The Role of Women in Religion and Traditions

Jessiee Kaur Singh and Meerat Kaur, UNITED SIKHS

“From woman, man is born.  Within woman, man is conceived.  To woman he is engaged and married.  Woman becomes his friend.  Through woman the future generations come, and even Kings are born from her, so why call her bad?  Without women there would be no-one at all.” SGGS 473

It is the female species that keep religion and traditions alive.  Religions and traditions are a way of life.  It is women who play a major role to keep religion and tradition alive through their involvement in nurturing children, and the storytelling which starts with the mother showing her child how things are done from the basics of physical care to stories of the planet – the holy sacred scriptures, the moon, the sun, the birds, the rocks, the things which form the basis of stories mother’s share with their children.

As Sikhs, as part of our religion, we do not cut our hair.  It is the mum who is generally involved with the care of the hair.  We also wear the bangle – the 'Kara' – it is yet again the mother who makes sure the 'Kara' is on the wrist of the child and explains its significance.  We sing the praises of the Creator, and the hymns from our Sri Guru Granth Sahib – the Sikh holy scriptures.  It is important for the parents to practice the religion and tradition and teach the child to be one with every atom, to be truthful, to become fearless but be gentle, to be a friend of all, to share, be compassionate and caring, to stand up for one’s own rights and the rights of everyone around. 

 In Sikhism, we were liberated by Guru Nanak Ji, over 550 years ago.  Women were given equal status and their role.  Women were as much spiritual warriors as the men, and whenever men felt weak, it was the women who empowered them. Throughout the history of Sikhism, women have been encouraged to live as equals amongst men.  This has led to many significant contributions being made by them.  From Bibi Nanaki, the sister of Guru Nanak and the first person to recognise his divinity, to Mai Bhago, a great Sikh female warrior who fought battles even when men deserted.  Not to forget Mata Sundri who guided Sikhs when her husband and last Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji died.  Women such as these have always held a prominent place in Sikh history.  Their legacy continues to remind all Sikhs about the importance of equality, a belief which all true Sikhs will follow. 

The importance of women in the twentieth century has by no means diminished. Women continue to play integral roles during the many political struggles such as the fights for recognition and also those for independence.  However, in daily life they are considered just as important as men. As sisters, wives and mothers they participate fully in the righteous way of life.  As women we are acknowledged as active members of the worldwide Sikh congregation, including the right to lead congregational prayers. With centuries of strong female role models, women will always be at the forefront of religion and traditions. Women are encouraged to partake in all duties, including scriptural readings. 

Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion abolished the practice of ‘sati’ which was when women were burnt to death alongside their husbands at the funeral pyre in Hinduism...  In certain traditions and religious orders, women are not allowed to pray and carry out certain ceremonies during the time of her menstruation, Sikhism is void of this. In some religions the reason could be that the women were being protected and allowed to rest as they bleed and go through pain and were shown total acceptance.  Sikhism did not allow people to be treated less than ‘normal’, the concept of the “Saint Soldier” was for all, whether male or female.  Even age is not a limit.

Even within the Hindu tradition and the Vedic scriptures, women are being praised – it is said that God is the embodiment of woman. In the well known Gayatri mantra of the Vedas, Satayavati, means the same one God is present in every particle of the universe, as the unseen butter in the milk.  Woman is exalted as Aadi Shakti, and different names are given to her and several godly qualities having feminine attributes.  Fame and glory (Keertee), prosperity (Sree), illuminating fine speech (Vach), remembrance or memory (Smriti), discriminating intelligence (Medhaa), intuition (Dhriti), steadfastness of patience or forbearance (Kshamaa) and so on.  Some of the other feminine godly qualities Sathya (truth), Dharma (truthfulness or righteousness), Shaanti (peace), Prema (love), Ahimsa (non-violence), Dayiaa (mercy or compassion) etc.  Thus women are a fountain of human values and godly qualities. 

In indigenous traditions we have the women's business and scared ceremonies. Recently a movie released by Hollywood, "The Whale Rider" about the Maori (New Zealand) illustrates that a young girl breaks tradition by being the 'promised one' instead of a male.


The power for word

The word in the beginning, the word now and the word forever more.  Say the right word and we have passed or made friends, say the wrong word, and we can fail or make enemies.  Using sweet speech, bringing feminesses into our language, we make peace – an important role the women play.  Till today, generally men have rejected their children if they have mishaved or have done the wrong thing by them and it is the women who keep this balance of keeping their children still within the home. Women have often acted as the mediators within the family and now let’s become mediators within our communities and countries to bring peace, love and harmony.

We are now fully integrated in most areas of public and private life, and existing discriminations are continually being broken down by stronger international alliances.  But the world is far from perfect, and discrimination against women still exists at many levels.  The discrimination is present in religions and cultures, as well as every other aspect of everyday life.  Regardless of this, religion could also provide a fervent opportunity for women to help themselves, others and the world situation. 

We need to start using our religions and traditions to positively advance peace, destroy poverty, advocate against human rights violations, and increase multifaith relations, and women best advance these roles.  Essentially women should use their religions and traditions to help themselves, help other people.  First, you gain strength from your religion for yourself, and then you use the energy you gain from the strength to the help improve this world.  After all, religions and traditions are of no use if they do not benefit our lives in this world.  This is the promised land for us to live in harmoniously for us and our future generations.




We, the World Congress of Ethnic Religions and Traditions,

- Considering that the principle of God is neither male nor female but that It is expressed both in Gods and Goddesses

- Considering that women are still discriminated in religions all over the world

- Considering that women are keeping alive both traditions and religions through education, transmission, protection and piety

- Considering that women are fundamental in educating the basic principles and virtues of religion to the children and that through this education essential values are put forward for the organisation of future generations

- Considering that women are the support of man, and man are the support of women in realising the ultimate aim of religion

Therefore, by the present Covenant, the participating religions and traditions, through the undersigned Representatives, urge from the UNO, from the EU, from the … Government

that …


Resolution 1

Since the Principle of God is expressed in both male and female, so both male and female should be valued equally in religious matter.

Resolution 2

Since women play a vital role in guarding tradition and religious virtues, women should be revalued so that future generation could benefit from a society that respect the traditional rules and habits and reject chaotic and permissive lifestyle. This can guarantee us a world that is more peaceful, more gentle, more friendly, more sharing, more compassionate, more caring.



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