Sahadish Pall's mission for gender equality in Sikh/Punjabi communities

Subhasini Naicker Wednesday 10th April 2024 06:29 EDT

Raised in a home steeped in Sikh values, Councillor Sahadish Pall BEM embodies resilience, compassion, and a commitment to community. As CEO of Sikh Women’s Aid and MD of Gender Equality Matters Ltd, she champions gender equality and serves as a beacon of empowerment. Currently an elected Labour Councillor for Great Bridge, Sandwell, and an Associate Trainer for SafeLives, Sahadish's dedication to service and advocacy knows no bounds.  

In an interview with Asian Voice, she spoke about her Sikh identity, cultural and historical factors within Sikh/Punjabi community, and Sikh Women’s Aid organisation. 

Sikh identity and its influence on her decisions

Sahadish was raised in a traditional Sikh household with a central focus on adhering to the teachings of Sikhism. She said, “Regular visits to the Gurdwara and engaging with Gurbani were fundamental aspects of my childhood. The pillars of Sikhism, emphasising selfless service, diligent work, community contribution, and prayer, were instilled in me from an early age.”

“Reflecting on my upbringing, I realise how much my current work is influenced by the values instilled in me during my childhood. Selfless service, particularly, was strongly emphasised in our household and reinforced at the Gurdwara. Concepts like aiding the less fortunate and feeding the hungry were not just preached but practised actively. This upbringing influenced my actions as a child, leading me to initiate fundraising efforts at a young age, such as during the Ethiopian famine crisis”, she added.

As an adult, Sahadish continued to practise the Sikhism values through volunteer work. She said, “In 1996, I began volunteering at a South Asian Women's Refuge, where homeless women and children sought shelter after experiencing domestic or sexual abuse. This marked the beginning of my journey into the domestic abuse sector. Over 27 years, I progressed from a volunteer to a project manager, offering services and delivering training. Despite South Asian women reporting domestic abuse, Punjabi/Sikh women were notably absent from our services. Recognising this gap, I co-founded a community organisation to support women from our communities and encourage reporting. In 2021, our organisation officially registered as Sikh Women's Aid, later becoming a charity.”

Draws inspiration from history to advocate for gender equality

Cultural and historical factors within the Sikh/Punjabi community were inspiration for Sahadish which led her to do something for women. She said, “I delved deeper into Sikh history and the struggles against oppression. I learned about prominent Sikh figures who championed equality, including the equality of men and women. Observing disparities in society compared to the teachings of Sikhism spurred me to aspire for change. My ambition to enact positive change stems from my desire to live out the principles of Sikhism, including selfless service, hard work, and devotion.”

“Inspiration from historical Sikh figures like Mai Bhago, who bravely fought alongside Guru Gobind Singh against oppression, fuels our mission. Despite Sikhism's egalitarian principles, reflected in scriptures advocating for gender equality, pervasive inequality persists within our communities. Guru Gobind Singh introduced the Amrit ceremony, akin to baptism, as an initiation into the Khalsa Panth, welcoming both men and women equally. This commitment to equality traces back to the foundation of Sikhism by Guru Nanak Dev Ji, who sought to abolish the caste system and promote equality among all individuals. Despite this legacy, cultural norms and practices continue to oppress women within the Sikh /Punjabi community. Historically, Sikhism has challenged harmful practices like Sati, which required widows to self-immolate on their husbands' funeral pyres, emphasising the value of life. Additionally, Sikh gurus denounced practices such as veiling, promoting equality between men and women within the faith,” she added. 

Supporting Sikh women through our organisation

Sahadish highlighted issues faced by Sikh/Punjabi women and discussed her organisation's assistance and ways others can support them. She said, “Caste and colorism compound the challenges faced by women, reinforcing societal hierarchies and unequal treatment. These disparities fuel various forms of abuse, including financial, sexual, physical, emotional, and psychological, perpetuated by factors like dowry disputes, educational gaps, and economic inequality. Abuse within relationships is pervasive, often resulting in tragic consequences for women. Recent incidents underscore the misuse of religious ceremonies, like marriage, to exploit vulnerable individuals, leaving them without legal recourse.”

“As a women-led organisation, we provide emotional support, advocacy, and counselling services to South Asian women experiencing domestic abuse. Despite the vital work we do, we struggle to garner community support, unlike the numerous organisations that often receive more backing. Fundraising and donations are essential for sustaining our operations and supporting our dedicated staff, including experienced support workers whose salaries we must fund. We depend on volunteers for surveys, social media, marketing, and fundraising. Any assistance in these areas would be greatly appreciated and contribute to strengthening the infrastructure of our organisation,” she added. 

She said, “In our quest to raise awareness, we aim to enlist community champions who can engage with local residents and spread our message effectively. These volunteers will receive guidance on how to communicate about domestic and sexual abuse, empowering them to initiate conversations and educate others. Through this grassroots approach, we hope to gradually expand awareness and reach those in need, reassuring them that support is available and that they do not have to endure their experiences alone.”

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