November 2014 – We should talk more about…

Sunita Behl

What are the issues that you believe we should talk about more, but often don’t? Are there subjects which make us feel uncomfortable or things that we just accept as part of life or choose to ignore? In this month’s GRIT our contributors have written about a diverse range of topics from writing a will and talking to your children about drugs to politics and even the good things in life. Do you agree with them?

We should talk more about… – Sacrificing your career for your children! – By Diana Wolfin, Founder of Changing Direction

If you feel at times that, as much as you love your children, you are restless and need something more, then this article is for you.

A topic not often discussed is one that looks at how women feel after perhaps sacrificing their careers to stay at home for their family and bring up their children. Many women choose to do this, and for what it’s worth, I think that bringing up your children is the most important job in the world. But, there may come a time when your children start primary or secondary school, or fly the nest to travel the world on their gap year or start university, when time hangs heavy and mothers can often think “And what can I do now?”

The first thing to do is to think about all the things that you have been doing while being a full-time parent: organising your children’s activities; getting them to places on time; teaching them values and morals; helping them to find their way with their friends; learning to socialise and work together with others; negotiating about bedtimes, screen time, homework and the thousand other things you will know about. All these activities will have given you skills that you can take into the workplace – transferable skills which an employer can and will value, on top of the work skills you may have from jobs or careers you have done before.

Many of you will have hobbies which give you excellent transferable skills with which you might be able to market yourself to a new employer when you are ready to re-enter the workplace. You may also have taken time to study while on a career break and this is a real test of your motivation, something which employers really value. The ability to motivate yourself to study while running a home and family requires a great deal of persistence and resilience, both of which are needed in the workplace.

Being active in Women Empowered can also give you many opportunities to practise your skills, network with others and to learn from inspirational speakers about options for your future.

If you decide that you want to return to paid work, then it’s time to dust off your CV and to start to think about how many hours a week you can realistically work, how far from home you are prepared to travel, and what skills you have. You may also like to think about whether you are willing to study or retrain. Sensible planning, maximising your networking and being realistic about what you can commit to are the ways to make this transition smoother and more likely to be successful.

Some of you may find balance not by re-entering the workplace, but by working in a voluntary role. This is a wonderful way to keep skills fresh and acquire new ones. Whether this involves helping out at your children’s school, becoming a local councillor, being appointed to the bench as a magistrate, or many of the other options available, all can offer valuable and meaningful work.

Most importantly always be happy with whatever you choose to do. Many women I meet look at others who have made different choices and then feel dissatisfied with their own. There is no right or wrong choice – you need to do what is best for you and have the confidence to be happy with your decision. We are all unique. Our family situation, financial position and requirements vary enormously, so, any decision you make needs to be right for you.

But how do you manage the guilt that mothers often feel when starting to think about “me-time”? Well, I don’t think I have ever met any mother who does not feel guilty about something! Maybe we all just need to learn to accept that all women feel guilty at times and that it’s important for you to try and balance your desire to look after your family with your need to develop yourself and achieve your potential. That decision will hopefully be made in consultation with all the people who are affected by it – your partner, children, parents, care givers etc., so that you are more likely to have a successful outcome.

Whatever you decide to do when you reach a crossroads in your life, I wish you success!

Diana Wolfin is a coach and trainer who specialises in helping women return to the workplace. She is the author of “Back to Work- a guide for women returners” and she can be contacted on 020 8458 2246 or or you can visit

We should talk more about…Making a will! – By Bhavini Kalaria, Solicitor & Director

Planning for the future where you are involved in a family business is vital. Often important matters remain unresolved and issues are not talked about, leading to lengthy and costly litigation to clarify rights later.

Family run businesses are almost always run on the basis of trust. However, where things may have worked well in one generation, if a business runs on loose understandings and agreements, things may not work so well for the next.

Many family-owned businesses in the UK do not have any handover plans. For a business to survive (and sometimes the family itself!) clarifying ownership, control and rights is very important.

You could allow active members to have more freedom in the management of the business by amending the incorporation documents of a company, whilst simultaneously allowing other family members to retain rights by agreeing share ownership.

This issue is particularly important for women. Within some communities, a cultural preference for males is sometimes raised as an argument to exclude women. Additionally women often give up their own careers to help out in the family business, whilst never having their position within it clarified, for example, in cases where a marriage breaks down.

Aside from protecting your business by planning for succession, ensuring that you have a well drafted Will is equally vital.

