Shani Dhanda was born with a rare genetic condition more commonly known as Brittle Bone Disease. A business and culture change agent, social entrepreneur and disability rights advocate named as one of the most influential disabled people in Britain by Shaw Trust Power List 2018, she has a short stature of 3'10”, but with her passion for creating everyday equality, she founded the first ever Asian Woman Festival in the UK.
She attended a special needs primary school as no mainstream school in the 1980s could deal with such an unpredictable condition. Over her childhood she spend many summers in hospital with broken leg after broken leg. After learning to walk again for the sixth time, Dhanda undertook pioneering treatment to strengthen her bone density and multiple surgeries in her teenage years.
In 2011, Dhanda graduated from the University of Wolverhampton with a degree in Event and Venue Management. Now she is a role model for the UK’s national disability charity Scope and an ambassador for the national disability charity for Black Asian Ethnic Minorities, Include Me Too.
In August 2017 she founded the 'Diversability Card', the UK's official discount card for people with disabilities. The scheme is the first of it's kind for people with disabilities and been well received across the country with plans for global expansion.
Speaking to Asian Voice, Dhanda said, “I regularly speak on discussions around disability, intersectionality and inclusion matters, driven by the undeniable impulse to make challenge perceptions and create positive change by my everyday lived experience of feeling excluded and underrepresented in society. I’ve never had a space to talk about all the features that make up my whole identity, so I created it - because true diversity is intersectional.”
From the 1950s onwards, due to racism and being few in number, many Asians lived in a tight knit community in order to support each other and hold on to their sense of identity in a foreign land. Their values and cultural traditions passed down to their British born children, which is why as a community we find it difficult to talk about topics such as disability, sexuality and relationships even amongst the younger generations. These are still massive taboo issues in our community and the Asian Woman Festival will be a safe space to tackle these subjects, giving attendees the skills to confidently navigate their way through society whilst celebrating the ever-vibrant culture and traditions of being Asian.
The festival promises to bring together an impressive selection of contributors to facilitate dialogue around issues facing Asian women and girls today.
The Asian Woman Festival will be held on 30 March at The New Bingley Hall, Birmingham.
The UK’s first ever Asian Woman Festival
Through culture, conversation and art the Asian Woman Festival is the UK's first of its kind event smashing stereotypes and stigma to empower and celebrate Asian Women.
The theme for the inaugural event is ‘identity’ and the one-day festival will host panel talks, masterclasses, live performances and much more, for Asian women to come together, explore and express their views around navigating a dual identity coupled with cultural expectations in 21st century Britain.
An art exhibition curated especially for the festival, 'Musings of Identity', will display the work of up to 30 different artists, highlight significant topics surrounding female identity and explore the various perceptions that may well be outdated amongst Asian communities in modern Britain. South Asians are the largest ethnic group in the UK, at almost 5% of the total UK population and an annual spending power over £150 billion, yet the community as a whole often feel underrepresented.
Dhanda told the newsweekly, “Being of Asian origin and living in the UK means not only are we a more socially conservative community due to our traditional and cultural beliefs, but we are constantly bridging two cultures. This can mean there are often times in our lives we feel conflicted and even guilty in our efforts to juggle our dual identities. Until now, there hasn’t been an opportunity to talk about how living in contradiction becomes second nature.”
The festival line-up includes singer-songwriter Amrit Kaur Lohia, whose notable performances include Glastonbury Festival 2017, MTV, Somerset House Summer Series, and the UN General Assembly for Unicef. The keynote talk will be given by award-winning spoken word artist Jaspreet Kaur, better known as Behind the Netra, where she’ll be looking at the struggles that the young Asian female diaspora face, including issues to do with identity, equality and inner confidence.
Asian values and cultural traditions passed down to their British born children, which is why as a community we find it difficult to talk about topics such as disability, sexuality and relationships even amongst the younger generations.