January 23, 2020February 7, 2020 5min readBy Sejal Sehmi
Meet British South Asian Neha Dhull — a law student who not only is the winner of the Miss Central London 2019/2020 title, but has now qualified as a Finalist for Miss Great Britain. Miss Great Britain is Britain’s first and most prestigious pageant, showcasing more than just physical beauty, but providing opportunities for young women across the country to showcase their talents and seek exciting prospects in their fields of interest.
Having an undergraduate degree in social workand work experience as a social worker with vulnerable children for two years, Dhull is now studying a postgraduate law degree with a vision to become a child rights lawyer, using the Miss Great Britain pageant as a platform to highlight the causes that matter to her and her family – in particular her “Happy Kids Campaign.” She is passionate about safeguarding and bringing happiness to vulnerable children and talks exclusively to Brown Girl Magazine about her journey.
I wanted to make my family proud here and wanted to participate in pageantry as a British Indian woman. In order to qualify for the Miss Great Britain final, you need to win a county and so I picked London. The reason I picked London is because not only are all my friends, family and women’s groups I am part of are in London, but I feel London represents diversity and is one of the most multicultural cities in the world I wanted to win as proud Londoner and thankfully won the title.
Dhull currently studies law at the London Law School and is part of women’s groups such as Like Minded Females Network based in London — an award-winning organisation connecting and empowering women from all backgrounds through networking events. She was a speaker at Britain’s first Asian Women Festival this year and most recently spoke at the Urban Muslim Women Show and delivers empowerment speeches at many feminist events for women of all backgrounds.
After winning the Miss Central London 2019/20 title, Dhull then qualified as a finalist for Miss Great Britain. With the finals approaching next month what has the responses been to her participating?
I’ve been very lucky that the responses to my participation have been very positive. I explain to people who are not familiar with the process that to me pageantry is more than just beauty it is about who you are, and what your purpose is to make a positive difference in society, and why you are using the Miss Great Britain platform. There are so many rounds that you need to get through including the talent, interview and charity rounds in order to get to the winning stage. For the charity round I am raising money for Cancer Research and Alex’s Wish which are two incredible charities.
Dhull has already capitalised on her finalist status by launching her own project called the Happy Kids Campaign. Through this initiative, Dhull delivers fun and educational workshops to vulnerable children. By partnering with renown children’s charity Honeypot, amongst others, gaining access to work with such children has helped emphasise the Happy Children’s presence.
With my own experience of social work with such children, my purpose is to raise awareness of the importance of safeguarding and providing support for vulnerable children because they are the future of our society and need to be protected. That has always been my purpose.
With Dhull’s own parents running their own charities in India that help to provide education to street children, and Dhull herself spending summers volunteering, working with young children is almost second nature to her. Dhull has taken her campaign internationally where she has taught English and organised fun activities for street children in India. Her campaign is not just in England, but its presence is also international.
Yet with a law degree, social work experience, and her parents’ own experiences in working with less privileged children, how does pageantry play its part?
People may feel there are other avenues in which to raise awareness. But this platform has already helped me to create a voice by talking to people like Brown Girl Magazine. Being a Miss Great Britain finalist gives me a platform to allows to raise more awareness about vulnerable children in our country, I use my title to deliver more workshops to schools, charities and communities.
With an increase of South Asian women globally participating in pageants globally, Dhull hopes to give a new line of representation to the modern day British South Asian woman. Events focused around empowering women of colour have encouraged her to continue this path and she encourages others to follow suite — be it through pageantry or any new skill. As a trained Bollywood dancer, Dhull is equally as passionate at showcasing her dance skills as part of the talent rounds. Being proud of the different facets of being a British Asian, it’s another round that Dhull feel also empowers women to excel in what they love.
As a trained actress, Dhull is a LAMDA Medallist, she has also competed and won many drama awards at inter school drama competitions. She has recently completed her Level 3 Diploma in Acting from Pinewood Studios and has trained and worked as an actor. Dhull is also a trainee from Anupam Kher’s Acting Institute with fluency in three languages including Hindi. Dhull has ventured into the modelling industry and undertaken various shoots due the opportunities that arose. Her combined acting and modelling experiences have helped her build her self-confidence and self-esteem for the pageant.
Fitness also falls under the Dhull’s list of passions. As a gym and Pilates enthusiast, she is a strong advocate of the fact that a healthy body is a healthy mind.