If you die without making a Will your property and belongings in the UK will be divided regardless of your wishes. By making a Will, you can decide who gets what. By planning and using exemptions (such as small gift exemptions, or cash gifts on marriage) appropriately the amount of tax you might have to pay can be reduced. You are also able to deal with guardianship for your children, avoiding difficult arguments about custody arrangements.

If you are a business owner tax relief is available for some types of business property (for example a sole trader business or an interest in a business such as a partnership), but not others (stocks and securities in some instances).

If you have an existing agreement, such as a shareholders agreement this may trump a newly drafted Will so you should ensure that any old agreements and your Will are complimentary as this will be important in reducing conflict later.

Once there is an agreement, a legal under-pinning is necessary. For a family business, this may include preparing shareholder agreements, a family charter, wills and powers of attorney, and dealing with all of the corporate governance issues.

A famous person once said: “Other things may changes us, but we start and end with family.” By protecting your business and your wealth, you will be looking after loved ones, so that this remains the case even after you have passed on the reigns to the next generation.

If you would like legal advice on any if the issues raised in this article or have any questions you can contact Bhavini on This article has been adapted from original blog posts found at

We should talk more about… Why children are hungry for education! – By Dipika Khaitan, Executive Director of the Akshaya Patra

Imagine having to make a choice between sending your children to school, or out to work?

Some families are not lucky enough to have a choice. Hailing from Kolkata I am well aware of the hardships that so many families face on a day-to-day basis. Countless impoverished families in India live hand to mouth, working for a pitiful daily wage – just to survive.

India has the largest number of child labourers in the world and even if these children are given the chance to go to school, how can we expect them to concentrate with a rumbling belly? I think we have all probably experienced what it’s like to be very hungry; focusing is impossible, your mood alters hugely (usually not for the better!) but thank goodness you can just pop to a local cafe and feel better again instantly

For so many children in India, coming to school hungry is the norm. However can we kill two birds with one stone and use food to promote education? I believe we can.

Akshaya Patra translates as ‘Inexhaustible Vessel’. As the world’s biggest NGO providing school lunches, we’re convinced that providing unlimited food for education is the key to lifting families out of poverty, educating young boys and girls, and ensuring that children are receiving the nutrition they so desperately need. We want to satisfy both hunger and hunger for knowledge in one fell swoop.

And we’re not the only ones who think so; back in 2001 the Indian government called on us to provide testimonies that it can work. Following this they rolled out the ‘Midday Meal Program’, aiming to provide lunch for all children in Government or Government-aided schools.

Parents can send their children to school safe in the knowledge that they will be fed a hot, nutritious meal that day. It relieves the financial burden on the family as there is one less mouth to feed and the school children often take leftovers home for their parents and younger siblings. We’re also seeing more girls enrolling at schools – no mean feat in a country where girls are often encouraged to stay at home and boys sent out to study. The children now also have the energy to focus in class and gain a solid education. In turn, they can then seek stable employment, breaking the poverty cycle and affecting generations to come.

I’m always amazed at the generosity of people who donate to Akshaya Patra. They see the potential with this project – the meal we provide isn’t a hand-out. It’s a tool to promote education in a country where so many children are forced into labour.

It’s so easy to get caught up in our own world that we often forget what’s going on outside. But once you see the sparkle in a child’s eyes as steaming bowls of food are served every lunchtime, it brings it all home.

For more information please visit or any donations will be gratefully received at

We should talk more about…Drug-proofing our kids! – By Sunita Behl, Founder of Healthcare Copy

The first time I remember talking to my children about the risks of taking drugs was when they were only 3 and 5. We were on holiday when my youngest became fascinated by the brightly painted restaurant ashtrays and asked if she could buy one. As we are a family of non-smokers this then triggered a conversation about what smoking was and how it affects the body.

Then their uncle, who is a doctor, told my girls that if you smoke your fingers and toes will fall off! Perhaps a slightly extreme health risk example, although it is true that smoking increases your risk of gangrene. After that neither of my girls were interested in souvenir ashtrays. In fact they positively avoided them. Such tactics may be temporarily effective when children are young but what happens as they approach the challenges and temptations of the teen years?

Fast-forward a few years and my eldest daughter is now 11. She had recently started secondary school and asked me to help her with her homework to discuss the pros and cons of legalising cannabis. My first reaction, which I recognise now was incredibly naïve, was ‘Should my eleven year old be learning about this?’ The answer was of course, that she should. The question was actually, as a parent, was I ready to teach her?

The irony here is that I trained as a pharmacist. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the medical knowledge to share with my daughter but more that I wasn’t sure about the most appropriate way to approach the subject of drug use with my children. So, when a local parenting course was advertised entitled “How to drug proof your kids” I signed up. It was the best investment of my time I could have made.

