8 March 2020 looks at International Women’s Day in Britain. Despite their incredible achievements and contributions in British society, it has often been the case that Black and Asian British women have been left out of British history books.
The Windrush generation in 1948 is often seen as the starting point of Black and Asian British history, but their stories stretch much further back, so here are some interesting facts, let us celebrate #internationalwomensday.
Mary Prince (1788-1833)
Mary Prince, her incredibly insightful personal account of slavery, was printed in 1831, It was her first account of a black woman to be published in the UK. When she was living in London, England, she wrote her slave narrative The History of Mary Prince (1831), which was the first account of the life of a black woman to be published in the United Kingdom.
Britain’s most inspirational Black and Asian women throughout history:
Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)
She came from West Africa and was sold as a slave to the Wheatley family in the US. As slavery facing adversities, she learned to read and write, penning her first poem aged just 14. At the age of 20, she moved to England with her son and published her first volume of poetry in 1773, making her the first African American poet to be published, ever.
Mary Seacole (1805-1881)
She was born in Jamaica and migrated to England in 1854. There, she appealed to the War Office to send her to the Crimea as an army nurse but was refused. Admired for her dedication she raised money and travelled anyway. She set up the ‘British Hotel’ in Kadikoy on the Crimean Peninsula. She did this to deliver a “mess-table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers”. When she died, most of her great work in nursing was forgotten – often overshadowed by that of Florence Nightingale – but in 1991, she was posthumously awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit and in 2004, was voted the greatest black Briton.
You are able to see her statue at St Thomas’ Hospital, London, she was recognised for her achievement in 2016.
Adelaide Hall (1901-1993)
Adelaide was born in America, also migrated to England and lived in London as a jazz singer with a career spanning several decades.
Performing in cities worldwide including Harlem, Hollywood, Paris and London, she earned the title of Britain’s highest-paid female entertainer in 1941.
Claudia Jones (1915-1964)
She was born in Jamacia and was deported from America to the UK in 1955 for her political activities. As well as being a journalist and political activist, Jones was the founder of the Notting Hill Carnival.
In 1958, she launched the West Indian Gazette, a paper which campaigned for social equality. In the same year, she started the Caribbean carnival – in response to the race riots in Notting Hill.
The event, which celebrated West Indian culture and heritage, was held at St Pancras Town Hall in January 1959.
Margaret Busby (1944-2019)
Busby was born in 1944 Ghana, was Britain’s youngest and first female book publisher, co-founding the publishing company Allison & Busby in 1967.
For more than three decades she has campaigned for greater diversity in publishing and is a founding member of the organisation Greater Access to Publishing and is settled in the UK.
Olive Morris (1952 – 1979)
A true champion of civil rights, Morris campaigned for the rights of black people in South London and Manchester.
She was also a founding member of such groups as the Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD) and the Brixton Black Women’s Group.
Connie Mark (1923-2007)
Brought up in Kingston, Jamaica, when the Second World War was declared, Mark settled in Britain in the 1950s and worked as a medical secretary.
She is credited for keeping the memory of Mary Seacole alive, being a founding member and president of the Mary Seacole Memorial Association.
Mark is also a patron of the Descendants, working to instil in young people of African and Caribbean descent, pride in their heritage.
Joan Armatrading (1950 – Present)
Armatrading was born in Eastern Caribbean Islands – Saint Kitts and the first female UK artist to be nominated for a Grammy in the Blues category and went on to receive a further three nominations.
Arriving in the UK from St Kitts aged seven, she began writing songs at the age of 14 and taught herself to play the guitar.
In 2007, she became the first female UK artist to debut at number 1 in the Billboard blues chart.
Tessa Sanderson (1956 – Present)
British born Sanderson was the first British black woman to win an Olympic gold medal (in 1984). She spent her incredible 17-year career at the top of her game in international javelin throwing.
Since retiring from athletics, Sanderson has presented the sports news on Sky and also runs her own sports management company. She was awarded an OBE in 1998 for her work with sports and charities.
Maggie Aderin Pocock (1968- Present)
Aderin-Pocock is a space scientist and educator. Since 2014, she has co-presented the long-running astronomy TV programme The Sky At Night. In 2013, she was named on the UK Power List as one of the UK’s most influential black people.
Best-known as the bestselling author of Noughts & Crosses, Blackman was the first black person to become Children’s Laureate, in 2013.
The BBC has commissioned a TV adaptation of Noughts & Crosses, due for release later this year.
Diane Abbott is a British Labour Party politician and became the first black woman to hold a seat in the House of Commons.
The Labour politician was the first-ever black woman to be elected to Parliament in 1987. She also founded the London Schools and the Black Child programme, which aims to help black children achieve in the classroom.
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi (1971-Present)
As a former Conservative MP and former Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs until resigning in 2014. She is now seated in the House of Lords. The lawyer formerly co-chaired the Conservative Party. She was brought up in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, in a working-class family. She was the first female Muslim to attend Cabinet and at her first-ever Downing Street meeting, wore a traditional South Asian shalwar kameez. She resigned from the Government saying she was no longer able to support the ‘morally indefensible’ policy on the escalation of violence in the Israel-Gaza conflict.
The award-winning teacher came to England from Pakistan when she was eight. She turned around a failing school, which was later named in a report as one of ‘Ofsted’s 12 Outstanding Schools – excelling against the odds’. In 2009 she was named in the top 10 Muslim Power List, by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. At 63, CBE, was the first Muslim female headteacher in the UK, working at Plashet School in London, before retiring in 2012.
