Who is Mani Kaur Bajwa?
I am a women’s human rights activists. I believe in the safety and dignity of all girls and women. I am the founder and CEO of BILLION WOMEN, a charity helping women and girls displaced by homelessness, poverty and crisis. I believe in empowering women to demand change and advocate for their own rights. We campaign for an end to violence against women and girls in public spaces and create safer public spaces all around the world.
“Find something you care about – something that lights up your heart and soul, something that inspires you – and go for it”. Mani Kaur Bajwa
How did Billion Women start? What was the main reason behind this?
BILLION WOMEN was founded in 2015, I have always been passionate about women’s rights and gender equality. While visiting the slums of India and women sleeping rough on the streets of London, our research has found most homeless women have led traumatic lives, I discovered homeless women and girls living in poverty don’t even have access to their basic human rights. We realised the importance of providing the most basic necessities to women that would meet their essential needs. We recognised these things were often being overlooked by those organisations providing aid support. By essential needs, we are talking sanitary products – the basic stuff women need. This led to the creation of our Dignity Kits, bags packed with female essentials which we distributed on the streets of London to women who were sleeping rough. Our mission is to help & support women in need, create awareness on gender equality, dignity & safety of women. We continue our global campaign for prevention and end violence against girls & women.
I remember attending the launch of Billion Women in Parliament, and you openly told us about your depression and gave us an insight into this, how did that happen?
Mental health is an issue very close to my heart, I have personally experienced it when I had a car accident and injured my back. I was very limited. Which caused depression and inability to deal with my situation. I was terrified of the thought of it because I didn’t understand mental health and how to take care of it.
I was referred to a mental health clinic and because of the stigma that’s associated with admitting depression and mental ill-health I was terrified. All my life, as long I was physically able I never thought there was a need to take care of my mental health. It was a wake-up call – I could either stay in this situation or find out more about my mental health and how to take care of it.
I started to research. Every day I learned something new about my mental health and how to take care of it. I realised the reason I had become so ill and depressed was that I was not taking care of my mind. Had I done that, I could have dealt with my physical injury in a wholly different way. That would have helped heal me and restore normality to my life. Had I understood mental health, I would have gone to see a psychologist without the fear of being labelled as a mentally-ill person. My lack of understanding of this area took away six years of my life, a time I’ll never get back.
Take care of your MIND!!
I have read all your blogs “Rise of the Sikh Women”, they were amazing and I really loved them they were so interesting and I learnt a lot. My favourite was Forgotten Sikh women left behind in Pakistan after 1947 and depression in South Asian communities. What made you decide to write about this?
The inspiration behind the blog comes from my childhood memories when my mother used to tell us about Partition 1947 and her own journey as an 8-year-old girl. Although she arrived safely on the other side of the partition line, partition seems to have left a lasting memory for most.
Forgotten – Sikh Women Left Behind in Pakistan after 1947 – A true story from archives about the Sikh women forgotten in Pakistan in the rush to escape in 1947.
Depression in South Asian Communities – I grew up listening to my granddad talking about losing a cherished heritage of his ancestry. Partition caused a deep sense of trans-generational trauma with the event displacing more than fourteen million people (over five million of whom were Punjabis) and violently dividing the region into what we now know as India and Pakistan. This violence led to the disappearance of two million people and the largest mass migration in human history; the trauma from this event still lingers heavily over the heads of British Punjabis. As a result, events such as the partition of India need to be considered when addressing mental health issues within Punjabi communities, particularly in regards to the older generation.
When we were speaking you told me that you do a lot with homeless people which blew me away. Can you into detail about this?
I have been working with homeless women since 2015. I have worked with women living in shelters and sleeping rough on the streets, walked on the streets and distributed dignity kits and food, listening to their story and how can we help. We all have a general perception of homeless women. I believe that homelessness doesn’t mean only sleeping rough on the streets. You can be HOMELESS while living under a roof if there is no safety or dignity and you are suffering domestic violence or have no privacy, your views oppressed and have no say in financial decision making. The list of abusive things so many of these women have endured is endless. Homeless women are often labelled as drug-users, prostitutes or just lazy but many of them are sleeping on the streets because they feel safer there than in an abusive environment.
You are from Chandigarh in India and you were talking about what you do there, can you tell me the projects you did there as you visit quite often?
I have worked on a sanitation project for girls & women living in the slums. Due to the lack of toilets, girls and women get sexually harassed while going for open defecation. One of the most difficult tasks, I fought with the local government to ask for permission to install toilets in the slums. It was a success.
You often in the background for your charity and allow others to grow which is so selfless, any reason for this?
I am motivated and focused on my goals, I work very hard to write programs and organise campaigns. Once I feel confident with my vision, I am happy to discuss our goals with the rest of the team. I want to let volunteer share their vision and provide the opportunity to develop skills and experience. I provide guidance throughout the entire project. Volunteers are the backbone of any campaign.
You also did a Global Sikh Women’s day how did that start and why?
Global Sikh Women’s Day – Sikh women have much to celebrate for their achievements, but there is still much work left to be done. Sikhism promotes the equality of all women. I was deeply affected by horrific images and stories about female feticide in Punjab, Canada and the U.K. This inspired me to launch a campaign, educate and create awareness. We aim to eradicate harmful traditional practices affecting the mental, spiritual and social development of girls and women in the Sikh society.
What is the message for Billion Women?
Women who are unaware of their rights cannot claim them. Billion Women aim to campaign for women’s right to safety dignity and equality. Women, like men, have the right to feel safe and to live freely. Let’s make that a priority.
Mani Kaur Bajwa is a brilliant role model and she is a true inspiration. Mani does so much to help women. I met Mani recently and we got chatting about her life and the reason Billion Women was set up. She literally blew me away. I didn’t realise how much she actually does. Mani is someone who has so much about them. She is warm, compassionate and believes in what she does. Not only that, this was the second time I met her and she was encouraging me with my blogs. How to make better. Different ways to maybe launch my blog. I found her so lovely and I could talk for England with her. I think it was about 2 and a half hours chatting.
She wanted to help me and that sums up Mani Kaur Bajwa she is a selfless person who encourages others to do well in their lives and careers. She is happy to sit in the background and let others excel. We need more like and her story is fascinating.
Please also check out her blogs on Rise Of Sikh Women. They will open your eyes and you will learn a lot from them. https://www.riseofsikhwomen.com/blog