The Piri System was establish by Guru Amar Das to spread the teachings of Guru Nanak among the women of the Punjab and India. Even though Guru Nanak had called for equality among men and women, the women of India whether Hindu, Muslim or Jaina were under the control of men. Women in their menses and even those giving birth were considered ritually unclean and were segregated out of sight.
In each of these religions women were often kept locked behind walls and allowed out only in Purda. Muslin women could/still can be divorced with only a few words or a wife who did not please her husband could die in a 'so called kitchen fire'. Women were blamed for the death of their husbands (their so called bad karma's doing) and as Hindu's they were not allowed to marry again. As well they were expected to give up any use of color in their clothing or socialize outside of their co-mothers house where they were often treated as slaves. Guru Nanaki saw this along with the practice of 'Sutee' as an abombination.
In many Shia households women were not allowed even to answer a knock on their door if no male member of the family was present. Even now in the lands where the Sikh Gurus set foot women of all ages die in so called Karo-kari cases, where a husband can accuse his wife or a brother his sister and kill her without any fear of punishment. Such charges are often used as justification to steal a wife's dowry or her property or simply to just get a younger more desirable or fecund wife. It was in fact the public flogging (2009) of a young woman in the beautiful Swat Valley that started the recent (2009) ejection of the forces of the Taleban from was was once one of the most historic and beautiful parts of India. The taleban accused her of associating with an improper relative. The villagers said she had refused a forced marriage to one of the talibs.
Because of men's control of their wives and daughters a families' honor, then as now, depended on the virtue of their women folk (never being in contact with any males not a part of their immediate family). So to avoid any hint of impropriety Guru Amar Das introduced a system in which woman spiritual leaders would guide women about Sikh doctrines and traditions. Guru Amar Das called this system the Piri system. Piri like the word Manji is a very small wooden cot from which the Piris would guide their charges.
The Piris were ladies whose objective was to light the flame of the Guru's word and spread the fragrance of Nam among women. Bibi Bhani, Bibi Dani and Bibi Pal were some of the most revered leaders of the different Piris.
Guru Amar Das gave authority and power to 146 of his apostles to go to various parts of the country and unfold the teachings of Sikhi and the glory of Nam. Out of these 146 persons, 94 were men and 52 were women. They were all glowing with True Name and filled with Divine Spirit.
Based in part on the book, “The Great Gurus of the Sikhs” , Vol. 2, by O. P. Ralhan