The first thing I learned was that, whether we like it or not, irrespective of your gender, social, economic or cultural background many children will be exposed to, or may even experiment with, some form of drugs or risk-taking behaviour during their teen years. And worryingly for some children this may begin even younger.

I do not write this article to alarm but simply to raise awareness. Drug use is often cited by many parents as one their biggest concerns however, many feel uncomfortable or unprepared to talk about it. The UK has one of the highest rates of teenage illegal drug use in Europe. You only have to listen to the lyrics of many pop songs, open a ‘celebrity-style’ magazine or watch the news to see how drug-related terminology has seeped into our everyday lives where it may possibly appear to young, impressionable eyes as glamorous, a form of escapism or even ‘normal.’

The subject of teen drug use is nothing new and ‘drugs’ come in many forms and guises. Smoking, alcohol and solvents are the most common, and are often the first drugs that children may experiment with. The course I attended covered everything from cannabis and alcohol to the abuse of prescription drugs and LSD. More importantly it discussed how to talk about concerns and communicate with your children. We even had a talk from our local police officer to discuss the drug-related issues specific to our area. That was a real eye-opener!

I discovered that if you have a child who is determined to try smoking, alcohol or illegal drugs the harsh reality is that you may not be able to stop them. In fact you may not even know. However, as a parent you can have a significant influence on the choices that your child will make. The organisers of the course were keen to point out that research clearly shows that the most influential way to steer children and young people away from harmful alcohol and drug use is by communication and giving them a healthy family environment.

The good news is that although some young people will experiment with drugs, the majority will leave them alone. However as a parent, please don’t take a back seat as there are many things you can do.

Get to know your children’s friends (peer pressure can have a huge influence, especially during the teen years). Find out and discuss what they are learning at school about alcohol and other drugs and if this is an area you are unfamiliar with then educate yourself. (A few good recommended websites are listed below.) Most importantly love your children unconditionally and listen to their point of view. That way hopefully they’ll be more comfortable discussing and talking through any concerns or questions they may have.

We can’t protect our children from every external influence. However, we can prepare and educate them, so that hopefully if they are tempted by risk-taking behaviour they are able to make informed and healthy choices.

For more information visit:

We should talk more about… The Best of the World! – By Mandeep Rai, Broadcast Journalist, Presenter, Venture Capitalist, and Entrepreneur

When I first thought about which issues we should talk about, but often don’t, my immediate reaction was all the things our society is hiding and my thoughts became rather sinister. However, we often make assumptions which are not spoken about, but may then also be wrong. For some reason I could also hear the Salt ‘n’ Peppa song ‘Let’s about talk sex.’ in my head (I’m sure many of you will remember that one?)

Yes, we should we talk about these issues. However, to improve our society, doesn’t praise actually encourage us to be better people instead of shocking us into action with stories which produce nothing but ill feeling within ourselves and others?

Hence, I decided we should talk more about the ‘Best of the World!’

I have been fortunate to travel to over 100 countries, and although we are all human and therefore the same, every society has taught me an invaluable lesson or value.

For example, from the Americans I have learned the value of positivity. Where the Europeans are still wallowing in the consequences of the global recession instigated in 2008, the American’s have reinvented themselves, and therefore their economy three times over. I am not exaggerating. I have seen US start-ups twist and turn in this period to morph into something that works. ‘There is no failure’, a fellow Entrepreneur across the pond told me, ‘only information about what to do instead’. Admirable.

Meanwhile, the level of loyalty that I have experienced and witnessed in North Korea I have never seen anywhere else in the world. I have always thought that we were becoming more individualistic; each man out for his own, however, the North Koreans have shown me a different way where individuals endure excruciating torture in order to protect their families, or communities.

I learned the beauty in worship with the underground Sufi dervishes in Iran. God is praised not just through Kirtan (music) and Song (sublimely layered lyrics), but uniquely by getting lost in dance. People fall in love with the divine before your very eyes and release themselves to another realm, and their ecstasy takes the observer and in this case, crowd, with them.

In Thailand I learned the power of silent meditation. Can you imagine a society supporting you through food and donations to uplift yourself and the world through mediation? This is what Dana (Giving to the monk, or retreatant is for.) Whilst the rest of the world runs around like headless chickens, you are given the opportunity to allow your internal mud to settle, and as you stand still and allow yourself to watch, you can see the mud particles within you fall very slowly, and all that is in- and outside of you – becomes crystal clear.

