"I for one wear the 'Alpha Female' badge with pride!"
With such an influx of British Asian women within different industries, more catalysts for change are beginning to appear.
Although there is an increasing number of British Asians exploring creative avenues, these specific women want to inspire innovation.
These trailblazers aren’t just promoting forward-thinking, but they’re opening doors in intriguing sectors like sport and beauty.
They believe representation needs to be fair and equal, especially in the avenues where their speciality lies.
For example, weightlifter Karenjeet Kaur Bains is an advocate for strength sports. Whereas make-up artist, Karishma Leckraz, wants brands to be more inclusive of those with skin conditions.
With the aid of social media and attention from UK South Asian outlets and The Guardian, these British Asian women are pushing the boundaries.
Here are the top 5 British Asian women, making a difference for future generations.
Karenjeet Kaur Bains
We start with history maker, Karenjeet Kaur Bains, who is the first female Sikh powerlifter to represent Great Britain.
The exciting 24-year-old fell in love with strength sports after seeing her mother, Manjit, dominate sprinting competitions in Warwickshire.
Manjit managed to become a five-time ‘Track & Field Athletics Champion.’ Hence, it is not surprising that Karenjeet has this championship mentality.
Having a heavily exposed upbringing to fitness, Karenjeet wants more British Asian women to have the guidance that she did:
“There is a lack of representation and I’m hoping that I can be an example to young girls out there.”
This is quite poignant as British Asian female athletes are still struggling to receive the same recognition as male competitors.
However, the reason why Karenjeet’s story stands out is because of her relatability.
The skilled athlete works as a chartered accountant during the week, a career that many British Asians also have.
Therefore, the powerlifter is an example that you can be successful in both education and sport. An ideology shunned by some Desi traditionalists.
In August 2021, Karenjeet accomplished a hattrick of senior titles. She became the ‘All England Bench Press Champion’, ‘British Bench Press Champion’ and the ‘All England Champion’.
An impressive feat for such a fresh challenger who dons her full name in competitions, declaring:
“I insist on having my full name – Karenjeet Kaur Bains – because the middle name is quite distinctive of a Sikh person.”
This shows how the starlet wants to expand the inclusivity of strength sports. She also wants more British Asian women to represent their Desi culture with pride.
In an interview with ITV, Karenjeet stated:
“I want this to be the floodgates for many more girls in all levels of sport from all arenas to get involved in strength sports. Because, why can’t girls be strong?”
With such an active and empowering role, Karenjeet hopes in continuing to make a difference and open up doors for British Asian women.
Known as the ‘The Hillwalking Hijabi‘, Zahrah Mahmood is a Muslim woman from Glasgow, Scotland.
Similarly to Karenjeet, Zahrah advocates for the physical health of South Asians and wants to motivate more British Asian women to explore the outdoors.
Also working as an accountant, Zahrah left her hillwalking expeditions till the weekend but has found more time to experience different routes.
Her extraneous walks have opened a new lease of life, especially after the beginning of her journey was extremely difficult:
“I struggled the whole way up. I was very aware of people staring at me and I didn’t know if this was for my hijab/race…or for my lack of fitness.”
However, once the fitness-lover overcame the physical toll with the help of her friends, she basked in the benefits.
Zahrah is a big believer in the spiritual and mental support that hillwalking provides.
She wants more South Asian people to share these feelings. However, she is aware of the lack of support from organisations:
“There are definite barriers.”
“If you’re not seeing yourself being represented in the outdoors, outdoor magazines, brands and companies etc, then you’re definitely going to feel it’s not for you.
“Of course a lack of representation has an impact on you, whether consciously or subconsciously, to think this isn’t somewhere I fit in.”
Zahrah, however, is looking to abolish this lack of representation. In 2020, she began to collaborate with outdoor clothing and equipment powerhouse, Berghaus.
‘The Hillwalking Hijabi’ hopes that this initiative motivates other companies to embrace diversity.
As a proactive member of the South Asian community, Zahrah is starting to making a difference. She is trying to combat issues of inclusivity and mental health through fitness.
With over 10,000 followers on Instagram, Zahrah shares her hillwalking adventures with an ample audience.
This surely will captivate more British Asian women, particularly those suffering from the stresses of life who are looking for a release.
The talented Karishma Leckraz is a makeup artist from Kent who is trying to abolish the deep-rooted stereotypes of skin lightening.
Within many South Asian cultures, there are varying shades of skin colour, which are all beautiful.
However, Karishma is, unfortunately, part of a community that experiences some ridicule for being ‘darker’.
This is quite worrying, especially when considering how early Karishma was pushed to use skin lightening remedies from her own family.
At the tender age of 13, Karishma was told she’d “be prettier” if her skin was lighter. The artist reveals:
“It’s so deeply rooted in our culture that if you’re lighter, you’re so much prettier.”
The unjust discrimination that Karishma faced was heightened with her diagnosis of atopic eczema – A condition that caused itchy, sensitive and cracked skin.