But with the outpouring of protests against body shaming and fad dieting does Dhull feel that the concept of pageantry is now outdated. Dhull goes on to break the myths surrounding such beauty contests.
It is not like the glamorous industry that people think – everyone who is participating has a purpose of being there. The organisers are lovely, and everyone is there to celebrate women and look beyond just size. Women are there to make their communities and family proud (just as my family are). I look at the bigger picture and what I can do in the future. I want to speak to government organisations about my Happy Kids Campaign and yes, I believe I can change the perception of what these pageants are about. I’m a 21st century girl and am proud of doing this.
If Dhull does win the coveted title of Miss Great Britain 2020, she would then qualify to represent her country in Miss Tourism World — a chance that would accelerate her charity’s presence further. So, what are the final thoughts of this multi-talented smart young woman?
It would be an honour to win Miss Great Britain especially as a British Asian Woman. I want to show that yes, I am a beauty pageant girl but with a cause and a purpose and challenge stereotypes. Pageants girls are not just walking models and all about beauty – we are so much more than that. Pageants are about beauty from within, celebrating women for who they are, the amazing charity work they do, their incredible stories and so I hope to make myself and the community proud.
In July 2022, Sania Khan’s life was ruthlessly taken from her by her ex-husband. Sania was a young, vibrant South Asian woman – a creator and photographer who had the courage to step out of an abusive marriage, even in the face of community norms that discourage women from speaking out. While this tragedy seemed to stir a consciousness in the South Asian diaspora that we can no longer justify the status quo, it is far from the only such incident. Just months later in December of 2022, Harpreet Kaur Gill was stabbed to death by her husband in Vancouver. While the most extreme cases like those of Sania Khan and Harpreet Kaur Gill are highlighted by mainstream media, a small body of research provides evidence that intimate partner violence experiences are equally, if not more, prevalent in South Asian communities than the general population in the US or Canada. That’s why we need to do more as a community and throw light South Asians and intimate partner violence.
Despite the identification and investigation of these norms in South Asia, there’s so much we still don’t know about diaspora communities, especially in relation to South Asians and intimate partner violence. In the US, South Asians have become one of the fastest-growing populations, but we remain unaware of how the stresses of raising a family in a different culture, and the weight of growing up between two worlds, affect these norms, expectations, and experiences among South Asian immigrants, the second generation and beyond.
In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at how these norms are enacted to influence intimate relationship dynamics, discuss the recent rise in intimate partner violence, and explore the work that researchers, policymakers, and program implementers can do to address violence in South Asian diaspora communities.
Social Norms and Violence in South Asian Diaspora Communities
Why does it take catastrophic events to serve as a call to action? For one, the “model minority myth” continues to portray South Asians in America (who originate from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) as a healthy and wealthy group. As a child of Indian immigrants, I always thought this was just a frustrating trope that lived rent-free in my head next to the eternal question, “Log kya kahenge?” (What will people say?) However, I have realized that this constant worry is not just an innocent preoccupation. It’s the result of a dangerous spiral beginning with the portrayal of South Asians as a model minority and the need to maintain that well-to-do image. This only reinforces the traditional gender norms that overlook men’s perpetration of violence and encourage women’s silence, crippling any efforts to understand the scope of the problem and draw attention and resources to address it.
The Impacts of COVID-19 on Intimate Partner Violence
Prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the frequently-uttered phrase among researchers, practitioners, and advocates alike was “one in three” — one in three women ages 15-49 experiences physical and/or sexual violence inflicted by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Under the cover of the COVID-19 pandemic however, rates of violence against women rose dramatically, prompting UN Women to call for recognition of this “Shadow Pandemic.” During the height of the pandemic, the social isolation that came with lockdowns and quarantine procedures to curb the spread of disease made home a more dangerous place for an increasing number of women. As communities seek to rebuild, the inequities in access to and use of potentially lifesaving services have deepened. Now more than ever, it is critical that we shine a light on the many intersections of our society to prevent South Asian women’s experiences of intimate partner violence from being pushed even further into the shadows.
First and foremost, to better understand South Asians and intimate partner violence, we need better data disaggregated by racial/ethnic group. Since the 1980 Census, only those of Indian origin have had a fill-in bubble.All other South Asian groups have to write something in, decreasing their participation. South Asian communities in the US are not a monolith and they are certainly not all of Indian origin. This perception, fed by our lack of data, likely privileges the Indian community in America and limits the visibility of other South Asian communities.
