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Opinion Breaking The Silence Around Punjabi-Sikh Women

Discussion in 'Breaking News' started by spnadmin, Oct 15, 2009.

  1. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    1947-2014 (Archived)
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    Jun 17, 2004
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    Connected thread: http://www.sikhphilosophy.net/business-and-lifestyle/22488-kaur-power.html

    Coblogged by Reema and Sundari

    There is a deafening silence that surrounds Punjabi-Sikh women. Too often, when discussing challenges that some women may be facing, the conversation is shut down and de-legitimized by one or two angry voices. Interwoven into this is the unrelenting identity debate of labeling actions “Punjabi” versus “Sikh” which often distracts us from the true issue at hand.
    For example, recent posts about issues affecting women turned out to be way more controversial to a few commentors than anything in the original post merited. A post on forced marriages drew virulent ire from a few readers for discussing forced marriages under a title that included the word “Sikh.” A post on a change in asylum law which also included “Sikh” in the title drew the same virulent response. Earlier in the year, a post named “The Rise and Fall of Sikh Girls,” was accused of creating unnecessary attention with it’s title.

    This reaction is reminiscent of the treatment that was meted to Harshinder Kaur by an Indian government official when she attempted to talk about female feticide in Geneva.
    She said in her talk at Geneva she had pointed that it was very essential to educate the women and girls of Punjab to make them aware of their rights and to alleviate their sufferings. For this, UN must give aid to needy girls in their education directly as it should reach at grass level where the aid is not reaching. She said he is giving monetary help to 300 needy girls for their education through her own trust. This issue was disliked by a participant P. Srivastava and she [sic] threatened her after she finished her talk and came out of hall and advised her not to visit UN ever again if she has to utter any [words against the] government. She clarified repeatedly that said [sic] she has not uttered anything about government but was worried only about education of poor girls of Punjab. [PunjabNewsline ]
    Besides the insult felt by readers at the idea of Sikhs not living as Sikhs should and the fear that a negative image of Sikhs was being portrayed, there is another stream of thought shutting down these conversations that I think needs to be addressed.

    It’s the idea that issues involving women, aren’t “real” issues. Sometimes these voices seem to be saying that the issues 1) aren’t community issues but individuals’ issues; thus they’re private and shouldn’t be talked about in public, 2) are being overblown and authors are lying about the problems’ existence, or 3) aren’t important. This isn’t a comprehensive list of the reasons behind silencing women’s issues, but I’ll stick with these for brevity’s sake.

    First, the idea that what happens at home should stay at home, hidden from public, doesn’t work when there is a common thread and theme running through all homes, negatively impacting members of one group based on cultural or community norms. Punjabi culture is hyper-masculine. It’s hard to disagree with this while keeping a straight face. Because Punjabi culture is the backdrop in which most Sikhs are brought up, there are double standards in many Punjabi-Sikh homes.

    This leads to the second complaint- that talk of double standards or mistreatment of women is being overblown and that there’s no data to back it up. It’s true that comprehensive data remains to be collected, but such data can’t be collected if we’re unable to ask the questions that are required to collect data. Also, women today are working to address these gaps in knowledge. We need to be able to make space to work on these issues.

    The third reason, that these issues aren’t important, is a straightforward and unambiguous devaluing of women. Enough said.

    Perhaps, underlying the silencing is a perception that these conversations are attacks on individual men who have simply inherited a culture. And some take personal offense at such accusations without proper evidence to back them up. But these conversations aren’t about any individuals- they’re about the framework of power in Punjabi culture in which we communicate, think, and behave. Until we recognize that framework, and until we move past it, women’s voices will remain unheard.

    The status of Women’s Rights issues internationally
    Internationally, women’s issues are front-page news these days. [1, 2] Women’s rights have been moving towards the front of the international agenda since the 1995 UN Conference in Beijing (the fourth conference on women’s rights) that established the Beijing Platform for Action. Secretary Clinton and The Clinton Global Initiative are both paying particular attention to to these issues, influencing the international agenda. An increasing number of women have become heads of state and development literature has highlighted the link between women’s empowerment and community development.

    This doesn’t mean that women’s equality has been achieved. Indeed, some conversations about the Secretary of State still spend an odd amount of time on her appearance.
    Even venerable publications — such as one to which I regularly contribute, Foreign Policy — have woven into their all-Hillary-all-the-time coverage odd discussions of Clinton’s handbag and scarf choices. Daily Beast editor Tina Brown, while depicting herself as a Clinton supporter, has been scathing and small-minded in discussing such things as Clinton’s weight and hair, while her “defense” of Hillary in her essay “Obama’s Other Wife” was as sexist as the title suggests. [WaPo]
    Breaking the silence
    While the international community is opening up to women’s issues, Punjabi-Sikh women are also making headway and can be found in more and more positions of community leadership. But the silence surrounding ‘women’s issues’ continues. This might be because of cultural differences in psychology between generations of Punjabi-Sikhs. Older generations, or more heavily eastern-influenced generations have a cultural habit of avoiding issues and problems, brushing them under the carpet (to fester and resurface another day). But the more individualist generations who have been raised in the US prefer to address issues straightforwardly, head on.

    This negotiation – between tradition and the individualism of our adopted country has demanded a new dialogue from the community. Individuals need to feel validated and when women’s issues aren’t discussed and are delegitimized, it reflects back onto our community. It is often said that “Silence is Violence.” These conversations will continue to happen, regardless of how uncomfortable certain members of the community feel.
    Perhaps what needs to change is how these issues are labeled. Perhaps we need to move away from labeling them as women’s issues and take a more humanistic approach to them. Activists around the world are seeking to place women’s issues within a human rights framework. However, in order to legitimize this on a community level, our own community has to give leverage to these human rights ideals.

    Today’s generation of women will make space to discuss the issues that affect them and their sisters. These conversations are necessary for the health of the entire community. One project is starting by holding a focus group for Punjabi Sikh women in Washington, DC to have a conversation about the issues that arise from the intersection of gender, culture, and spirituality and to strengthen a sense of community amongst Punjabi-Sikh women. Similar focus groups will soon be held in CA. If you’re in CA and interested in attending, keep your eyes open for more information to come soon. If you’re in the DC area and interested in attending, click on the flyer above for details or email reema@thelangarhall.com.
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