Finally welcome to Bhutan. Here the young 30+ year old King is taking his people’s level of happiness as the measure of his own worth and success! Consider the enlightenment of a society which instead of measuring themselves against the Gross National Product (money and production) like the rest of the world, focus on their Gross National Happiness instead? No wonder Bhutan has the lowest level of urbanization in the world and their sense of community, loving and giving is preserved.

These are just a few human values to celebrate that we should talk about. I know deep down we all want to see the best and celebrate, for why else would we be addicted to Facebook? It is time to pass on the best the world has to offer to our next generation. Rather than think about the good ‘ole days, we should be forward looking and deliberately talk about the good things, which we often don’t.

Mandeep is currently writing her memoir to share the best of the world with the next generation – ‘100 Letters to my Unborn Child’. She can be found @MandeepRai.

We should talk more about…Politics! – By Resham Kotecha, Economic Advisor & Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Dulwich & West Norwood

The recent Party conferences showed us the main policies that parties are proposing to enact if elected in May 2015. Given the huge impact that these policies may have on our lives, it’s important to have a strong understanding of what the implications might be for us. There are too many policies to discuss at once but I wanted to highlight the two most talked about policies – the Mansion Tax and the proposed changes in income tax.

1. Mansion Tax
The Labour Party announced at its recent conference that they would support a Mansion Tax if elected. This would be a progressive tax for all houses over £2 million. This would disproportionately hit houses and flats in London and the South East. It is likely that someone living in a 2 bedroom flat in London could be affected whilst five bedroom houses over four floors in Manchester might not be. Many people claim this is a Tax on London home-owners – many of whom bought houses years ago and have seen their property shoot up in value. Originally a Lib-Dem policy, it is not quite clear how the tax will be charged. The original policy was going to charge owners 10% of the property’s value over £2 million. This means owners of a house worth £3million would be expected to be an extra £10,000 per year (on top of their Council Tax!) Whilst readers may not feel concerned now, especially as Ed Miliband has claimed he will use the extra Tax revenue to support the NHS, given the London housing market, it is a bracket that you could find yourself in within a few years – and a huge financial burden.

2. Changes in Income Tax
At the recent Conservative party Conference, the Prime Minister announced that if re-elected, he would implement two changes to Income tax – both of which aim to put more money in people’s pockets. The first of these is to raise the threshold below which you do not pay income tax, from £10,500 to £12,500. Based on a Lib-Dem policy, the Tories have extended it meaning that you would have an extra £500 per year and anyone on the minimum wage working 30 hours per week would pay no income tax at all. The threshold at which people start paying tax at a rate of 40% will also be raised. Currently, any earnings over £41,865 are taxed at 40%. If the Prime Minister has another term in office, he will raise this to £50,000. The two policies combined mean that all those currently paying income tax will benefit and rewards many hard working people who have been dragged into the 40% threshold in recent years. There are, of course, many other policy changes that would affect our lives if implemented but these are two of the biggest!

We should talk more about… How Gandhi Empowered Women – By Meghnad Desai

Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi was a complex person. He excited admiration and devotion as well as controversy and in some instances hatred. But one thing is certain. His life was an open book. There was no scandal about Gandhi which he had not written himself.

Take the issue of Gandhi and women. Mohandas was married to Kasturbai when he was only thirteen and she was older than him by six months. The marriage lasted sixty six years. He was at first a possessive and jealous young husband, endlessly absorbed in his sex life with his wife. He was then an over-bearing husband and father when he returned from England. He westernised her dress and when they were living in South Africa, much against her wishes, he made her clean the toilet after one of their Christian paying guests. He almost threw her out of the house when she shamed him by telling him to stop being folloish. She changed as he changed from a westernised English barrister to a simple living and politically rebellious leader. She went to jail for the causes he championed. She was with him in jail when she died in 1943 and her final wish was to be wrapped and cremated in a sari made from the khadi he had spun.

All his life Gandhi attracted women to his side. As a political leader, he brought women into politics. These women would never have otherwise gone out on to the street and fought against police beating them with lathis and teargas. Anasuya Sarabhai, Sarojini Naidu, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Dr Sushila Nayar , Manu Gandhi, Meeraben ( Madeleine Slade) -these are some of the many women associated with Gandhi. Many gave up a comfortable life (Meeraben) or a possibly lucrative career (Sushila Nayar) and joined him in the struggle for independence. They lived with him in the Ashram, looked after him, spoiled him, bathed him every day and at night they all huddled up together to keep him warm.

In our modern imagination women sleeping in the same bed with a man immediately leads to ideas of sexual activity. However in India in many small houses men and women sleep together in the same room and it is not unusual. (In fact I grew up in Baroda and Bombay with a similar sort of experience.) Gandhi however had particular reason to worry. When he was in South Africa just short of his Fortieth birthday he decided to adopt brahmacharya – abstinence from sexual activity. In this definition even sexual thoughts and dreams were included.