She is a former president of the Muslim Teachers’ Association and was awarded a CBE for services to education in 2005 and was named Headteacher of the Year in 2012. She was a special advisor to former Prime Minister Tony Blair after the London 7/7 bombings. Nasir continues to work in education mentoring headteachers.
Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith
Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith was appointed chief executive of facilities management company Mitie Group in March 2007. During the decade she spent at Mitie, the firm saw a £1.5bn rise in turnover.
She joined a small number of women holding the position of chief executive in the FTSE 250 and is the first Asian woman to be appointed in such a role. She was awarded a CBE in 2012 for services to business and promoting diversity. In 2015 Ruby was made a life peer after supporting David Cameron and George Osbourne’s public spending. She is also chair of the Women’s Business Council.
The current Home Secretary 43 has been a Conservative MP for Witham, Essex since 2010. Her parents are of Gujarati origin.
Priti Patel named five inspirational teenagers in the 2016 Premiership Rugby’s inaugural HITZ awards, which helped increase young people’s resilience, self-reliance and confidence giving skills to get back into education, apprenticeship and employment.
She also stands up for the gender pay gap saying: “It’s a step in the right direction to helping women, especially mums, achieve their ambitions”.
Bobbie Cheema-Grubb, 49, is a judge of the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court of Justice and has made history as the first Asian woman to serve as a high court judge in the UK. She has presided over high profile cases. As a Sikh teenager in a Punjabi family growing up in Leeds, she wanted to be an astronaut while attending her local state school. She is described in Chambers Bar UK as a “well-respected” barrister who “relishes complex and demanding cases”. Grubb’s role has highlighted the lack of diversity and she is a role model for Asian women and minority ethnic candidates to join the judiciary. Grubb says: “I loved arguing and trying to persuade someone else that they were wrong. I liked the fact that in law there are rules which have to be worked within, but which give a real opportunity for flair.
Malala Yousafzai is the youngest person to ever win a Nobel Peace Prize aged just 17 in 2014. The Pakistani-born. A schoolgirl was shot in the head when she was 15 by the Taliban but survived against the odds.
She was targeted while on a bus, for defending her rights to education and had earlier written a blog for the BBC titled ‘Diary of a Pakistani Schoolgirl’. She accepted her Nobel Peace Prize after the committee acknowledged her “heroic struggle” for girls’ rights to an education. Her memoir ‘I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World,’ is a best seller. Malala has continued to speak out despite increased Taliban threats.
The Malala Fund invests in early-stage girls’ education in poor countries. She addressed the United Nations on her 16th birthday and remains an inspiration to millions around the globe. She now lives in the UK.
Professor Geeta Nargund
is a pioneer in the field of fertility. She is the award-winning medical director of CREATE Fertility. She is also a senior consultant gynaecologist and lead consultant for reproductive medicine services at St George’s Hospital, London. She is an advisor for national and international charities promoting women’s health, education and development. Prof Nargund has published lots of articles in the field of reproductive medicine. She is a pioneer in the field of Natural and Mild IVF and Advanced Ultrasound Technology and is an accredited trainer for Infertility and Gynaecological Ultrasound special skills. She also campaigns for fertility education in Schools.
Nusrat Pinky Lilani
Nusrat Pinky Lilani CBE is the founder and CEO of Women of the Future and the Asian Women of Achievement Awards. Lilani is a food guru, author, motivational speaker and internationally acclaimed champion for women. She organises a number of awards recognising influential women and leaders and also founded the Inspirational Women’s Network. Lilani sits on the advisory boards of Global Diversity Practice and Sapphire Partners. She is a patron of Frank Water, a charity that partners grassroots organisations in India to provide safe water. She is a British Red Cross Tiffany Circle Ambassador, a powerful group of women leaders and philanthropists. In 2006 Lilani was presented with a lifetime achievement award at the CBI First Women Awards. In 2012, she was named as Woman Entrepreneur of the Year at the Indus Entrepreneurs UK Gala Awards.
Lilani was listed on the BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour Power List of 100 most powerful women in the UK in 2013. She was awarded an OBE in the 2007 New Year Honours for services to charity and a CBE in the Birthday Honours 2015 for services to women in business.
Shivvy Jervis has been voted as one of the top 100 people ‘making digital Britain tick’. She is a presenter and head of digital media at Telefonica and an aspirational role model to young women and techies everywhere. The former TV reporter is the creator and presenter of the popular technology series Digital Futures. She curates a global innovation blog and writes for the Huffington Post. Soul icon James Brown called her one of the ‘greatest ideas’ of the broadcasting world. Jervis is Britain’s Asian Women of Achievement award winner, Women of the Future & First Women awards’ finalist and been named to Innotribe’s fin-tech power list.
MBE Pakistan born Malik is the deputy chief executive of Bradford based QED Foundation, which works with ethnic minorities to eradicate poverty, disadvantage and discrimination. The former teacher was awarded the CBE last year by the Queen for her services as a British Muslim woman.
She was also awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to ethnic minority businesses. She has held many positions board level appointments including British Waterways, Yorkshire Forward and the Advisory Board on Naturalisation and Immigration. Malik says discrimination, poverty and various forms of inequalities are still major issues which need to be tackled: “We must create an opportunity for everyone”. In 2005 she was appointed Chair of the National Ethnic Minority Business Forum and became a commissioner for the Women and Work Commission. She was made an ambassador for the Hashoo Foundation, a Pakistan based charity.
So, who would you choose?