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Monday, April 22, 2024

Celebrating British South Asian Women: Recognising the women who made history

In the evolution of societal roles, South Asian women have transcended traditional confines, moving beyond the domestic sphere to carve out their own paths. No longer solely defined by motherhood and domesticity, they have challenged patriarchal norms, pursued education, and opted for careers over early marriages. This journey towards independence has paved the way for South Asian women to thrive.

As we commemorate International Women’s Day, it’s imperative to recognise the trailblazing British South Asian women who have etched their names into history. They shattered gender barriers, defied societal expectations, and became the first in their fields, breaking through the glass ceiling and leaving an indelible mark on history.

Reflecting on our shared past and acknowledging the struggles faced by South Asian women strengthens our resolve in society, particularly considering the dual obstacles of gender and ethnicity. While history books document the first British women to achieve various milestones, it’s essential to spotlight the achievements of British Asian women across diverse domains such as politics, business, education, and sports. These pioneers not only inspire future generations but also demonstrate the limitless potential of South Asian women in shaping our collective narrative.

  1. Karpal Kaur Sandhuwas the first female Asian police officer in Britain. She served in the Metropolitan Police Service from 1971 to 1973. She paved the way for diversity and inclusion in law enforcement. Her historic entry into the Metropolitan Police Force marked a significant milestone, inspiring generations to come. Tragically, Karpal’s life was cut short before she reached her 30s. She was killed by her husband in 1973, who deemed policing unsuitable for an Asian woman.
  2. Bhasha Mukherjee: Breaking stereotypes and redefining beauty standards, Bhasha Mukherjee made history as the first British Asian to clinch the Miss England title in 2019. Her victory not only celebrated diversity but also challenged societal norms, highlighting the multifaceted identities within the Asian community.
  3. Preet Kaur Gill: Making waves in the political arena, Preet Kaur Gill scripted history as Britain’s first Sikh woman Member of Parliament in 2017. Her journey from grassroots activism to parliamentary representation serves as a testament to the power of perseverance and the importance of diverse voices in governance.
  4. Karenjeet Kaur: Flexing her muscles and breaking barriers, Karenjeet Kaur emerged as Britain’s first Sikh female powerlifter to represent Britain in the World and European Championships. Through her dedication and strength, she not only conquered the sports arena but also shattered stereotypes, inspiring women to pursue their passions fearlessly. Aside from fitness and health, Karenjeet is also a chartered accountant and has another feat as the first South Asian female Gladiator. Her Gladiator name is Athena
  5. Harvi Khatkar: Blazing trails in law enforcement, Harvi Khatkar etched her name in history as the first Sikh and woman of colour to ascend to the rank of superintendent, which she reached in 2017. Her leadership and resilience paved the way for greater diversity and inclusion within the police force, setting a precedent for future generations.
  6. Nitha Naqvi: Bridging the worlds of medicine and comedy, Dr. Nitha Naqvi made waves as the UK’s first British-Asian female paediatric cardiologist turned comedian. Her unconventional career trajectory not only challenged stereotypes but also brought laughter and healing to audiences, proving that one can excel in multiple fields with passion and determination.
  7. Harnaam Kaur: Breaking stereotypes and embracing her unique identity, Harnaam Kaur made history as the first British Sikh to enter the Guinness Records as the youngest female with a beard. Her journey of self-acceptance and empowerment has inspired countless individuals worldwide to embrace their authentic selves unapologetically.
  8. Preet Chandi:  A British Army medical officer conquered the icy terrain and pushed the boundaries of exploration, achieving a remarkable feat as the first Sikh woman to complete a solo expedition to the South Pole. Her courage and resilience serve as a beacon of inspiration for aspiring adventurers everywhere.
  9. Bobbie Cheema Grubb: Breaking barriers in the legal realm, Bobbie Cheema Grubb shattered stereotypes as the first Asian woman to serve as a high court judge, appointed in 2015. Her trailblazing career exemplifies the power of determination and resilience in overcoming obstacles and achieving success.
  10. Baroness Shreela Flather: Trailblazing in the political arena, Baroness Shreela Flather etched her name in history as the first Asian woman to receive a peerage in the United Kingdom. Her advocacy for diversity and inclusion has left an indelible mark on British politics, inspiring future generations of leaders.
  11. Chand Lal-Sarin: Paving the way for women in the judiciary, Mrs. Chand Lal-Sarin made history as the country’s first Asian female magistrate in November 1970. Her dedication to justice and equality has served as a guiding light for aspiring legal professionals, breaking down barriers and opening doors for future generations.
  12. Abtaha Maqsood: Redefining norms in sports, Abtaha Maqsood made history as the UK’s first hijab-wearing Asian female cricketer. She played for the Scotland women’s national cricket team in the 2017 Women’s Cricket World Cup Qualifier in February 2017 Her passion for the game and determination to excel serve as a testament to the power of diversity and inclusion in sports.
  13. Bishamber Das: Challenging beauty standards and promoting body positivity, Bishamber Das became the UK’s first Asian plus-size model. Her advocacy for inclusivity in the fashion industry has sparked conversations and inspired individuals to embrace their bodies with confidence. Bishamber also holds the status as the UK’s youngest Asian magistrate at the age of 22
  14. Shehneela Ahmed: Breaking barriers in sports management, Shehneela Ahmed blazed a trail as the first Asian female football agent. Her dedication to promoting diversity and representation in sports has paved the way for greater inclusivity and equality within the industry.
  15. Layla Banaras: Making strides in sports representation, Layla Banaras became the first woman of South Asian heritage to represent Birmingham City F.C. Her achievements on the field serve as a source of inspiration for aspiring athletes and highlight the importance of diversity in professional sports.

In politics there are many notable firsts, but in comparison to men, women were still hugely underrepresented, with the first Asian male MP, Keith Vaz entering parliament in the 19th century, his female equivalents didn’t enter till 2010, but they entered with a storm, as six were elected at once, five from the Labour party (Shabana Mahmood, Lisa Nandy, Rushanara Ali, Valerie Vaz and Yasmin Qureshi) and one Conservative, Priti Patel, who made history as the first South Asian and Hindu Conservative MP.

Other politicians to note are Pramila Le Hunte who was the first British South Asian woman to stand for parliament as a Tory in 1983, Zerbanoo Gifford who was the first female Asian councillor to be elected for the Liberal Party in 1982 and in 1983 she became one of the first Asian woman to stand for Parliament for the Liberal Party along with Rita Austin who was the first female to stand for Parliament for the Labour party

While our list isn’t exhaustive, as there are many more female trailblazers in their respective cities and across industries.

On this International Women’s Day, let’s honour the trailblazers who have paved the way, while aspiring toward a future where celebrating the “first female” is no longer necessary. Let’s envision a world where women are fully represented across all sectors—be it in the workplace, in business, or within communities.

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