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Vaisakhi: Reason to celebrate gender equality

Vaisakhi: Reason to celebrate gender equality

By Dr. Balbir Gurm

As we celebrate Sikhi and the birth of the Khalsa, KPU Faculty draws attention to the fact that we have not lived up to Guru Nanak’s wishes of practicing gender equality

Sikhi, Sikhism, or Sikh dharam was started by Guru Nanak Dev Ji (1469-1539) AD.  Guru Nanak Dev Ji claimed that there is no such thing as a Muslim, Hindu or other, but we are all one, human.  He also declared that there is one universe and that we as humans are connected and a part of it. Guru Nanak Dev Ji is credited as the founder of the Sikh Religion, but he founded more than that.  He founded the basis of human rights codes around the world.

Guru Nanak Ji stated that we are all  one and is my favourite human rights activist because he stood up for every individuals right and believed there should be no discrimination based on religion, socioeconomic status, ability, creed, country of origin,  and gender. He travelled extensively and promoted this message.  He may even be the first person to stand up for gender rights and claim that women were equal to men. As the famous story goes he stated how a woman can be any less than a man when she give birth to man.

As we celebrate Sikhi and the birth of the Khalsa, I want to draw your attention to the fact that we have not lived up to Guru Nanak’s wishes of practicing gender equality. In fact, women continue to be treated like belongings, chattel.  The historical tradition of fathers owning daughters until they are married and the ownership transferring to their husbands is still very prevalent in our society.  Due to this historical practice and the assumption that it is okay to violate women in order to control them (since they are not seen as humans, but objects), there continues to be violence against women.

Relationship violence also called domestic abuse/violence or intimate partner violence comes in many forms: physical, emotional, spiritual, sexual and financial (see image).  The World Health Organization has claimed that there is an epidemic of domestic violence and that 1 in 3 women will be abused during their lifetime.  Violence does not happen just in third world countries but it happens here in Canada, in our local communities. Just review the local statistics below.

  • A women is killed in Canada every 6 days.
  • 1/3 of all calls to police are for domestic violence.
  • Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women – more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.
  • In 2011, men were responsible for 83% of police-reported violence committed against women in Canada.
  • 8 in 10 victims of police-reported intimate partner violence were women.
  • Half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16.
  • 66% of all female victims of sexual assault are under the age of twenty-four, and 11% are under the age of eleven.
  • Eighty-five per cent of child sexual abuse victims know their sexual abusers.

What is more terrifying is that these are only those reported to police.  Seventy percent of domestic violence is not reported to police. In the last Canadian survey 67% of all Canadians say they personally know at least one woman who has been sexually or physically assaulted. As well, there are over a 100 million women missing worldwide due to practices such as: female infanticide, sex selective abortions and neglect of girls.Violence against women, youth and children in BC is an ongoing public health and safety crisis that remains a devastating daily reality for many. This violence affects people of all social, economic andcultural backgrounds, can result in lifelong impacts and creates an overwhelming health, social and economic burden mostly borne by women and their children

This epidemic needs to be stopped for the sake of our current and future families for even when children are not directly abused, and are only exposed to domestic violence in the home, they can suffer severe negative effects on their physical and mental health in the long term. Guru Nanak’s message was to speak up and stand up for social equality and it is the law. British Columbia has legislation regarding the abuse of adults and the public’s duty to report such offenses.Under section 22 of the Criminal Code, there are certain circumstances that may cause an individual to be held responsible if they have witnessed abuse and aided/abetted the crime to occur. If you know or suspect someone is in immediate danger or may cause harm to someone else, call 911– Never intervene yourself!

Sikhi has a long tradition of speaking up for justice, for human rights.  We, the community need to practice what Guru Nanak Dev Ji taught us. We need to take a long look at ourselves, reflect and revise our own behavior.  We need to stop the abuse cycle and be good Sikhs and speak up and say “It is NOT okay” to abuse.  After all we are one humanity, and we need to lead by example.


Dr. Balbir Gurm is a KPU Faculty and Facilitator Network to Eliminate Violence in Relationships

To  learn to stand up visit www.kpu.ca/NEVR and download (FREE) the Community Champion Toolkit


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