Issue 26 / The Changing Image Of The 40-Year-Old South Asian Woman

The Changing Image Of The 40-Year-Old South Asian Woman

Dec 06, 2015

We take a look at today's 40+ South Asian woman.

If we had Google in the late '70s or '80s the images of South Asian women would show them as mothers, child brides or walking back to their villages with pails of water on their heads. Today, when one Googles "South Asian women" the images are very different showing women as successful businesswomen, fighting for one cause or another, speaking at international events and receiving awards and recognition for their work.
Indira Nooyi
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Thanks to many unsung heroes who faced obstacles and broke the perception for women and South Asian women alike in many sectors, this evolution has been possible. While the list of noteworthy women is long, the following are some impressive and extraordinary women that found success later in their life because they chose the path less travelled and as a result, have opened doors for the next generation of South Asian girls.
"The glass ceiling is there, but it is glass – you can see through it and break through it." ~ Indra Nooyi 

While reading Forbes magazine's list of the 100 most powerful women in the world, seeing names like Indra Nooyi, Shikha Sharma and Kiran Mazumbar-Shaw makes you believe anything is possible. These women are leaders in their industries and are gaining worldwide recognition for being pioneers in the business word and have opened doors for young and middle-aged women worldwide. 

Named as one of the four richest women in India by Forbes, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, a 62-year-old business icon, has a net worth of $655 million US (as of October 2013) and has won the Othmer Gold Medal. She was also named one of the top 50 women in business by the Financial Times and one of the top 100 most powerful women in the world by Forbes two years in a row. Her success has come with years of hard work and perseverance. In the '70s and '80s this glass-shattering role model not only faced resistance as a woman trying to build a business in India but also because she was trying to break into the male dominated world of breweries. With no allies, nor the support of her fellow women, Mazumdar-Shaw had to come up with a new plan. The business-savvy entrepreneur lured international investors to India and strategically positioned herself as the lead and founder of one of the largest biotechnology companies worldwide. 

"I hate the title of being called 'the richest woman in India,' but it's the recognition that this was the value that I had created as a woman entrepreneur, and that makes me very, very proud."  ~ Kiran Mazumdar -Shaw


Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw
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Deepa Mehta is a well-known film writer and producer, whose journey was paved by listening to her true self and inner voice. She moved to Canada in her early 20s and started producing and writing children’s documentaries. In 1991, at the age of 41, Mehta’s career as a producer and film director debuted when she released the film Sam & Me, a story based on the unlikely friendship of a Muslim boy and Jewish man. Sam & Me gained worldwide recognition for its edgy and controversial content. Seeing that there is a market for the thought provoking films she wanted to produce, Mehta set out on her next project; a film trilogy called Earth, Fire and Water; which highlighted the taboos and social injustices in India. When she released Earth in 1996 she was met with resistance in India but South Asians around the world were embracing and supporting this new voice. Today Mehta is recognized and revered for her work and tenacity for exposing the taboos of India. She has paved the way for the next generation of women to speak freely and question gender roles in India and around the world. (Click here to read our recent cover story/exclusive interview with Deepa Mehta). 

"To make a film is very difficult – it does not make a difference if you are a man or a woman" – Deepa Mehta


Deepa Mehta 
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This list would not be complete without mentioning Olympic medalist Mohini Bhardwaj. I include her because at the age of 36 she was inducted into the 2015 Gymnastics Hall of Fame Class in recognition of the silver medal she won for the United States at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. She had a rough path to success and had to overcome some of her earlier mistakes and naysayers that thought 26 was too old to be competing in the Olympics. She proved them wrong and vaulted her way to the Olympic Podium. Her success has changed the way South Asian girls are engaging in extra curricular activities. My talented niece Sia, for example, is taking gymnastics in addition to the typical Indian dancing and thanks to Bhardwaj's courage my niece and many gymnast hopefuls have someone they can look up to.
"She's not getting older — she's getting more determined." ~ Helene Elliott, Los Angeles Times staff writer
Mohini Bhardwaj
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Last but not least, this woman is in a category of her own. Sunita Williams is truly out of this world. At the age of 41 she is the first American of South Asian decent to be up in space and holds the world record for the total cumulative space walk time by a female astronaut. WIlliams is someone all women should be proud of as she is breaking new ground for women regardless of race and gender. She literally reached for the stars.   
"Don't let anyone tell you, 'You can't do it.' That's the biggest thing" ~ Sunita Williams
Sunita Williams

For many of these women their success did not happen until their late '30s or early '40s and while they were busy trying to make a living they were also changing the way South Asian women were being perceived worldwide. It was only when they were older that these women realized their impact on the world and embraced their new roles as heroes for South Asian women of all ages. 

Main Image Photo Credit: (Indra Nooyi)


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