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 by Swani Gulshan.
Women Empowered (WE) - My Story in London

Women Empowered (WE) has organised an event in London to share the stories of three icons from the Asian community – Journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Detective Superintendent Shabnam Chaudhri, and actor KulvinderGhir

 by Swani Gulshan. The Bright Courtyard Club hosted a fully packed event recently. The attendees at the latest Women Empowered (WE) event heard the pioneering stories of three role model British-Asians – Journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Detective Superintendent Shabnam Chaudhri and Goodness Gracious Kulvinder Ghir.

“Our speakers are pioneers, within an industry, thought, opinion or their own personal circumstance,” Reena Ranger, chairperson of WE, said in her welcome speech. “It’s not easy being first, breaking barriers and putting one’s head above the parapet. It takes courage, resilience and determination. One makes themselves vulnerable, can face negativity and criticism and it can be a very lonely journey. That being said, it can also be a life changing one; changing attitudes, challenging the status quo, inspiring a generation, changing societal attitudes or inspiring a generation. Theirs are the footsteps that others aspire to follow; many will bravely attempt to tread and thus will lead the pathway to change.”

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown; journalist, author and commentator, well known for her sometimes outspoken views and columns in various newspapers, spoke of becoming a journalist at 37 years old. She woke up one morning and decided to write an article. Her one and only contact in the newspaper industry whom she met in her day job, was the person she reached out to. Two days later she was published in The Guardian and six months later she had a job. Luck, audacity and a feeling that writing was something that she wanted to do led her to put pen to paper.  The battle of “who do you think you are” was a hurdle she had to cross, and it was her resolve that her opinion counted just as much as anyone else’s helped her overcome that hurdle.

 by Swani Gulshan.
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Yasmin stressed the importance of courage and speaking one’s mind, treating each other and understanding that we are all equals and our opinions are valid. She spoke of how many first generation immigrants, reluctant to cause trouble, felt like they had to suppress their voices and the next generation should break free from that way of thinking as they belonged and were equal to all others.  She emphasised that she never sets out or intends to cause offence and we must be mindful on how we talk to and about each other. She told the audience, “be honest, truthful and courageous but don’t wound people or offend them just because you can.“

Detective Superintendent Shabnam Chaudri, is the Metropolitans Police’s detective at her rank. She spoke of her childhood, driving across six continents from Pakistan to East London.  She grew up expressing racism first hand, her parents had forbidden retaliation and emphasised respect, a value she carries with her in life. At 18 marriage was on the forefront of her parents’ mind, but she had her own dreams, to be a police officer.  It was a dream that she was to be seemingly unfulfilled as the uniform required a skirt and Shabnam was forbidden to wear them. Undeterred, after 7 years and 4 attempts she was finally accepted into the Metropolitan Police. Her parents accepted that she had the job but Shabnam had to lie to her parents saying that the Met had made an exception for her and she was the only female allowed to wear trousers in the force.

Detective Superintendent Shabnam Chaudhri

Shabnam spoke of the challenges working in the police force; she persevered and learnt from each lesson.  Talking of many of the areas that she had worked in and career highlights she had experienced she passed on some nuggets of advice and emphasised the importance of networking and meeting people. She encouraged people to “let go of “baggage” as it only holds you back”. “Do things out of your comfort zone and take on challenges that are different” she urged. “I had a dream and I followed that dream, follow your dreams, if you got it, fight for it, you can do almost anything you want to do if you believe in yourself.”

Actor, Kulvinder Ghir, best known for his roles in Goodness Gracious Me, spoke candidly and emotionally about his story, of arriving in the UK at the age of seven years old and not speaking English. He spoke of the perceived adventure England would be and even the painful frost wind that welcomed him when he disembarked the plane was fun, because it was different and different was an adventure.  He spoke of being received by family members, who lined Kulvinder and his brothers up and allocated football teams to each to support. Kulvinder was allocated Man United.

 by Swani Gulshan.
Kulvinder Ghir

“Man Unite”, he repeated. This became not only a football team to support but the subconscious thread of his life, “man united”. Growing up when he faced challenges and questioned his identity, African, Sikh man, Indian, East Ender, Immigrant, English, Culture his answer came from within “Man United”.

Openly speaking of the sacrifices his mother made, the hard work she endured, the unfailing support she and his father gave to him. Despite being a big family and facing hostility, he spoke of the humour that held the Ghir family together; it was something that was theirs and theirs alone and couldn’t be taken away from them by anyone.

“Wit”, he said was very important in getting him out of trouble against bullies. No one could touch his wit and his teacher asked if he was able to impersonate any famous people and not just the school staff”. That was the catalyst that took him to drama school. Learning about the great playwrights opened up a whole new world of characters he could be. He was on a new adventure, performing, writing sketches at the age of 14 years old.

“The thirst to know and learn more kept him going, entering competitions and persevering to pursuing drama in college.  All the time, his mother was his support and encouragement. She gave him permission to simply be along with his father. He wanted to remember his mother and all she had done for him and remind the many mothers in the audience of what support they can provide and the importance of it. He closed by giving this advice, “if you have dreams and have something to say, within our work we can make a change. We unite, that’s how we make change”

 by Swani Gulshan.
Women Empowered (WE) – My Story in London

WE is a social initiative which aims to empower women (and men) to make the best of their individual skills and talents and help them to achieve whatever personal and professional goals they have.  We work at a grass roots level, trying to ensure we are easily accessible to all who would like to reach us. WE is open to all.  Men are 50% of the population and need to be a part of the discussion so that we can effect change, to our own worlds and the larger one. WE always have a male speaker for a balanced discussion.

WE empower those present to find the inner confidence to take the next step; WE enable and support them through the journey by putting them in touch with organisations that can nurture their ideas and mentors who can assist in achieving those goals and to create a powerful and exciting network for collaboration, support and friendship.

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