The reason for this is difficult to understand however many religions have practices which abandon sensual pleasures to show their devotion to God. In early Christianity as well as Hinduism, there is a belief that sexual abstinence enhances your power to accomplish difficult tasks. Gandhi also believed that vegetarianism, a diet without salt, fasting and sexual abstinence were part of a package for a satyagrahi and he practised sexual abstinence until his death.

Even so, the most controversial part of Gandhi’s relationship with women concerns his experiments with abstinence. During his final years he was a disappointed man. Against his wishes the Congress Party had agreed to Partition of India, and for a whole year between August 1946 and August 1947, India was a hot bed of communal killings. In Bengal and Bihar in the East and in Punjab in the North the situation was very bad. Gandhi blamed himself for the failure of his message of non-violence to reach people. While walking from village to village in Noakhali district in Bihar, he came to the momentous conclusion that he had to test his resolve to be a brahmachari by persuading his young niece Manu to sleep next to him while they were both naked. He announced this and caused consternation among his supporters. Nehru, Patel and other senior leaders were scandalised but he carried on. He wrote about his experiment and reported on it in his newspaper Harijan. The nation was privy to his wet dream (once) and early morning erection. However there was no sexual activity between Gandhi and Manu .

This scandal is brought up again and again against Gandhi. Manu Gandhi the other person in this experiment stayed with him until the end of his life. She was an important person in the ashram and stayed there beyond Gandhi’s death. Afterwards she wrote her memoirs titled Bapu mari Ma (Bapu My Mother).

Gandhi was an intriguing, fascinating and infuriating man. Yet I believe he liberated and empowered both men and women more than anyone else in modern times.

We should talk more about… Disability! – By Parmi Dheensa, Executive Director, Include Me TOO

Within the Asian community the stigma and negative perceptions regarding disability continue to exist. Many of us will know a family of a disabled child but how many of us actively support or get to know these families? Disabled children, young people and their families have told us how isolated they can feel. How they continue to face many challenges and barriers due to lack of disability awareness and acceptance from their communities, wider society and sometimes even their own family.

I have been a supporter of the rights of disabled people for many years, long before I become a parent to my youngest son Callum who is now 15 years old. Callum has a severe learning disability, epilepsy, dyspraxia and vision impairment. He fought for his life from birth and is certainly is a blessing to both me and our family.

Sadly what I have found is that people do not get involved unless an issue affects them. Disability is not discriminative; it can happen to any of us, at any time of our lives. That is why it is crucial to become part of the change of disability acceptance and positive action.

We need our community to talk more about disability and to get involved; to increase friendship towards disabled peers and their families, and to help increase disabled people’s choices and opportunities.

The Asian community supports many great causes many of which are aboard. However we have a great cause which is affecting families here in the UK. The families of disabled children within the Asian Community need your support to make a difference. A parent of a disabled child shared the following wish with me:

‘We want our children to have a sense of belonging and be part of their community, to be accepted, for our families to be accepted and to know our disabled children are safe.’

Include Me TOO is the charity my son Callum inspired me to set up to support black, Asian and other ethnic minority disabled children, young people and their families. Like Women Empowered, our ethos is to Engage, Encourage, Empower and Enable these families and individuals to achieve their goals and aspirations.

My aim is to educate and raise awareness of the reality of being a family with a disabled child. We wish to stand side-by-side with other families to increase our voice, share our experience and change the hearts and minds of others. Like all parents, our children will grow into adults and we want to ensure they are able to live happy and fulfilled lives. We are not asking for pity, but for our community to be supportive and adaptive to the needs of our disabled children and their families.

You can help us by talking about disability to help break down the barriers to acceptance and make a positive difference to the lives of UK disabled children, young people and their families from our diverse communities.

Include Me TOO is celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child by hosting the first National Community Inspiration Awards for Disabled Children, Young People and their Families. We would love you to join us at this inspiring evening and become part of this change.

The awards event aims to celebrate and recognise inspirational disabled children, young people and their families, while increasing awareness and understanding of disability amongst our communities. The event takes place on Saturday 28th March 2015 at the Hilton Metropole Hotel in Birmingham. Please show your support and attend so you can see first yourself the impact of ‘Include Me TOO’s vision and work. Get behind this cause to celebrate Disability.

You can make a difference today. For more details regarding the awards and to book your tickets visit To find out more about my son’s journey you can visit You can also follow us on twitter @includemetoo