A conference at UBC this Saturday (October 27) seeks to highlight Sikhism as a feminist religion. Because women practising the faith are not always treated as equals by their male brethren in Punjabi communities in Canada and elsewhere, Sikhism is quite often seen as a patriarchal creed.
It’s a perception that Kirpa Kaur—a director with the Sikh Feminist Research Institute, which is organizing the conference—wants to correct. According to her, one of the first teachings of religion founder Guru Nanak was that men and women are equals.
“We come from a history where women were not just uplifted but were treated as equal and given dignity and status,” Kaur told the Straight in a phone interview. “And so to know where you came from, I think, can give you the inspiration to realize the changes that need to be made today.”
She maintained that patriarchy seeped through Punjabi culture, blurring the feminist roots of the Sikh religion. Kaur also asserted that British colonization of India—including the state of Punjab, where Sikhism was born—instituted patriarchal values and weakened the egalitarian norm defined by the religion.
Although Indira Prahst isn’t involved with the “Our Journeys 2012: Inspirations, Explorations, Voice and Practice” conference, the chair of Langara College’s department of sociology and anthropology believes that it can help address a number of issues.
“Conferences that create spaces to address women’s social position at large can have a positive effect of increasing women’s sense of agency and modes of resistance against inequality,” Prahst told the Straight in a phone interview.
Prahst added that this Saturday’s Sikh feminism event “can illuminate the structural barriers that Sikh women experience as both a religious minority and women of colour”.
The conference takes place at the UBC Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability starting at 9 a.m.