Her eczema began to flare severely when she turned 16-years-old and spread to her face making it impossible for her to speak.
Though, in 2019, the makeup artist decided to share her story instead of hiding it:
“I wasn’t seeing any representation of us in the media at all.”
“I decided that I’d try to be that representation for myself and others like me.”
In doing this, multiple eczema sufferers came forward in support.
The beauty industry needs to be more inclusive of health conditions and show a fair representation of society.
This is what Karishma is advocating for. Tired of the unrealistic portrayal of beauty standards, Karishma’s bravery has become an influential moment for women.
Motivating the masses with over 16,000 Instagram followers, the empowering idol has received monumental praises.
These include recognition from the likes of Cosmopolitan India, BBC and conscious media company, Cassandra Bankson.
With a catalogue of successes, there’s no denying that Karishma is sending shockwaves through the beauty industry.
As she continues her terrific campaigns, the difference she is making for the future is unquestionable.
Fashionista Arooj Aftab rose to prominence on social media because of her stylish oversized looks.
As one of the emerging British Asian women within fashion, Arooj has gained an immense following of over 62,000 people.
Known for her baggy ensembles and experimental outfits, it wasn’t until 2019 where Arooj revealed the motivation for her style in a BBC documentary.
My Tumour Made Me Trendy (2019) detailed the model’s genetic condition, neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1).
This causes tumours to grow along the nerves and whilst they’re not cancerous, they do cause joint and back pain.
Like other influential women on this list, Arooj wanted to be as authentic as possible with people.
It is the only way that Arooj felt she could motivate others and be a catalyst for change:
“I felt like a bit of a fraud – because no one knew my real story.”
“I felt like I was hiding, I wanted to achieve something but I wanted to be authentic as I achieved it.”
After detailing her NF1 condition, numerous people came forward to support Arooj’s revelation.
The fashion icon hopes that more people suffering from certain conditions don’t feel limited. She explains the first step is to accept what you have in order to keep true to yourself:
“The first stage for me has always been acceptance; understanding myself and my needs.
“I would just remind people to not let NF put up barriers for who you want to be in the world.
“We are so much more than our conditions as people. We have so much more to achieve.”
With considerable coverage in British Vogue and Elle, Arooj went on to win the ‘Asian Media Award’ in 2019.
This emphasises how the fashionista is beginning to open doors for more British Asian creatives.
With such limited progression for South Asian artists, the star embarked on a social campaign called ‘#DoneWithDiversity’.
This honourable project “aims to encourage brands and platforms to rethink the language they use and to consider if they are truly inclusive to all.”
Arooj’s proactive approach means her messages are being heard. She wants others to feel empowered instead of shying away from their challenges.
With such a virtuous aura and infectious personality, Arooj is certainly advocating and succeeding in change.
Former TV presenter, Shivvy Jervis, is a household name when it comes to British Asian women making a difference.
Specialising in tech and future innovations, Shivvy looks at the science behind business elevation.
Her main areas are digital breakthroughs, scientific discoveries and brain chemistry.
Labelled as one of Britain’s leading ‘Women of the Year’ for 2021, the savvy leader is an influence for young women and techies alike.
Shivvy’s innovative mindset and relentless work ethic led her to create FutureScape 248. This is an ingenious lab that anticipates the future state of business and society.
TechRound who noted this incredible achievement included Shivvy in their top 10 most creative BAME founders worldwide in 2020.
These quick victories are an ode to Shivvy’s determination for change. She hopes that her prosperous rise will encourage more women to infiltrate male-dominated sectors:
“Empowering more women to work in digital roles will not only increase their opportunities for rewarding and stimulating careers.
“It will provide the sector with business benefits of a more representative and diverse workforce.”
This illustrates how intuned Shivvy is with the modern world. Her authentic energy is felt by thousands of women and other media companies who want to utilise the catalyst’s mentality.
Collaborating with the Huffington Post, Discovery Channel as well as giving multiple Ted Talks, Shivvy’s skillset is boundless.
The icon’s main message is to promote an alpha mentality in women. Instead of dwelling on the negative connotations that alpha females normally receive, Shivvy reports:
“I for one wear the ‘Alpha Female’ badge with pride! To me, this stands for being a highly charged, positive and people-oriented person.”
Therefore, she truly believes that whether a woman is in tech or another industry, being the best version of herself is the key to making a difference.
Keep the Momentum Going
With a range of British Asian women penetrating different industries, we are seeing an adverse reaction on many Desis.
They are now witnessing more people from their own cultures and backgrounds in fields that they’re interested in.
These British Asian women encompassing fashion, sports and tech are making a distinct difference for future generations.
Their work is not only empowering but is actively trying to restructure the narrative surrounding cultural and social hardships.
Not only do these women serve as innovators, but as extraordinarily talented individuals.
Hence, they show communities that exploring certain lanes does have its perks, especially if it means motivating the next herd of leaders.