October 2016 – Give a Girl a Future

Sunita Behl

The brutal reality for thousands of girls born in South Asia is that they have no real future. So this month Women Empowered is proud to be supporting The British Asian Trust’s ‘Give a Girl a Future’ campaign. We hope you enjoy our contributor’s stories on how they achieved their success and why they are campaigning for a better future for young girls born into poverty.  The appeal is aiming to transform the lives of 100,000 girls, women and their families and all UK public donations made before December 7th 2016 will be matched by the UK government. To donate and find out more please visit  https://www.britishasiantrust.org/give-a-girl-a-future

Next month we want to know whether YOU believe a woman’s role has really changed in society and the wider world. How different is your life compared to previous generations? Do you think women have more opportunities than ever before or that there is more pressure to succeed? Is it really possible to manage both career ambitions alongside a happy family life? Please send your views on ‘Has a women’s role changed?’ (400-700 words) to grit@womenempowered.co.uk before 20th October 2016.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Sunita Behl


Women often take a backseat

By Konnie Huq, TV presenter

More than ever before, women in the UK are able to juggle work with family life. But while we are moving towards equality in relation to a woman’s role within the family, there is still a long way to go. Women still have to bear the majority of bringing up and looking after children within the family unit. So although a woman’s role has changed, it has perhaps not changed enough!

Women today have more opportunities, chances and privileges than ever, but this is not yet true all over the world. This is why I support Give a Girl a Future, because we need to try and create the same kinds of opportunities for females everywhere.
In an ever-shrinking world and with the advent of internet and social networking, as well as an abundance of flights making travel across the world easier, our lives are massively different to those of previous generations. However, the increased opportunities for us all and the advances in modern day living inevitably means there there is higher expectation on us, as well as increased pressures for us to deliver.

When it comes to managing a career or with a family life, it is certainly possible, but it is very tricky. Childcare is expensive and often it is the man’s career that takes precedent over the woman’s. She will often have to take a backseat with respect to career advancement.

Overall, women are expected (more than ever before) to be all things to everyone; mother, wife, confidante, domesticate, careerist, cook, friend, cleaner – and the rest. But although we are pulled in all directions, I reckon we do a great job!! Men’ll probably think I’m biased!! 😉


Sport was my game changer

By Isa Guha, Cricketer, TV presenter, British Asian Trust Ambassador

When I was 17 years old I became the first British-Asian woman to play for the national team. Since my England cricketing debut, in 2002, I’ve definitely seen competitive women’s sport become more mainstream, and thankfully, that’s had a positive knock-on effect on the wider world. Women are now being empowered in all kinds of jobs; with increasing female representation at board-level, and in the field of broadcasting. We’re seeing constant progress however there is still a long way to go.

My background is Bengali. In Kolkata I’ve always felt women to be strong and independent. However, even if they possess these qualities, most areas of life are still male-dominated, and many women don’t believe they deserve the same privileges as men. We need to shatter the glass ceiling and make all women believe they’re worth more than that.

If I had grown up in Kolkata, I don’t think I would have had the same opportunities as in England. I was lucky. My parents were very supportive of me playing cricket, which isn’t always the case with Asian families. In the beginning, I played in a boys’ team – also a rarity for an Asian girl. Being thrown into the mix like that taught me so much about being an outsider and having to prove myself, but I also learnt how to integrate. It filtered into every aspect of my life going forward, and gave me the confidence to interact in most social circles and environments.

Every day I wake up and feel blessed to do what I do. Playing for England taught me that if you work hard, show commitment and most importantly believe in yourself, you can achieve anything.

As an England cricketer, I felt intense pressure to succeed, both for my country and my teammates, which is an integral part of any sport. However, now I’m working in the media, the pressure feels slightly different as I want to represent women as a whole. You want to prove a point, and show that you genuinely deserve to be there. This isn’t a bad thing; it means you care passionately about what you do but it’s also essential to have fun with it. Fortunately, I’ve been accepted within the cricketing community, and the guys have always treated me with respect.