More accurate information will help us better understand where the need is greatest. We can make a stronger case for more equitable resource allocation, improve South Asian language materials for survivors, and enhance provider training programs, accounting for the specific cultural implications of disclosing and seeking treatment for violence in South Asian communities. Public health researchers should increase efforts to understand the prevalence of experiences of violence, the environmental factors that make South Asian women in America vulnerable to experiences of intimate partner violence, and how it impacts their health.
While outstanding organizations such as Narika in California and Sakhi in New York are leading the charge in raising awareness, running active helplines, and providing support, they cannot be the sole safe space for survivors. While the system’s failure to protect Sania is not an isolated incident, it has served as a wake-up call.
All South Asian women in America should be able to be healthy and safe and lead lives free from violence, coercion, or abandonment. To achieve this, we need better data, more research, culturally-tailored resources, and appropriate legislative action that will allow for prevention, screening, and treatment efforts to finally take root.
Mental health in the South Asian community has long been stigmatized, and South Asian individuals who experience psychological issues might feel hesitant to express their concerns due to the shame they may encounter. Nevertheless, while there has been progress made in studying and openly discussing South Asian mental health, several topics remain in need of further examination; these include studying the relationship between mental health and gender, specifically the role of masculinity on mental health outcomes.
What is South Asian masculinity?
Masculinity and mental health have come under greater scrutiny by researchers, particularly as traditional masculinity is often cited as the reason why men are less willing to reach out for support regarding psychological issues. However, the influence of masculine norms on well-being has been insufficiently viewed through an intersectional lens and is understudied within South Asian mental health. From a South Asian context, traditional masculinity can include focusing on material success while displaying suppressed emotionality, which can be manifested through anger or practicing other harmful behaviors.
In order to understand its influence, it is critical to examine the impact of traditional paradigms of masculinity across the diaspora. For instance, some traits associated with traditional masculinity among South Asian men include displaying control over others. A Sri-Lanka-based study found that most male participants “associated manhood with dominance…” A Forbes India article asserted how boys in India are “taught to … apply themselves to the task of growing up to be a strong, unwavering support system for their families,” which in turn forces them to be silent about topics that may make them seem weak. This pattern of behavior becomes manifested in a particularly harmful way because boys grow up with the inability to handle their emotions or formulate healthy coping strategies during challenging circumstances.
These norms can have drastic implications and harm other community members. For instance, a focus group conducted among Nepali men found that failure to deliver for their household economically as breadwinners eventually resulted in heated disputes, which escalated and led them to engage in domestic violence. The presence of domestic violence can also be observed through media stories on the pervasiveness of gender-based harm within South Asian communities, as seen in the murder of Sania Khan.
Traditional masculinity also hides the wounds that South Asian men may be battling within themselves. One paper asserts that for a sizable number of Indian men, “…sadness and despair find a distorted manifestation in destructive behaviors that deny their emotional pain to themselves and to others.” Thus, performing conventionally masculine behaviors can mask deeper mental health issues.
Repercussions of South Asian masculinity on mental health
Because of the pressure to adhere to such strict standards of conduct, traditional masculinity has significant, greater repercussions for mental health and well-being. For instance, because of the narrow ability of men to compartmentalize their feelings, this restrictive emotionality can result in an inability for others to recognize their mental health issues, thus failing to target the deeper causes of men’s behavior. Furthermore, men themselves might engage in fewer help-seeking behaviors. This is also further complicated due to gaps in culturally competent services that can serve South Asian men when they do utilize support systems.
Additional social forces experienced by South Asian men might explain mental health outcomes, particularly when considering the role of immigration. Among South Asian American men in the United States, one study noted that “a lower social position” within their community was linked to higher distress, indicating how critical it was for first-generation men to be leaders and actively participate in their ethnic community’s organizations. Thus, social expectations of men within South Asian communities influenced their well-being, as did their social status and relative power.
