Changing Role of Women in the Sikh Community

by Dr. Vaishali Sharma

The Sikh community has long upheld equality and liberation for all people, regardless of gender, caste, or social identity. In recent years, women in the Sikh community have taken on a more prominent and active role, breaking traditional gender roles and contributing to politics, activism, and social justice.

Historically, Sikhism has emphasized the equality between men and women. The Guru Granth Sahib contains hymns written by both men and women and acknowledges the importance of gender equality in all spheres of life.

Women are integral to the story of the Sikh Empire. Ranjit Singh never would have become Maharaja without the protective support of his mother, Raj Kaur, after the death of his father, Maha Singh, when Ranjit was just 10. Raj Kaur safeguarded the Sukerchakia misl for her son until he came of age. Moreover, Ranjit Singh would certainly have struggled to conquer Lahore without the support of his in-laws, the Kanhaiya and Nakai misls, whose troops accompanied him to lay siege to the Lahore Fort in 1799. It was actually his formidable mother-in-law, Sada Kaur, who negotiated a peace settlement with the Sikh sardars occupying the fort at the time, ensuring that they departed without causing further bloodshed. Both mother figures were crucial in teaching the young Ranjit Singh how to be a decent, effective leader.

However, historical patriarchal social structures had impeded women’s progress, limiting their roles in the community to domestic duties and family life.

The changing role of Sikh women in recent decades is a testament to the resilience and bravery of women who have broken free from patriarchal norms. Sikh women are now taking up leadership roles in politics, activism, and social justice, creating a bold new narrative of courage, self-expression, and resistance.

In 2017, a group of Sikh women activists launched the #NoKaur campaign, aiming to empower Sikh women and amplify their voices in the community. The campaign challenged traditional gender norms and the limited roles assigned to Sikh women, encouraging them to assert their identities and speak out against discrimination.

An Indo-Canadian healthcare worker, Navjit Kaur Brar won the Municipality elections in Brampton City, Canada in October 2022. Brar is a known respiratory therapist in the city and reportedly devoted herself to the service of the people during the Covid 19 pandemic.

The role of Sikh women in politics and activism highlights a broader trend of women’s empowerment in the Sikh community. Women are breaking free from the constraints of patriarchal traditions and taking hold of their voices, their identities, and their destinies.

Dr. Vaishali Sharma

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