People often ask if women can combine ambition with having a family, and I absolutely believe you can do both. Obviously it’s important to have support from your partner and kids, as well as coaches or mentors, because you can’t succeed on your own. In the past, women’s roles have been far more limited, but these days we’re not just in the kitchen or doing all the housework. This has changed over many years within the British culture, and I’m starting to notice a shift in big cities like Mumbai and Kolkata now too. It’s great that women are getting out there, making a life for themselves and bringing in money. It’s not yet the case everywhere, but I think the perception is changing, and gradually society is becoming more balanced.


For many years, I’ve been involved with the British Asian Trust, and have seen the life-changing work they’re doing in India and South Asia. Crucially, it’s not just about going into villages and building schools, but about leaving a long-lasting legacy that empowers women for future generations. By helping them achieve the kind of opportunities they might otherwise never have had, we also leave a valuable imprint on youngsters coming through.

Women have been suppressed in South Asia for so long, and while I’m fortunate to have grown up in a world of opportunity, I believe all girls deserve the right to be treated as equals. I have two nieces of my own, and imagining them growing up in a deprived area of South Asia without any of the privileges I had in England makes me so sad. I’m here to say that with the right support, it’s possible to do anything you want. You just have to believe in yourself.


You have to be Superwoman

By Lucy Choi, Shoe designer

My uncle is the designer Jimmy Choo, and as a child growing up in Hong Kong I saw how he crafted hand-made, bespoke shoes. From an early age, he taught me about the importance of character, comfort and craftsmanship – and these 3 C’s became the founding ethos when I went on to launch my own shoe brand, Lucy Choi London, in 2012.

It’s fair to say there’s a lot of pressure on women in business nowadays. You have to try and balance everything as a female and sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day. It feels like you have to be Superwoman! Women’s roles have changed because we’re all constantly striving for perfection. Our generation probably needs to let go a little bit, although there’s nothing wrong with being a bit of a perfectionist.

The upside of increased pressure on women is that there’s more opportunity than ever before – and now we’ve set the bar, we can’t turn back! Women today have the power to be happy, believe in their vision and succeed, and it doesn’t matter what it takes. Having said that, it’s up to each individual to make the most of these opportunities, so a lot depends on how driven you are. You have to carve your own path, and I believe it’s the sense of pressure that drives you to succeed further.

We live in a culture where we want it all, but it is harder as a woman. We’re the ones who have to adapt as we try to juggle being a good mother and a good partner, while being successful at work. In work situations you have to be cutthroat and strong, but at home, as a mummy, it’s so personal and you have so many emotions. You almost have to be two people at once!

As a mum to two young sons, I hope I can show that you can juggle a busy career with a happy family life. That’s not to say it’s easy. I work just as many hours today as I did before having children, and to do so, I’ve had to become more efficient – and cope with less sleep! Yes, it’s a struggle, but it’s important to learn to let things go sometimes. You also have to try and work on one thing at a time, which lets you clear your headspace and make sure each task is done to your highest standard. Balance is so important and I always try to spend quality time with my husband and family, as well as investing lots of energy and time in my business.

Launching my label in 2012 was one of the biggest challenges of my career, not least because I gave birth to my first son around the same time. Then, just five months after I opened my flagship store in August 2015, I gave birth to my second son. I never do anything by halves.

To balance work with a contented family life, you do need a strong, reliable team in the office, as well as a strong partnership at home. My husband and family’s unwavering support has allowed me to be both a businesswoman, wife and mother. And it’s being able to combine all of my passions in life that ultimately makes me feel so fulfilled.


I support the #GiveAGirlAFuture appeal, because every girl should have the same opportunities in life. I feel lucky and blessed to be healthy, to do what I love, and to be happy in what I do, and I would like to be able to give this energy to women who need it through what I do in fashion. I really hope I can channel this positive energy into this campaign.

The Charity has such a powerful story and to be able to help the not so privileged through fashion has been a wonderful experience. I am thrilled to have been part of this fantastic cause, and hope that we can inspire others to do the same.


The rise of the ‘housewife entrepreneur’

by Raishma Islam, Fashion designer

When I first told my mother I wanted to be a fashion designer, I think she had very different expectations of me. She thought I’d be a traditional housewife and that I’d make Indian suits on the side, as a hobby to earn myself a bit of pocket money. As it turned out, I had the privilege of going to university and then training under the distinguished designer Elizabeth Emanuel, who was famed for creating Princess Diana’s iconic wedding dress. I now have 20 years of experience and after since launching my own fashion label in 1998, I’ve dressed members of the British royal family as well as A-list celebrities.

