studies have shown it’s advantageous to be more inclusive, to have better representation at the table.
What has your personal experience been in this aspect? I’ve always been surrounded by strong women, whether it was my mother, or my group of friends or mentors. So, you know, I took it for granted. I think I naively believed that times were changing and that everybody had equal opportunity, irrespective of what their starting point was. It’s really not true. And, so, do I think there has been progress? Yes, I think that there is awareness, I think that there is less tolerance in a lot of professions for harassment, sexual harassment and discrimination. There are efforts being made for creating space for equal opportunities in promotion and pay equality. But there is still a lot of work to do. And I think there’s definitely a lot of work remaining in terms of awareness, breaking down barriers, having better representation, equal pay and more. I’m conscious of the fact that there’s many that haven’t had opportunities for this and so we keep fighting till they have the same opportunities one day. Canada has been supportive of Ukraine regarding the crisis that is going on. What are your thoughts on the current situation? I’ll share some personal experiences. One of the first international experiences that I had was in the Russian Federation. When I graduated from high school, I participated in an exchange program and I lived with a Russian family and it was truly a life-changing experience for me, in the sense that I realized that I needed to see the world. I’ve always had a soft spot for Russia and Russian people. So even though our governments haven’t always been on the same page, I’ve always tried to empathise and attempted to see the situation from their perspective, from Russia’s perspective and I’m struggling right now, with the Ukraine crisis. I don’t understand and I don’t think it is explainable or justifiable. What I see is a sovereign country, Ukraine, whose people want independence, a democratically elected government, the same opportunities that we were just discussing – education, employment, prosperity, stability. And that’s being taken away from them, for no good reason at all. Looking at the images, it’s heart-breaking. Canada supports and stands with Ukraine and is opposed to the Russian invasion and war in Ukraine. And there is no justification for Russia’s actions. I really hope that the war will end as soon as possible, that it won’t bring further carnage.