Ten Sikh-Briton Women Who Made A Difference In 2016APRIL WILSON
1 MANJIT KAUR GILL
Manjit Kaur Gill is the CEO and founder of Binti, a charity that seeks to change global attitudes around menstruation (especially concerning the shame surrounding periods), raise awareness through menstruation education and make sure that every woman has access to sanitary products. #SmashShame
Significantly, she is also committed to making sure that Binti runs a sustainable program:
“Binti assists entrepreneurial, self-help women groups to create micro factories to produce, distribute and sell low cost sanitary towels within their local communities. We hire self-sufficient local women. We provide funding options for the equipment. We supply the machinery, raw material, distribution channels, training and support to establish the micro factories.”
In short this basically means that Binti enables women in local communities to be able to start producing their own sanitary towels and sell them. By providing them with the machinery and support to establish their factories, Binti paves the way for these women to continue the work in the future.
2 SHAY KAUR GREWAL
Shay is part of the husband and wife dream team, Sunny and Shay, which hosts a show on BBC WM (95.6) and also a show on BBC Radio London.
Shay explains that she started her career “in human resources”, but that she “always wanted to go into journalism”.
She has a BA in Sociology and an MA in Comparative World Studies. As a masters student myself it is always inspiring for me to see women in education. Shay’s education definitely shows, as Sunny and Shay frequently explore hard hitting social topics, like MuslimsLikeUs, which looked at how Muslims are treated within the UK.
For me, Shay demonstrates not only the success that Sikh women can achieve, but also that Sikh women can and should be represented in journalism in far greater numbers.
3 ‘FITNESS’ KAUR
‘Fitness’ Kaur, or Gurpreet Kaur, is an Instagram fitness inspiration who works out while wearing a turban. She specialises in Calisthenics (Bodyweight Training), and proudly identifies herself on her Instagram profile as a Sikh.
“Bhenji is a great role model for Sikhs looking to get fit and healthy, with her videos depicting mind-blowing feats of strength making for inspirational viewing. Gurpreet Kaur (her real name) is also very open about the prominent role Sikhi plays in her drive for fitness.”
She not only shows that women can be strong, but importantly makes it clear that it is her faith that encourages her to go from strength to strength.
4 JEZ KAUR aka ‘HIPSTER VEGGIE’
Though I don’t personally agree with some of her ideas, I admire Jez Kaur - ‘Hipster Veggie’ - who runs a YouTube channel that tries to influence people to live a more ‘ethical’ life through eating a healthy vegan diet.
But she also is a big supporter of a number of important movements. For example, she supports “The Brown Girl Movement” and appeared in a video first viewed at New Jersey City University that captures the voice of this new identity that has been spreading around the world.
“All of the women in this video are from different countries, different religions, different backgrounds, but they're actually saying the same thing ...”
Seriously, if you haven’t seen it already, go watch it. It’s so inspiring to see women supporting each other (no matter where they are from or their religion) and making sure their voice gets heard.
Jez has also spoken at such events as Badass Vegan Women celebrate International Women’s Day, which also coincidentally charged ticket prices as a donation to the charity, Binti.
5 SUKHMANI KAUR RAYAT
Sukhmani has broken boundaries by being “one of the only young female Tabla players to emerge from the British Asian classical music scene”.
By fighting against what is expected of women in music, Sukhmani has made her mark as a truly passionate musician.
She is proof that there is hope for women to have a space in the British classical music scene, and if women can find a space in this scene, why not other scenes?
6 PREET KAUR GILL
Preet Kaur is a Labour Councillor in Sandwell, and I think that this is so important. The representation of Sikh women in politics is incredibly inspiring for young women to see, and important for the future of making sure Sikh women’s voices are heard.
Preet especially is an important figure as she regularly campaigns for human rights issues, and has been involved with Sikh Network events. Significantly, these events involved talking about better Sikh and female representation in politics.
She also was a supporter of Britain remaining in the UK, something that I whole heartedly support, because Britain, “with its rich diversity … cannot and should not be a country that becomes insular but continues to be outward facing and addressing matters like immigration, terrorism and the economy with the EU as together, we are stronger and better."
7 JASPREET KAUR
Jaspreet Kaur is a ‘jill of all trades’ as not only is she a History teacher at a secondary school in central London, but she also known through ‘Behind the Netra’ where she showcases her poetry. She is also well known as a spoken word artist and her “thoughts on gender issues, historical topics and taboo subjects both in the Sikh-Briton community and wider society”, are visible both in her poetry and spoken word.
As you may have noticed all these women are not afraid to speak up and talk about things that are taboo (or enter a place where women were traditionally not permitted), and Jaspreet is a brilliant example of this.
Her poetry is truthful and unafraid and tackles such topics of being proud of the colour of her skin and saying that people who say they don’t see skin colour are not helpful, and saying it doesn’t make you more politically correct. She has also covered such topics, as women’s body hair (which, is upsetting in itself that this is taboo) and how it is beautiful.
8 MANDIP KAUR SAHOTA
Mandip is CEO of the human rights charity, the BW Foundation (or The Baroness Warsi Foundation). The charity was created to improve social mobility, increase gender equality and promote religious understanding.
The three key pillars of the foundation, as stated on their website are to:
1 Improve Social Mobility: The charity does this by promoting equal access to education and employment for everyone, no matter their background.
2 Religious Understanding: Although, the organisation is not a religious organisation, it does valuable work supporting programmes to encourage peace-building between different faith communities.
3 Gender Equality: Women still have fewer opportunities available to them in the world than men and less political power. The BW Foundation is challenging this by trying to break down those boundaries, address inequalities and challenge every societal hurdle that should not be something that is normal in society.
9 SUKHVINDER KAUR
Sukhvinder Kaur works for the charity ‘Sikh Relief‘, which was briefly known as SOPW (Sikh Organisation for Prisoner Welfare).
Sikh Relief in fact still keeps to the main mission aims of SOPW, but has just expanded on their scope.
Originally, SOPW was “run by volunteers, working to achieve justice for those, who have been illegally imprisoned and tortured”.
The charity then was created to address Sikhs incarcerated in India (who are mostly political prisoners who remain in custody extra-judicially), and how they have no hope for leaving prison because they don’t even have enough money for their basic needs.
Many prisoners have also never been officially convicted or charged of an offence, but yet have been detained for as long as 20 years.
SOPW helps by providing monthly support to prisoners with clothes, soap, etc. and funding legal cases, as well as drawing attention to these cases in the international community.
How Sikh Relief differs from SOPW is that they have widened their approach and now according to the Sikh Relief website the “overall focus of Sikh Relief [is] to provide help and assistance to the poor, needy and destitute predominantly in India but also worldwide where there is a need”.
Again, I am amazed and humbled by the compassion the Sikh community shows for people of all backgrounds, which I think is evident by the number of women who are CEO’s or work in key positions for charities.
10 HARLEEN KAUR
Harleen Kaur, aged 17, is a WMKF World Champion Silver Medallist, as well as an Asian Sports Foundation Ambassador. She’s been training for nearly 10 years.
I think she and Fitness Kaur are such inspirations as women are already underrepresented in the sporting world.
* * * * *
I have talked a lot about how representation is important in this article. And this is something that has only become evident to me in recent years. I am not Sikh; I am a British white woman so I have not had to struggle with not seeing my image reflected in the media as much. I did though struggle with finding strong women who made me feel like women could be the main character (and I understand this is a different issue entirely). However, I was able to find shows like ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and characters like Hermione Granger who provided me with strong role models that I could find solace in (though these characters were still few and far between).
I can’t imagine what my life would have been like if I did not have that image available at all. This is, however, something that a lot of women, not just Sikh women, have to face, as they are not able to find strong role models in the media who look, talk, act, or dress like them.
So here is my challenge to you. Whether you are Sikh or not, first, see how many women you can name in each of the fields I have mentioned, and then see how many Sikh women you can mention that are not on this list.
I know for me before writing this article, I would have been able to do the first challenge, (though I feel this is because I consciously make sure I pay attention to female influencers), as for the second challenge, I would have been able to name one person, and only because I know her personally.
This challenge does not have to be done just for Sikh women, repeat it for every ethnic and racial group you can think of. And then challenge yourself to fill the places where you find gaps. I know that is something that is on my list of New Years resolutions to make sure I do next year ...
[Courtesy: Thomson Reuters Foundation. Edited for sikhchic.com]
December 28, 2016