Women gaining entry to Sikh leadership in the U.S.

Women are increasingly taking up leadership roles in organized Sikhism in the U.S. and are challenging the norms and gender roles in male-dominated institutions, writes Komal Kaur in the journal Sikh Formations (online in February). Younger Sikhs have become increasingly activist in the religion in recent years, though more in society than organized Sikhism [see RW, Vol. 34, No. 3]. Kaur writes that the mass shooting of Sikhs at a FedEx building in Indianapolis in 2022 was one turning point in women getting more involved in leadership in American Sikhism. The question of emotional well-being and mental health among Sikhs became a concern of the emerging women leaders. This concern is seen in the new nonprofit organization, Umeed-Hope Inc, which seeks to address systemic discrimination, trauma, and the lack of mental health resources among Sikhs, according to Kaur (who is a founder of the group). She claims that the Sikh male leadership does not have the training or emotional capabilities to address these mental health needs.

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Other organizations with significant female Sikh leadership are SALDEF, the Jakara Movement, Sikh Family Center, the Sikh Coalition, and Young Khalsa Girls. Although classic Sikh teachings advocate for women’s equality, portraying them as warriors and scholars in the faith, Kaur argues that the emerging women leaders challenge the “prevailing climate that does not support women but perpetuates the patriarchal norms” of organized Sikhism. She adds that some Sikh leaders see the women leadership as representing a threat to traditional values, and it is true that a strong identity politics and feminist note is struck by the new Sikh women leaders. Kaur argues that the women leaders “represent a collective shift towards a more inclusive and equitable future,” again stressing the challenge of mental health and its stigma in the Sikh community. She adds that the discrimination against Sikhs in the U.S. by whites is compounded for women who are also Sikh activists.

(Sikh Formations, https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rsfo20/current)