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The BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir hosted its fourth annual Women’s Conference on Saturday, March 19, 2011 in celebration of the 100-year anniversary of International Women’s Day. Over 550 women from across the Southeast attended this event.
“BAPS has made a long-term commitment to promoting and empowering women,” said conference organizer Archna Patel. “This is but one opportunity for our local Lilburn community to participate in a global initiative that celebrates our achievements.”
International Women’s Day was on March 8, and is celebrated with several thousand events around the world. As an organization with consultative status with the United Nations, BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha is taking an active role in honoring the achievements and contributions of women. BAPS has over 160 humanitarian activities focusing on women’s development, including women’s literacy, health and wellness education, post-disaster relief and support, and assistance for women to secure livelihoods for their families.
This year’s theme, “Honoring the Past, Envisioning the Future,” allowed for a positive and rich collection of dialogues, performances and exchanges. The three keynote speakers highlighted the role of women in India’s history and cultural heritage, the impact of the practices and principles of Hinduism in the life of women, and the opportunities and challenges that face the Indian female diaspora today.
“Today, women are making remarkable strides across all professional spectrums,” said speaker Sheetal Desai, who is a practicing attorney and partner at a law firm in the Atlanta area. “Despite many challenges, we have continued to excel in our many roles as women.”
Speaker Reshma Patel, a mechanical engineer and IT professional, addressed the challenges she faces in teaching her two sons to be proud of both their American and Hindu identities. “We have to be comfortable and confident in our Hindu identity so our younger generations also feel the same way,” she said. “We should be confident enough to be able to participate in religious and cultural dialogue within our community.”
This year’s speakers, and the messages they discussed, resonated with the attendees in a unique, significant manner.
“As a mother living and raising my kids in America, I strive to teach them the best of both cultures,” said attendee Dhvani Patel, “I want to give them confidence in their cultural identity through teaching them our language and faith. At the same time, I try to imbibe in them a basic Hindu value of mutual respect.”
The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir has hosted the Women’s Conference annually since 2008. Past conference themes emphasized the importance of investing in the lives of women and girls, the role of women in their family and community, as well as women’s health, wellness and balanced development.
BAPS volunteer Sangita Patel remarked, “So many remarkable women gathered with the same goal: to build a sustainable future for women. Our guru, Pramukh Swami Maharaj has told us that ‘The Future is Bright.’ This conference makes it easy to visualize that shared vision.”
In 2011, BAPS hosted a Women’s Conference in 20 of its North American mandirs, including New York City, Chicago, Toronto, and Washington, DC.