Blogs / 02 Aug 2022 5 min

Celebrating South Asian Heritage Month – a spotlight on 5 inspirational South Asian women

By Shazma Ahmed, Shape Talent Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Consultant

It’s South Asian Heritage month; a commemoration and celebration of the South Asian diaspora and the contribution it has and continues to make to British society.

As a second generation British Asian, the historical relationship between Britain, my birthplace and home, and my ancestral land (Pakistan, formerly Hindustan) dates back centuries. The journey and life experiences of my parents, grandparents and the generations before them was shaped by the connection of these two lands. This in turn has shaped my own identity as a British Asian; like many from my diaspora, exploring and navigating my eastern and western identity to find a balance that is authentic can feel like a full time, effortful balancing act. The lack of representation of South Asian women in the mainstream can make this experience even harder. That’s why, this South Asian heritage month, I chose to celebrate five inspirational South Asian women who have made significant contributions to society and paved the way for others.

  1. Princess Sophia Duleep Singh

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh was the goddaughter of Queen Victoria and daughter of Maharaja Duleep Singh. She used her position of fame to advocate for women and was a key figure in the suffragette movement, campaigning for women’s equality and the right to vote. Princess Sophia was a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union and famously led a 300 strong ‘Black Friday’ demonstration to parliament for the women’s right to vote. Sophia’s example of using her position of privilege and sacrificing her own comfort for the rights of all women is encouraging.

  1. Malala Yousafzai

It is hard to disagree that Malala is a living legend. Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist for girls and women’s education . In 2012, she was shot in the head during an assassination attempt in retaliation for her activism. Despite her attack, Malala continued with her fight for female education. She is founder of the Malala Fund, campaigning the same and is the world’s youngest Nobel Prize laureate, receiving this title at just 17. International bestseller author of ‘I am Malala’, Malala’s heroic courage, selfless sacrifice and dedication to advance the right of education to all has and continues to be a source of hope for many girls and women.

  1. Laxmi Agarwal

Laxmi Agarwal is a survivor of an acid violence; she was attacked with acid when she was just 15 years old and went on to raise awareness on the impact of acid-based violence on women. She filed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court of India for amendments to be made regarding acid-based violent crimes and also supported the Stop Acid Sale campaign. In 2013, in response to Laxmi’s litigation, the Supreme Court ordered to restrict the sale of acids, and to provide compensation for victims and rehabilitation for survivors, government compensation, reservation in educational institutions and better access to jobs.

Laxmi is the winner of several awards including International Courage of Women Award, the Mother Theresa Award and International Women Empowerment Award from UNICEF. She continues to motivate, inspire and empower women through her work.

  1. Gurinder Chadha OBE

Gurinder Chadha OBE is a British Asian filmmaker, producer, director, and writer. Her work includes Baaji on the Beach, Bend It Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice. A common theme of her work is around the experience of being Indian and living in the UK. Her most famous work explores the challenges for South Asian women in particular and has struck a chord with many first- and second-generation South Asians in the UK. Gurinder Chadha (as well as creatives such as Meera Syal, Nina Wadia, Archie Panjabi) have often delighted audiences by creating a platform to showcase and share stories of British Asians at a time when there was little representation of South Asians in the mainstream.

  1. Pinky Lilani CBE

Pinky Lilani was appointed as Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the Birthday Honours 2015 for services to women in business. She is an internationally acclaimed advocate for women and founder of the Women of the Future Network. She started her career in cookery when she moved to the UK in 1978 and has authored two books exploring the culture, geography and influences of the Indian culinary experience. Pinky is recognised for her numerous achievements and contributions to British business including: one of the 30 most powerful Muslim women in Britain by The Times and Emel magazine (2009), one of GQ and Editorial Intelligence’s 100 most connected women (2014), Woman Entrepreneur of the Year at the Indus Entrepreneurs UK Gala Awards (2012). For me, Pinky Lilani’s dedication and contribution to the advancement of women in business throughout her career, using her success and platform to advance and elevate other women is truly inspiring.

You can find out more about South Asian Heritage month here.


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