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How Do The Positions Of Men And Women Differ In Your Faith Tradition?


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
How do the positions of men and women differ in your faith tradition? How are we to understand the seemingly subordinate position that many religions impose upon women

Balpreet Singh is legal counsel and acting executive director for the World Sikh Organization of Canada.

According to the Sikh faith, both men and women share the same position before God. The Sikh Gurus were very clear that men and women (and all human beings for that matter) are born equal and have the same rights and responsibilities.

When Guru Nanak founded the Sikh religion, Indian society treated women as lowly, unclean and as an impediment to the spirituality of men.

The Sikh faith loudly declared that women were equals of men in every way. Guru Nanak said "why call woman evil who gives birth to the leaders of the world? From the woman is the woman born, without woman there is no one" (SGGS 473).

The Sikh Gurus rejected the subordination of women and introduced several revolutionary social reforms.

They taught that women were no different than men in their ability to have a relationship with God and therefore had the same right to participate and lead congregations. As early as the 16th century, Sikh women were appointed leaders of local Sikh communities. The Indian practice of sati, where widows were compelled to immolate themselves on their husbands' pyres, was forbidden. Ritual 'un-cleanliness' of women was dismissed as an untenable myth.

The practice of veiling was prohibited for Sikh women. Sikh initiation was offered to both men and women and both genders equally wear the Sikh articles of faith. The Sikh Gurus were clear: both men and women have the same divine light within and in the eyes of God they are equal.

Although doctrinally the Sikh faith believes in total gender equality, in practice, we still have a ways to go. Indian culture remains paternalistic and male-oriented.

Men dominate the political, academic and religious scene with women remaining in the background.

Social evils that the Gurus spoke against centuries ago such as female infanticide, dowry-giving and domestic violence continue to rear their ugly head.

The Gurus' vision of complete equality between men and women was well ahead of its time but it's up to the rest of us to make their ideals into our reality.



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