What we can do to change the status quo on South Asian masculinity and mental health
In order to ensure that men in South Asian cultures can embrace their mental health, it is important to formulate a prudent, welcoming paradigm that encourages greater help-seeking behaviors. Greater attention to this topic can also contribute to theories on feminist and sociocultural therapeutic frameworks, which both offer the following includes suggested remedies:
Challenging gender stereotypes and encouraging mental health care as a means to discuss issues about well-being
It is imperative to encourage South Asian men to show more emotion, thus changing the existing narrative and social pressure they face to limit the expression of their feelings. Fortunately, there is a platform, known as @BrownManTherapy, that posts content about the struggles South Asian men experience. Furthermore, therapy ought to be recommended as a means to deal with mental health concerns, which should be combined with support from the community.
More South Asian male clinicians
In addition to instituting changes in community norms, there needs to be more diverse representation in the mental health field. In doing so, there will be greater platforms to have conversations about the negative repercussions of traditional masculinity that are unique to South Asian men. Furthermore, it is critical to challenge the social stigma that mental health is a female-dominated profession or that seeking therapy is emasculating.
More research studies examining cross-cultural differences in masculinity across South Asian cultures
The connection between masculinity and mental health ought to be investigated much further. Studies should particularly assess masculinity within non-white contexts in order to examine the standards of manhood across several communities and truly understand the unique stressors men face across different cultural backgrounds.
While the connection between South Asian masculinity and mental health is not discussed among psychology professionals, it is critical to study the association since it plays a role in South Asian gender inequities and in mental health behaviors among South Asian men. More broadly, given the prevalence of intimate partner violence within the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and the role of patriarchal norms in inflicting this harm, it is now more important than ever to reimagine expectations surrounding men’s behavior.
By further examining the problems caused by adherence to traditionally masculine norms and implementing certain solutions, these ideas can be challenged and dismantled to create a progressive and more inclusive model of manhood. Above all, identifying and eradicating toxic ideas rooted in traditional South Asian masculinity will lead to liberation for all people.
Ten to 28% of the world’s population of women experience painful sex. Keep in mind, that this is just what is reported. As embarrassing and as vulnerable as you may feel, you are absolutely not alone. The good news is that in addition to your traditional medical care to treat painful sex (also known as dyspareunia) such as medication, injections and surgery — a conservative approach is effective and long-lasting. Conservative care ranges from pelvic floor physical therapy, chiropractic care and acupuncture which are beneficial in treating the root cause of painful sex, as well as symptoms, for long-term healing.
Some of the signs to look out for if you experience pain are:
Treatment options for painful sex such as pelvic floor physical therapy, chiropractic care and acupuncture provide a long-lasting and profound effect on the pelvic floor and address your entire physical well-being.
The pelvic floor is a layer of muscles that range from the pubic bone to the tailbone. The purpose of these muscles is to assist in bowel and bladder control, support a baby during pregnancy and contribute to sexual sensations. Just like any other muscle in your body, these pelvic floor muscles can become tight or weak which can be a contributing factor to pain.
Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy
Pelvic floor therapy can assist by strengthening and relaxing the muscles which is necessary to relieve pain during sex.
Chiropractors can be extremely beneficial with assisting in helping relieve pain. Associated pain and discomfort can originate from the lower back and buttock muscles. Chiropractors are trained in taking a history and performing a neurological, orthopedic and soft tissue examination to identify treatment options. Deep tissue massage, skin rolling, Active Release Technique, muscle energy technique, ice, heat and electrical stimulation are just to name a few.
Acupuncture can activate the human dopamine system which helps regulate hormone levels and can assist in psychological factors. Acupuncture can improve mood, decrease pain and can be vastly beneficial in managing pain and mental health symptoms.
Ask for help
“Everyone is having pelvic pain and no one is talking about it”
Start with seeing your gynecologist who you trust for a history and examination of current symptoms to rule out any other medical conditions that could be a contributing factor to symptoms.
How to talk to your partner about this in a safe/healthy way
Being open with your partner about your symptoms and painful sex may seem like a difficult conversation. Intercourse should never be painful and learning when to stay ‘stop’ is important in communication. Talking about pain before, during and after sex is important also in your own health diagnosis to see if pain symptoms are improving or becoming worse. Having open communication does not only benefit your relationship but most importantly, your own health.
To experience these symptoms may seem taboo or unheard of but quite frankly, they are common in many women. Women deserve to be directed to proper healthcare.
Disclaimer: These are based on recommendations from a board-certified chiropractic physician and licensed acupuncturist. If symptoms become new or worse, consult with a primary care physician and or OBGYN to co-manage symptoms.