Empowering women and girls in Sikhism

From woman, man is born; within woman, man is conceived; to woman he is engaged and married. 
Woman becomes his friend; through woman, the future generations come. 
When his woman dies, he seeks another woman; to woman he is bound. 
So why call her bad? From her, kings are born.

From woman, woman is born; without woman, there would be no one at all. 

Guru Nanak Dev Ji

There is no doubt that the founder of Sikhism held women with the upmost regard and respect. Guru Nanak Dev Ji installed values of equality between men and women as a founding principle of Sikhism. In the above Shabad (verse from Guru Granth Sahib Ji) the important roles of women throughout their lives are highlighted.

Women are glorified with the statement: “From her, Kings are born” and the importance of women is cemented with; “Without women there would be none at all’.

These words are as important today as they were back in the 15thCentury. The culture at the time would have viewed men as more important than women, disregarding women as second class. Guru Nanak challenged this perspective of women. He promoted the vision of equality and respect of all women and their impact in society and creation of life.

Despite a lot changing since the 15thand 16thcenturies when Guru Nanak lived, there are undoubtedly continued stigmas, crisis’, and issues for women globally. Campaigns such as International Day of the Girl and International Women’s Day highlight the need to advocate on behalf of women towards equality and respect for the role of women in society.

Here is a list of 10 issues facing women and girls today:

  • Child brides – An estimated 140 million girls will become child brides between 2011 and 2020 (www.globalcitizen.org)
  • Gender inequality – Only 6 countries of 187 measured give women equal work rights as men in a recent World Bank report. 
  • Sexual violence – An estimated 1 in 5 women will experience rape or attempted rape.  (Action Aid)
  • Domestic violence –  38% of all murdered women are murdered by their partner. (Action Aid)
  • Human trafficking – Women and girls are usually trafficked for marriage and sexual slavery. (UN.org)
  • Reproduction health and rights – 47,000 pregnant women die every year due to complications from unsafe abortions. (Amnest.org)
  • FGM – More than 200 million girls have been cut in 30 countries across the Middle East and Asia. (www.who.int)
  • Labour rights – In many industries, female workers are systematically denied their rights to regular pay, hours, contracts. (labourrights.org)
  • Access to education – Approx 500 million women in the world are illiterate. (World’s Women Study 2015)
  • Female infanticide – Over 170 million baby girls have gone missing in Asia (http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in)

Celebrating International Women’s Day and International Day of the Girl enhances awareness of these problems and many more from across the female diaspora. These issues are prevalent around the world and as more awareness is raised, more people will recognise the need for help and take a stand against them.

As a Sikh our duty is to support anyone in crisis and to defend the defenceless. A key way to show our support for women and girls is to deepen our understanding of global issues against them, raise awareness and support them directly or the charities and agencies working to help them. 

Day to day we can empower women by remembering to value our sisters, mothers, wives and daughters. It is them who Guru Nanak praises, for their input, sacrifices and commitments to the lives of those around them. To support women and girls afar, we can advocate on their behalf by challenging businesses that take advantage of cheap labour. Pressurise Governments to keep girls in education. Support charities who help victims of violence and violation. Raise awareness of issues facing women globally using social media hashtags to get these issues trending. We can also actively celebrate the birth of girls and their achievements with the aim to change views and values about women for future generations.

As Sikhs, we take our lead to challenge any attitudes of inequality between men and women from Guru Nanak Dev Ji. We follow His path when we show our love and respect to women throughout their lives and like Him we should all express how important women are to us all.

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh!