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Violence Against Women:
All Pervading -
The Roundtable Open Forum # 115





Each year, the Elspeth Heyworth Centre for Women (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) -- “EHCW“ --  attends to nearly 400 cases of domestic violence. Many of these cases involve newcomers and immigrants who are struggling to settle in Canada, facing unemployment, underemployment and cultural shock. These lead to anger and violence at home.

Women are the most vulnerable. They find themselves alone and isolated.

To raise awareness of the rights of women in Canada, last year 137 women participated in EHCW’s "Reduce Abuse Program", including actively building skills in financial literacy.

One of the participants wrote: "You have given me such relief and the courage to deal with my broken marriage and abuse. Emotionally and mentally, I was shattered. But you gave me back my confidence, my trust in good things, good people. My gratitude goes beyond words."

Another woman wrote: "Thank you very much for your help and encouragement for showing me the bigger picture of life, giving me hope."

Repression of women is a serious societal problem. We are all collectively responsible for the attitude we hold towards women. When an incidence of injustice against any female member in our own family occurs, we should take note of it and try to do something about it. We can’t ignore it.

I would like to briefly illustrate a real life story.

I know of a friend who had fallen in love in her youth with a fellow student from the university that she was studying in. Her father wanted her to marry an army officer, who was his drinking buddy. This friend of mine quietly went and married the man she loved. Upon discovering this, her father actually tried to strangle her. She was fortunately rescued by her brother. She ran away to save her life and hid at a friend’s place.

The irony in all of this is that the father forgot that his was also a love marriage. He had defied the wishes of his own parents.

Abuse against women is happening everywhere in the world today, because society is accepting it. This can change when we begin to say it is not acceptable.

When you experience violence in your home and you do not report it to the police, you are accepting the crime and become an accessory to it.

The change in our behavior must start from the core. The core of the society is parents. The basic thinking at the parental level needs to be overhauled and re-oriented. This can only be achieved by de-programming what our ancestors have taught us. We have been programmed to treat the girl child as something less than the male child.

It is this generation of programming that has resulted in what’s happening in the world today, which is open gender discrimination.

Here are some simple examples of attitudes that must change:

• The daughter washes the dishes, while the son plays a video game.

• The daughter helps her mother in cooking, while the son watches TV.

• While the brother and sister are eating together, the brother orders the sister to get him a glass of water. The parents watch and accept this behavior.

• A wife works 8 hours a day, comes home and cooks a meal, while the husband watches TV.

A distortion occurs when we teach our girls that they must be submissive, adjusting, obedient and dependent, and blindly believe in the teachings of parents and our society, even though these teachings are lopsided.

Women know that these teachings are not adequate. Yet, paradoxically, it is the women who become the agents in perpetuating this culture, from generation to generation. A woman who was suppressed by her mother-in-law, will, in turn, suppress her daughter-in-law equally or more.

Sadly, is there no country, no faith group in the world that gives justice or equality to women?

Ironically, it is the women who latch on to faith more than anyone else. This behavior is akin to the Stockholm Syndrome, where the person who is being hurt gets attached to the person who is hurting her. It is she, the woman, who supports the patriarchal belief that a woman’s place is below that of a man.

The sad part is we, as women, accept this.

According to Statistics Canada, one out of every five women in Canada has experienced some sort of violence, sexual harassment, assault, rape, etc. in her life. Many such cases are not reported by victims to the police.

I call upon all parents to make your children aware at a very early stage in their lives that boys, girls, women and men, should live in harmony and love, without fear and without hatred. Teach your children every day that brothers and sisters should respect the dignity of each other.

If you could do this seemingly simple task, you will bring your gurdwaras, temples, churches and mosques into your homes. You will never have to go anywhere else and women will not have to listen to anyone telling them that they are lesser human beings, which they are not.

Humanity is an integral whole. Every individual action has an extensive impact. For example, the 2012 gang rape in India has had a world-wide effect.

Women who are abused, what is your responsibility?

Although gender justice is basically the responsibility of the society, it is essential that the woman abused takes firm action when the incidence of abuse occurs by lodging an immediate report to the police. If a woman does not take firm action, if she does not condemn the unacceptable, if she cannot see the injustice, if she does not ignore the community stigma and cry out full throated for immediate help, she will allow permanent damage to her physical being and her mental state.

An abused woman takes the beating for the sake of her family, for the sake of her children. It shakes her spirit, but she bears the humiliation and pain. She gets kicked, until her spirit dies.

It is only at this point that she calls for help. By this time her bones are broken, she has been raped, abused, assaulted, and humiliated. She picks up the phone and belatedly cries for help.

Within the Girl Guides of Canada, right from a very young age, girls must take an oath that they will fight back every being that touches them in the wrong way, and that they will report such actions immediately, to their parents, teachers,
friends, neighbors and everyone they trust.

I suggest that every parent must provide the same pattern of training at home. Parents can also render a huge service to their daughters if they encourage them to take up martial arts. Every girl must be equipped with this defense mechanism. Its value will become evident whenever she faces violation of her person and dignity.

In Canada, abuse is faced within every ethnic group. The largest numbers of victims, however, are refugees, newcomers, immigrants and people with low income. With this in mind, I have a suggestion for the leaders of Canada.

Every refugee and new immigrant, upon arrival in Canada, should be made to attend a mandatory full day workshop on their rights and responsibilities. They must be made aware of the legal consequences of any sort of abuse - be it physical or emotional - of a partner, male or female.

This mandatory education will reduce violence in Canada.



Though Sikhism is the only religion which ideologically recognizes full equality between men and women, our community too has failed in fully living up to this ideal. While others struggle with the burden of history and dogma, we have no excuses.

We invite our readers to share with us their thoughts on the above-posted article and comment on how we can, as Sikhs, a) eradicate the lingering inequities within our own community; and, b) spread the revolutionary message of Guru Nanak - Gobind Singh.



The author is Executive Director, Elspeth Heyworth Centre for Women, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This article constitutes a preface to a newly released publication, “Violence Against Women: All Pervading,” (Toronto, 2014).

Edited for

January 25, 2014


Conversation about this article

1: Harmeet Singh (USA), January 25, 2014, 11:10 AM.

A lot of people, because of the cultural programming, now also suffer from mental health issues and the best way to deal with this is to make people aware about the psychological health services in their area.

2: Arvinder (USA), January 25, 2014, 1:28 PM.

Sunder Kaur ji: loved the last part of your article about mandatory education to all immigrants upon their arrival in Canada or America but let me tell you, no amount of education will work unless we educate ourselves first. I am a single mother who was married against her wishes and left her husband without any guilt because I refused to be a victim of any kind of physical or mental abuse. Believe me, it was a tough road but remembering my father's words that I was Guru Gobind Singh's "aulaad" and was not supposed to be scared of any odds in life, I marched on with dignity and did raise a good son. What I am trying to say to women of today is that they can do it by themselves, educate themselves not to be abused by anyone, even their own parents, and carry on with their life with dignity. Today's woman is educated, smart, self dependent and bold enough to take her decisions in life. So let's not always blame the menfolk for our self inflicted tortures. Women have to educate their children, especially their sons, to respect women. An educated woman can do wonders. Education does not mean getting higher education and then using it only to forget your duties as a daughter, mother or a wife. Mere bra-burning is definitely not woman's liberation. As responsible women, we should know our duties too, in addition to our equal rights with men. We cannot build a balanced society if we do not educate a woman rightly. And it is not only men, women are most of the time abused by their own sex. They forget that you cannot demand respect, you have to earn it. So it is my humble request to all womenfolk to rise up gracefully and stop being battered or abused. We can do wonders by still being humble, ever giving, lovingly without any past regrets and not repeating the same mistakes our previous generations have done.

3: Jass H Sondi (United Kingdom), January 25, 2014, 2:47 PM.

Thank you for highlighting these issues around the world. I have a major problem when I hear "Rabb ne changi cheej diti hai", when it's a boy, and "chal, koi nahi" when it's a girl. I totally agree with Harmeet Singh on cultural programming. It's very difficult to change the mindset of many bibi jis, even though they often go to the gurudwara. Mera Guru Sahib mere naal hai.

4: TS (USA), January 25, 2014, 5:41 PM.

Thank you for this article. I plan to write a book on this some day listing real examples. I have a son and I feel that this problem can only be resolved if "mothers of sons" teach their sons the meaning of equality between girls and boys. We are two sisters and my parents taught us we are no less than boys - educated us and I am at par with any male. However things, changed after marriage ... the boy is superior, girl is a slave ... he is NOT supposed to do any housework. And now I take it as a challenge to fix this issue (at least on the personal front). My 12-year-old son does laundry, "jharru-pocha", helps me in cleaning the house, in the kitchen he helps with the dishwasher - makes evening tea for me (when he has holidays) - loves to make gulab jamuns. And next wants to learn how to make pasta. Yes, I am fixing on my level - teaching him to never think girls are less, seeing me an all rounder (in my old snaps). If girls can stand next to boys, the boys need to understand and stand next to girls at all levels. And I love to make him laugh with Chennai Express dialog: "Never underestimate the power of a girl". But yes, if not in the past we should teach the new generation this - and surely things will change!again

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All Pervading -
The Roundtable Open Forum # 115 "

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