At the time of the Gurus women were considered very low in society. Both Hindus and Muslims regarded women as inferior and a man's property. Women were treated as mere property whose only value was as a servant or for entertainment. They were considered seducers and distractions from man's spiritual path. Men were allowed polygamy but widows were not allowed to remarry but encouraged to burn themselves on their husbands funeral pyre (sati). Child marriage and female infanticide were prevalent and purdah (veils) were popular for women. Women were also not allowed to inherit any property. Many Hindu women were captured and sold as slaves in foreign Islamic countries.
In such a climate Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism shocked the entire society by preaching that women were worthy of praise and equal to men. Five hundred years later, the rest of mankind is only now waking up to this fundamental truth. The Gurus actively encouraged the participation of women as equals in worship, in society, and on the battlefield. They encouraged freedom of speech and women were allowed to participate in any and all religious activities including reading of the Guru Granth Sahib.
Quotes from Sri Guru Granth Sahib
Famous Women in Sikh HIstory
Views of the Gurus Guru Nanak
Guru Nanak broke the shackles of women by admitting them into the sangat (congregation) without any restrictions or reservations. Guru Nanak felt that his message was meant as much for women as for men.
Guru Angad encouraged the education of all Sikhs, men and women.
Guru Amar Das
Guru Amar Das condemned the cruel custom of sati, female infanticide and advocated widow remarriage. Guru Amar Das also believed that women wearing veils (purdah) was demeaning. The Guru refused to meet the queen of Haripur or to allow any women into the congregation wearing a veil.
Guru Hargobind respected women and declared, "women is the conscience of man".
Guru Gobind Singh
Guru Gobind Singh made the Khalsa initiation ceremony open to men and women alike, a woman being just as worthy. At the time of Amrit a man is given the name Singh meaning lion, the woman is given the name Kaur, meaning Princess. A Sikh women is an individual in her own right, she does not have to take her husband's name and is Kaur till her death. Guru Gobind Singh did not see any distinction between the Khalsa, men or women could keep the 5 K's. Guru Gobind Singh issued orders forbidding the Khalsa having any association with those that practiced female infanticide. Guru Gobind Singh also forbade Sikhs to exercise any proprietary rights over women captured in battle, they could not be kept as slaves or wives but were to be treated with the utmost respect.