South Asia is home to many inspiring women who have made a positive impact in their communities and beyond. Annie Namala is an Indian social activist who has been working with Dalit communities for the protection of their rights for over two decades. This Women’s History Month, we can look to five incredible historical British South Asian women as inspiration. Today, South Asian women such as Archie Panjabi, Mindy Kaling, Priyanka Chopra, Arundhati Roy, Mary Kom, Ekta Kapoor and Kiran Bedi are making waves in their respective fields. The World Bank has also highlighted three prominent women leaders from South Asia who have charted a path for others to follow. Additionally, The Fearless Collective and Poet Rupi Kaur are some of the South Asian women to celebrate this International Women’s Day.
Here are some inspirational women from South Asia:
- Malala Yousafzai (Pakistan) – Nobel Peace Prize laureate and advocate for girls’ education.
- Indira Gandhi (India) – former Prime Minister of India and the first woman to hold the office.
- Benazir Bhutto (Pakistan) – former Prime Minister of Pakistan and the first woman to lead a Muslim-majority nation.
- Kiran Bedi (India) – former police officer and social activist known for her work in prison reform.
- Sheikh Hasina (Bangladesh) – current Prime Minister of Bangladesh and the longest serving elected head of government in Bangladesh’s history.
- Taslima Nasreen (Bangladesh) – writer and physician known for her activism on women’s rights and freedom of speech.
- Priyanka Chopra (India) – actress, singer, and former Miss World who is also a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.
- Mother Teresa (Albania/India) – Catholic nun and missioner who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work in Calcutta.
- Sushmita Sen (India) – former Miss Universe and Bollywood actress known for her work in promoting women’s rights and empowerment.
- Aung San Suu Kyi (Myanmar) – politician and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who is the current State Counsellor of Myanmar.
- Rani Lakshmi Bai (India) – Queen of the Maratha-ruled Jhansi and a symbol of resistance to British rule in India.
- Fatima Jinnah (Pakistan) – political leader and founder of the All Pakistan Women’s Association.
- Bina Das (India) – independence activist who attempted to assassinate a British governor in Bengal.
- Sabitri Chatterjee (India) – Bengali film actress and director known for her work in Indian cinema.
- Sunitha Krishnan (India) – social activist and founder of the non-profit Prajwala, which works to rescue and rehabilitate victims of sex trafficking.
- Mukhtaran Mai (Pakistan) – women’s rights activist and survivor of gang rape.
- Sania Mirza (India) – former professional tennis player and current UN Women Goodwill Ambassador for South Asia.
- Zia Rahman (Bangladesh) – social activist and feminist who was one of the pioneers of the women’s rights movement in Bangladesh.
- Aruna Roy (India) – social activist and founder of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, a grassroots movement for workers’ and farmers’ rights.
- Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (Pakistan) – film-maker and journalist who has won multiple Academy Awards for her documentaries on social and political issues in Pakistan.
- Khadija Ismail (Sri Lanka) – women’s rights activist and founder of the Women’s Development Foundation.
- Roquaiya Hasina Wajed (Bangladesh) – former Prime Minister of Bangladesh and daughter of the country’s founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
- Jayanti Pattanaik (India) – writer and historian who has written extensively on women’s issues and the Dalit community.
- Mary Kom (India) – Olympic boxer and multiple-time world champion.
- Kishwar Naheed (Pakistan) – poet and feminist activist known for her work on women’s rights and social justice.
- Bhanu Athaiya (India) – Oscar-winning costume designer for the 1982 film “Gandhi”.
- Kamal Haasan (India) – actor, director, and screenwriter who is one of the leading figures in Indian cinema.
- Ratna Omidvar (Canada/India) – senator and former head of the Maytree Foundation, a non-profit focused on immigration and diversity.
- Jasoda Banerjee (India) – labour rights activist and founder of the United Trade Union Congress, a workers’ organization in West Bengal.
- Sharmila Tagore (India) – actress and former chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification in India.
- Shirin Ebadi (Iran/India) – Nobel Peace Prize laureate and human rights lawyer.
- Meera (Pakistan) – film actress and singer known for her work in Pakistani cinema.
- Nighat Abdullah (Pakistan) – writer and women’s rights activist known for her work on internet freedom and online harassment.
- Mira Nair (India) – film director, producer, and screenwriter known for her films “Salaam Bombay!” and “Monsoon Wedding”.
- Leela Naidu (India) – actress and former Miss India who appeared in several Bollywood films.
In today’s male dominated society, women has become a key player and ruled the world with her
diligence and commitment. Throughout Southeast Asia, there are a lot of examples we see for
inspirational women, who are playing key roles in leading businesses along with men. However, there is
still some gender inequality factors exist in the business world for female leadership. However, in today’s
business world, female’s participation in routine and strategic business matters has considerably
increased and they are performing more efficiently and well just as men.
In pre-modern society of Southeast Asia, women have been influenced by many factors due to which their
participation was considerably low as compare to other western countries. Over time, due to the
involvement of religion (i.e., Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity) and spread of philosophies, the men were
more privileged and female were stressed to obey and subordinate men in every matter and walk of life.
In the nineteenth century, European control was increased due to the economic and strategic position
between Southeast Asian’s Countries. Because of which, women were given less autonomy and they
were recruited as cheap wage labor for plantations and in processing factories. Moreover, in rural areas,
traditional rule strengthened the male position as head of the household and devised customary laws
that had given women considerable autonomy. With the increasing rate of female literacy, women
became more encouraged to face and challenge issues of gender inequality.
In recent years, the number of women doing business and holding key positions in offices has increased
considerably. In 1980, with the expansion in education, Southeast Asian women became more
empowered and got organization skills to face and argue for issues which hinder women equality.
Women’s Representation in Top Management in Asia
The statistics taken from reliable resource showed less representation of women holding
6% of positions on corporate boards and 8% of positions in executive committees in Asian companies as compared to Europe and the United States.
Considering facts mentioned here-in above, there are numbers of inspirational Southeast Asian women
with remarkable achievements in their career, despite lots of hurdles and roadblocks. Here are some of
the most inspirational South East Asian Women, who put their efforts through economically changing
times, and also inspiring young women to pursue their business goals and dreams despite the obstacles
It has been revealed from the study that women participation in Southeast Asia as business leader in
recent times has been increased a lot despite existence of gender discrimination and various religious or
societal barriersin this world.
Due to increased literacy rate in female, today’s women is more empowered in terms of awareness of their rights and they proved themselves as a strategic partner and a sound decision maker, which not only make them to stand with the men in this fast paced environment but also they are equipped with skills to argue on issues which hinders their performance, being female. Now, women are involved in every field along with men and empowered other young females to become inspiration for others through their active contribution towards betterment of economy.