New Delhi: She might be one of the most sought-after sportspersons in India but tennis ace Sania Mirza says "it's difficult to be a Sania Mirza in this country" due to the prevailing "gender inequality" and called for an urgent need to bring about a cultural change.
"Yes, it is difficult to be a Sania Mirza in this country," the tennis star said while explaining the difficulties she faced during her career as a sportswoman.
She added, "I think a lot of controversies that I had faced in my career was because I am woman. Had I been a man, I could have avoided some of the controversies."
Sania today became the United Nations Women's goodwill ambassador for the South Asian region, joining the campaign to end violence against women and girls and also raise awareness on gender equality.
"I think for more women to come into sports (in India), the culture needs to be changed. Government is getting involved and I guess that is going to change a lot of things.
Our current Sports Minister, Mr Sarbananda Sonowal supports women sports a lot and I have personally seen it," she said.
"I am happy that the government is also opening up and speaking about the gender inequality that is present in our society. And the fact that they are trying to do something about it, speaks volume about it.
"We need a cultural change and I hope media takes the responsibility, too. Media has the biggest voice, they can and should make a difference," Sania added.
Sania said she today vowed to take up the most important battle "I might face off the field".
"Gender equality is something we all advocate. Some speak about it, some don't. I have chosen to speak about it. I hope one day everyone will say that we are equal and women are not treated as objects. I will try and do everything I can to bring about a change," said Sania after becoming the first South Asian woman to be appointed the goodwill ambassador in UN Women's history.
Stating that the mentality of not just men but women also needed to undergo a major transformation for a country to achieve gender equality, Sania said, "Women's safety is something that has been going on. Nirbhaya case had opened our eyes. Not that it was the first case that had happened, but a lot of people woke up to 'what's going on'.
"Women face discrimination. They are treated like animals and it is not right. The thinking needs to be changed. Mentality needs to be changed. Men must understand that women also go out to do their work just as they do. But even women have to realise their own worth," India's most successful women's tennis player said.
Meanwhile, Sania said she was looking forward to playing in the upcoming Indian Premier Tennis League (ITPL), starting on December 6.
"I am actually leaving tonight...in a few hours. I heading to practice from here and then to the airport. I am very excited about it. I am looking forward to playing in the ITPL," she concluded.