Today people around the world are marking International Women’s Day. As Sikhs, we are fortunate to have and celebrate the forward-thinking teachings of the Sikh Gurus who affirmed the complete equality of men and women. But, while Sikh history is filled with inspirational Sikh women from Bibi Nanaki to Mata Khivi to Mata Sahib Kaur to Mata Bhag Kaur, our community today still has considerable work to do in order for women to take their rightful places in leadership roles.
On this International Women’s Day, we recognize five Sikh women who are changing the world around them and inspiring others to do the same.
Bibi Paramjeet Kaur Khalra: The name of S. Jaswant Singh Khalra is known to Sikhs across the world and the story of his investigation, sensational revelations and subsequent abduction and murder by the Punjab Police is now a part of Sikh history. Bibi Khalra continued her husband’s quest for accountability while at the same time raising her young family. She is a patron of the Khalra Mission Organization which continues to press for accountability and the end of human rights abuses. Bibi Khalra said, “If you put gold into fire, it emerges stronger. My two children and I have been through it. Earlier a woman used to die as a sati, but Ithink it is a greater sacrifice to live on and keep struggling.”
Balpreet Kaur: although the struggle Sikh boys go through to keep their kes (uncut hair) is well known, the struggles of Sikh women have not received as much attention. When Balpreet Kaur was ridiculed for her facial hair, she replied with grace and confidence and in doing so, made news across the world. Subsequently Balpreet Kaur has continued to speak at Sikh camps and encourage youth to connect with their faith and have confidence in themselves.
Palbinder Kaur Shergill: Palbinder Kaur is WSO’s General Counsel and so admittedly we are a bit biased, but as Canada’s first amritdhari woman to be called to the bar and the first to be appointed Queen’s Counsel it is difficult to overlook her achievements. Palbinder Kaur has appeared at the Supreme Court of Canada on several occasions in leading human rights cases and is also very active in the community as a member of several boards, including the Advisory Board for SAFAR (Sikh Feminist Research Institute)
Bibi Parkash Kaur: Bibi Parkash Kaur runs the Unique Home, a shelter for abandoned girls in Jalandhar, Punjab. Bibi Parkash Kaur herself was abandoned as a baby and has dedicated her life to serving as a mother to the children in her care. In a state plagued by infanticide and lopsided gender ratios, Bibi Parkash Kaur is making a difference.
Inderjit Kaur: Dr. Inderjit Kaur currently heads the Pingalwara, an institution to care for the homeless and destitute in Amritsar with branches across Punjab, which was started by Bhagat Puran Singh jee. She is a medical doctor by profession and has continued the remarkable work started by Bhagat jee such as assisting the mentally ill, the disabled and those abandoned by their families.