These opportunities weren’t available for my mother’s generation, and she probably doesn’t understand how I balance it all. She was the stereotypical housewife – expected to marry and have kids, stay at home and clean, look after her family and then make sure there was dinner on the table when her husband came home from work. But today, a woman’s role has moved on from being ‘just a housewife’. Nowadays, you can be an entrepreneur building your own business from the comfort of your own home, while looking after the kids, cooking, cleaning and all the rest. That’s what the modern-day ‘housewife’ is.

In spite of these positive changes, women are very hard on themselves. Many of us probably feel we have more to prove; that we should go to college or university, forge a career, marry, have kids and balance it all at once. As women, we need to stop putting pressure on ourselves and understand that we can ask for help from our husbands, family or others in our lives – such as cleaners or nannies. There needs to be compromise, support and equal partnership within marriage. We can do a lot, but we can’t do everything!


Recently, I was extremely honoured to support the British Asian Trust’s #Giveagirlafuture appeal, which is improving the lives of vulnerable girls and women in South Asia. My clothes are made in Pakistan and India so I’m familiar with the conditions for women in some areas, and empowering women through skills training, education and jobs is something I feel very passionate about.

What the Trust does is incredible and I will continue to keep championing this message. It’s an important issue that deserves recognition.


Women are powerful creatures

by Sonal Sachdev Patel, CEO of God My Silent Partner (GMSP) Foundation

Are women’s roles changing? Very definitely so. We’re fortunate to have a far greater range of opportunities today than previous generations. The shift has been incredible when you think that women were only given the vote in 1918 – and even then it was limited to those aged over 30.

I run GMSP Foundation, which was set up by my parents, Ramesh and Pratibha Sachdev in 2006 to help vulnerable communities in India and the UK. Our focus is on women and girls, who we believe are the key drivers of social change. Our whole ethos is built around the idea that empowering females in this way can transform entire communities for the better.

Not so far back in history, my own grandmother had 13 children, and she was never given the opportunity to study. Instead, she spent her life caring for her children and her home. Although she was happy in that role, her choices were limited. By contrast, as a mother of two girls, I’m lucky to have had the chance to study, travel, work and benefit from the same opportunities as my brother. I love the fact I can work, but equally, I’m happy to forgo certain aspects of career progression because time with my daughters is so precious to me.

Although there is more pressure on women as a result of social change, sometimes we can put this pressure on ourselves. Social media projects false images of perfection which can undermine people’s self-esteem. I believe it’s really important for young women to feel secure in their own skin. It’s a fine balance between driving yourself to succeed whilst not feeling the burden to be perfect at everything. I practise meditation every day which grounds me and brings peace to my life. It helps me remember what’s important and where I should focus my efforts. Sometimes we can overcomplicate our lives.

When it comes to gender, there is now a greater sharing of roles, meaning men do more household tasks and women take on previously male-dominated roles. We’ve taken the best of the old ways and modernised them. But in my opinion, a woman is still the centrepiece of the family. While I was growing up, my mother’s time and efforts had a huge positive influence on everyone. Women make smart choices – reinvesting most of their income back into the family. When a woman rises, she takes her family and her community with her.

Women are very powerful creatures – and we will continue to rise up. Just watch us.


GMSP Foundation supports #giveagirlafuture because we believe everyone should have an equal opportunity to succeed. Investing in one girl creates a multiplier effect that sends ripples across her community.

It is wonderful that the UK government are supporting this appeal via fund matching which makes it an even more exciting time to support.


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2016 GRIT Topics

NOVEMBER – Is a woman’s role changing?
Do you think a woman’s role has changed? How different is your life to previous generations? Do you think you have more opportunities than ever before or that there is more pressure to succeed? Is it really possible for a woman to manage ambitions alongside a happy family life? How has a woman role changed in society and the wider world? Please share your views..

DECEMBER – Looking forward to 2017
What are your big hopes and plans for 2017? What will you change or how will you make a difference? Please share your proud moments, memories and achievements of the past year and your hopes for the New Year.

WE needs YOU!

Thank you.

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