The Importance of Encouraging More Asian Women into Public Life in Wales Cannot Be Understated; Their Talents Range from Medicine, to Law and Dance. AbbieWightwick Meets Eight Inspirational Award-Winning Welsh Asian Women Making Their Mark

Article excerpt

Their talents are as diverse as their backgrounds but the eight women honoured in the new Welsh Women Achievement Award have one thing in common - determination to succeed

As one of the first Asian doctors in Wales, Dr Tapati Maulik was derided for wearing saris

This acted as a challenge for her

So she took to wearing a sari more often and dedicated her life to work becoming the first Welsh Asian woman consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology

Several decades on Swansea-born Farhana Ali's business plan wasn't taken seriously by her community

But the Welsh Bengali Muslim says she always knew that henna art would catch on with a wider audience

Today she numbers Wales rugby international James Hook's wife Kim as one of her customers and has a successful beauty salon as well as a side-line in doing cake and restaurant design

Their stories reveal just how much things have changed for Welsh Asian women in the last 40 years

When Dr Maulik was blazing a trail Farhana wasn't yet born, but there is still a way to go to raise the profile of women in the community, she says

Professor Meena Upadhyaya, founder of the inaugural awards, says more role models are needed to show women what can be achieved

The consultant molecular geneticist at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff hopes having an annual event to celebrate the work of Welsh Asian women will encourage more to recognise and utilise their skills

"The importance of encouraging more Asian women into public life in Wales cannot be understated," she says

"They symbolise both Wales' diverse cultural society and also play a crucial role in bringing passion and commitment to many different aspects of Welsh life

" It is hard to imagine such an award being held back in 1966 when Dr Maulik arrived as a 23 year old medical school graduate from India

Then she was an exotic sight walking hospital wards

Working all across South Wales she says many medics encouraged and befriended her but some made no secret of the fact they disapproved

At the time women - let alone Asian women - were not always welcome in the medical community, she points out

"Men were prominent at that time and most didn't want females around

"So a coloured woman was a big problem," Dr Maulik remembers with a wry laugh

"Today people are used to seeing Asian people at school and in the street as well as seeing Asian doctors

"It was a different world then

" Who? Farhana Ali, right What? Small business award winner Why? Swansea-born Farhana Ali has made a business from a hobby she started aged 14

As a teenager she did henna body art on relatives and constantly doodled new designs on school books

Friends seeing her work asked her to do it on them and when she was 17 Farhana set up a mini business

"My first business card was from a machine in the cinema," she admits

At the time henna art wasn't well known outside the Asian community locally but Farhana, a Welsh Bengali, saw it as a way of telling people all about her culture in a creative way

Aged 17 she took a henna art stall to the Swansea Show in Singleton Park charging 50p a time and was delighted when the city's mayoress became one of her first customers

"It wasn't so multi-cultural then and this was a way of educating people about our culture," Farhana explains

"I still use henna to talk about culture and religion and why we have it done

" Farhana, aged 28, says her interest in business started aged eight when her father, a businessman, died

"When he died I knew my mum was suffering and didn't ask her for things

I sold my dinner tickets to buy things," she recalls

When she left Bishop Gore High School, Farhana wanted to study design but her family said it wasn't an option so she read health science at Swansea University instead

"Henna art wasn't seen as a serious business option in our community," she regrets

Determined to make henna art her career she worked on fashion shows as a student and set up her first salon with pounds 1,000 aged just 21

"I was a bit of a laughing stock in the Asian community

They didn't give me credit," she reveals

"Henna art isn't given credit, but people who aren't Asian wanted it

"I went to schools and museums and did workshops and talked about it and the tradition has become contemporary fashion

"I've seen a cultural shift while I've been doing this," Farhana, now married with a young daughter, recently opened a new salon, Farhana in Swansea

She has also designed restaurant walls, does edible henna art on celebration cakes, which she believes are the first in Wales, and runs henna hen nights

As someone who sees herself fighting to make others believe in her business model, Farhana is doubly pleased to have won the WAWAA for small business

"In business you have to have a love and passion for what you're doing and never give up what you believe in

"What I was doing as a hobby is now a business and friends"I did experience open racism and sexism" Who? …