This past weekend I attended a conference put on by the Sikh Feminist Research Institute: SAFAR - Our Journeys, To Know Is Not Enough. I honestly did not know what to expect. As a Stay-At-Home mom of three I’ve had little time on my own for personal and spiritual reflection. Once a lover of school and all things academic, I now spend most of my time as a personal chauffeur, short order cook and can recite Good Night Moon verbatim. So this conference offered me an opportunity to take me back to my academic roots while exploring my issues within Sikhi.
The conference blew me away! The intelligent, non judgmental, articulate and supportive Sikh women in that room not only make me swell with pride, but also opened up my own thinking. I learned a tremendous amount while listening to the knowledgable speakers discussing various topics from: the purpose of the Doli to the role of Sikh female teachers in Ontario to the Punjab Counter Insurgency of the late 80's and early '90s. What was so unique for me was the lens in which these and many other topics were framed: one of Sikh Feminism.
As one of the keynote panelist, Dr. Nikky-Guninder Kaur of Colby College said in her opening presentation (and one of my favourite ones), Guru Nanak Dev Ji was the world's first feminist! She went on to explain that Sikhi was built on equality and feminism with everything in our Gurbani needing to be read, reflected on and put into action. I had to ponder that one. Our first guru and founding father of Sikhi was a feminist. What did it mean to be a feminist? And why then are there so many issues that ignore and marginalize women in our community and throughout our history?
As a mother of three young girls, the stories of Sikh Feminism really spoke to me. Particularly as I listened to the discussion of issues such as izzat in Canadian society and perspectives of intimate partner violence in our community which are often neglected and ignored, it sparked something within. These are all universal issues, that men and women have to address and deal with. What is so unique about the Sikh faith is that in the very words of our Gurus in the Gurbani, these issues should not exist because women are equal. All people are equal. We have to power and ability to change things - to be and do good. To make a difference.
As I teach my daughters about their faith in this modern world, I will use all that I have learned from the SAFAR conference to help them translate their sikh values to help change happen. So that one day, it may be my daughters leading the feminism movement… making their Sikh mother proud.
Rajbinder Grewal is a Mississauga based stay at home hockey mom, chauffeur, personal chef, maid and homework police to three girls. She likes to read books other than children's literature and convince her girls to find another sport.