Being an Asian Woman in Britain

The Nehru Centre began International Women’s Week yesterday with a debate on being an Asian woman in Britain. Amongst the panel were Baroness Flather, Purnima Thanuka, Lady Nina Bracewell Smith and Rochana Bajpai. They were all women who had reached successes as an Asian woman in Britain.

As I listened to their fascinating stories, I found myself not being able to relate to their accounts at all. This was because they were migrant women whose experience of being an Asian woman in Britain were slightly different to mine.

My experience is one of a cultural battle. The ambition to take the best of both worlds combined with the desire to keep my parents and family happy is not easy to achieve. This is an experience, I have found, shared by many Asian female peers.  With migrant parents desperate that their girls did not become like white girls, the hold on them was much stronger, drumming culture, religion and heritage down them.

I recall as a teenager, all my freedoms I had as a child disappeared. I had to learn how to cook and takeover household chores as I watch my brother play and participate in sports. I had stricter curfews and my parents were reluctance to let me out in the evenings. Sleepovers were only at family houses or Indian friends. All this was about grooming me to suitable for marriage.

Then rebellion struck!!! My poor parents had a highly vocal girl who really was not going to do as she was told. I wanted to go out with my friends, have boyfriends and have a good time. What a culture clash that was. As university approached, my chosen path was media. This didn’t go down well at all.

Years later, I succeeded in a profession they said I wouldn’t, travelled the world and bought two properties by the time I was 28.  Despite achieving all of this, being married was the most important and here I had failed.

As life goes on, being an Asian woman anywhere in the world seems to focus around marriage. This seems to define you as a woman and one’s upbringing is solely for the purpose of finding a suitable husband.

Being an Asian woman in Britain has been colourful. I have had a great education, life opportunities that I may not have had and challenges that have only made me stronger and more woman regardless of creed.

I long to see more Asian women at the top of their chosen profession, more Asian women speaking up and doing their own thing and finally more Asian women role models.


2 Comments to “Being an Asian Woman in Britain”

  1. I agree with you that all the inspirational stories about Asain women are usually about first generation migrants. My issues growing up were also around integration, and my parents fear that I would turn into some white devil child.

    As for marriage, as someone who is fast appraoching 30, I know exactly what you mean about pressure from your parents. I for one refused to learn how to cook, especially chapatis. The only time I have ever cooked a chapati was when my father was being difficult – I offered to cook them as then I knew he would have to quieten up or get sick from my undercooked, misshapen chapatis – and he never ever asked me to make anything for him ever again. I don’t think he even trusts a cup od tea from my hands…. Now that is weird behaviour!

    I can’t help thinking that if I did do as my parents wanted, and got married tomorrow, the pressure would still be there from them, but the focus would turn to something else. When I was younger and choosing what to study at university, the pressure was all about becoming a doctor. When I didn’t do that, it caused world war three in my house, but when I got a prestigious job in the city, the pressure moved to marriage. What would it be after that? Children? House? More children? Enforcing religion on my children?

    I for one tried to cut the umbilical cord long ago. I started to learn how to block out the emotional blackmail about ten years back, but I’m still not immune to it. I have sometimes thought about how different life would be if I always did my parents biding, but I always come to the same conclusion – I would be miserable. And I would definitely not be where I am in my career today.

    So to become a successful Asian woman in the 21st century, it almost as if I have had to sacrifice my parents peace of mind. And despite trying to block out the emotional blackmail, it still makes me feel guilty.

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