International women’s day is celebrated on the 8th of March every year and today around the world it has become an important focal point for women as they continue their fight for equality and justice.
The significance of March 8th is that it was on this date in 1917 that women were given the vote in Russia and it became an official national holiday. It was in 1977 that the UN adopted this date as the official International Women’s Day. All kinds of violence and oppression still persist against women and girls, and for sure, the fight for equality goes on, but times are changing and women are fighting back!
There are many ways to fight oppression but I think, as women, we need to begin by being true to ourselves and not always seeking to please others. When we try to be someone else that we are not we simply end up becoming other people’s shadow. Learning to know about your self and who you are is very important. When you start understanding your true self you will be more connected with your own body, mind and soul. And when you do that you will gain your own voice. You can then express yourself with confidence and make your own decisions.
Respecting your own needs it’s not about being selfish to others; it’s about caring for yourself and being yourself instead of someone telling you to be something that you can or cannot be. We often think our bodies are where we get strength but that is not true. We gain our power from our souls and so when we lose our souls we forget who we are and where do we want to go in our life journey. The amazing thing is that once we know more about ourselves, when we begin to critically reflect on our place in the world, new possibilities emerge for us to realise our dreams.
One of the many aspects of living in a male-dominated world is that men think they have a natural right to dominate and when women get strong and make their own choices, men feel threatened.
Men control women by making them dependent. Women often live in fear to speak out and demand their rights. They suffer in silence often full of guilt and self-hatred. So I say to my sisters on this International Women’s Day, let’s not rely on the man, let’s make our own choices and let’s teach our daughters to not be afraid.
Our culture and the media and society more generally expect women to be the carers. Yes, we should care but not at the expense of losing our own rights. There is a big difference between being a carer and being a slave. We are conditioned from day one to follow the rules which have been set by men, but ironically often enforced by women. We need new rules which give rights and dignity to both men and women, girls and boys.
Achieving equality is not an easy journey and for sure we need the support of men, our brothers, fathers, sons and partners. But not at all cost; you have to stand up for your own beliefs and rights! Remember what Guru Nanak said, without women, nothing would exist. No one needs to give you your human rights since these are your birthright and given by God; what we need to do is claim them!
Tradition is a wonderful thing, but sadly many of the cultural rules were made by men to control women. Gurbani says “burn that tradition that takes you away from the divine loving waheguru”. For me that means to destroy those traditions that promote the 5 vices of lust, anger, greed, attachment and pride. Tradition tends to turn mothers, daughters, sisters or wife’s into the property of men. This has to end! Women belong to nobody, they are not slaves but free people and men must get used to this!
I was the youngest sibling in my family and growing up as the youngest I didn’t get noticed that much. I think when you’re the youngest it’s good and bad because you’re expected to learn from the others but keep quiet and obey. I did learn a lot but I was not a quiet child! You could say I was a rebel and I used to question a lot. I was always curious about things and had developed a mind of my own. It’s as if I had created a little imaginary world of my own. And in that world, I could do what I wanted, be who I wanted and go wherever I wanted. In those days, especially in Asian families like mine, the idea of women’s rights simply did not exist and life for women and girls was difficult.
Because in my early life, like others, I had no choice over where and with whom I lived, my family was my world. Don’t get me wrong, in their own way, my family was very caring and protective. But sometimes it felt like you were being treated as property to be looked after and eventually passed on!
Anyhow, after marriage, I found myself in a different situation and I was able to realise my dreams of a fairer life for me and my children. Life was still tough and it took some time for my partner to adjust; after all he too had been socialised into thinking men were born to rule. But things were good and I was able to ensure my daughter was given the same chances and freedom as my son.
Rights for women does not mean hating men or taking away their rights. It means fair and equal treatment. It means challenging stereotypes about what men and women can and cannot do. Above all, it means allowing everybody to reach their full potential. I personally do not like it when anyone controls me. I do like my freedom and I do like to make my own choices. I also realise that it is not easy for men and women to break out of the traditional Punjabi culture, but even that is rapidly changing. And so rather than blame each other, which can only lead to division and misery, both men and women need to learn new ways of relating to each other. This will take time but even in my lifetime and my own family I can see real positive forward movement.
We all need role models. As Sikhs, we are fortunate to have some great women such as Bibi Nanaki, Mata Sahib Kaur, Mata Khivi, Mata Sundari, Mata Bhag Kaur, Sada Kaur, Maharani Jinda Kaur and Princess Sophia Duleep Singh. I am so thankful for the great tradition we have and I get encouragement from the strength, power, courage, creativity, care and leadership that these amazing Sikh women displayed.
Life is not a smooth road and on the way we all face challenges, some that may even be life-changing. The point is not to run away from these, but to face up to everything that life throws at you. Overcoming challenges makes you become wiser and stronger. You become more resilient and start to believe anything is possible. Over the years I have come to realise that it is not money or wealth or status but self-confidence that is the real key to success and ultimately happiness.
In today’s visual Instagram culture self image is everything. But remember, true beauty is to be found on in the inside, in our hearts and minds. And when we realise the beauty within, then we begin to glow on the outside. We need to be not obsessed with our bodies and the way we look. We must resist the racism of whiteness that still haunts us. We need to love ourselves and realise every shade of skin colour has its own unique beauty. When we see beauty in all, we will see beauty in ourselves and we will realise that this is the true beauty, the divine beauty, the beauty of God within each and every human being.
On this International Women’s Day, let all of us realise we are all immensely talented, that our potential is immense and that all we ask of men is for an equal chance. But sadly the reality, even today in the 21st Century, is that women continue to suffer in silence across the world. But things are changing and we now realise we are NOT victims but survivors and thrivers.
Manjit Kaur is based in the UK and appears as a co-host at the Akaal Channel. This column was adapted from her Facebook entry.
The Divided Panth – some personal reflections. (Asia Samachar, 12 Feb 2020)
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