The unstoppable Baroness Sandip Verma is a woman of many roles. She is a businesswoman, Chair of UN Women UK, a wife, a mother, and a devoted protector of women’s rights determined to end violence against young girls. Led by a strong ethos for hard work, Baroness Verma has found the purpose in life around self-actualization and global activism for gender equality.
From May 2015 to July
Recently, she discovered the wonderful practice of meditation and every morning she allocates the time to sit in silence and get in touch with herself. For the Wives of Westminster, she talks about life’s big questions, her formative years, women empowerment, work-life balance and how to take a high road in life.
Who was the most important female figure in your life and why?
Baroness Verma: I think there have been several female figures in my life, but I must start with the most obvious to me and that was my mother. She along with my father came to the United Kingdom in 1960 with a
The reason why she is so important is that she didn’t allow the very conservative and traditional views my father had for women to hold her back. She embraced the wonderful freedoms of a liberal country and balanced that with retaining parts of the culture she had left behind in India. She
She instilled in all her children the seed of self-worth and a strong ethos for hard work and aiming high. I expect part of this was the result of own childhood, losing her own mother at a very early age, having the opportunities to enjoy a normal childhood taken away, my mother showered whatever she thought was right on her children and continues to do so now on her extended family of grandchildren and
My father’s resistance to his daughters having ambitions and personal choices seemed to be at odds with my mother’s dreams of seeing her children go to university and entering professions. Sadly the will of my father saw that there was no university education for me or my siblings but the belief and ambition my mother had instilled meant we had not lost the determination to dream and believe.
You are a career woman and a wife. Which role was more difficult and why? Were you ever placed under the choice ( in my view is a false choice) to choose one or the other? Can women have it all?
My husband recognized early on in our marriage that I had a set of skills that he did not and likewise my skills complimented his, we were both determined that where our children’s lives were concerned we would both try and be as least disruptive to their lives as possible.
My own upbringing meant that I was probably far more liberal in my approach to parenting and ensured that of my own limited knowledge of socially and economically mobile people that I provided my children with access to opportunities and people that I could only have dreamt off, having success in my business had enabled me to do that.
I turned to politics several years ago when I realized
You are celebrated for your activism against the violence against women and girls. What prompted you to dedicate your time to the cause and what, in your view, are the most pressing problems women and young girls face in our society today? How can we make a change, as women, for other women?
Baroness Verma: I think being born in a culture that had such strong distinctions between what the expectations were between the genders and in the same instance being told that you had to stand up for yourself when facing discrimination because of the
What do you believe is the best way to empower young girls and women to achieve and overcome gender and race limitations and prejudice?
Baroness Verma: When you grow up being discriminated against in your own families anything that happens externally becomes
Whilst I think a lot has changed, sadly abuse is now found in many more forms, partly the pressures of body perfection, of media in all its forms and of the almost
I am Chair of UN Women UK, in this role I am determined to look at how we collectively make safer places for women and girls, calling on the corporate world to help support me.
I served as the Prime Minister’s global champion to tackle violence against women and girls across the world as a minister in DFID. It is so important that women have access to education and financial tools, we must do all we can to remove the barriers that stifle ambition and given we live in an
What, would you say, is the biggest injustice women still face today?
Baroness Verma: I think most women still face difficulties in accessing finance, it is incredibly difficult for women to access the right support and education in financial advice. Being a woman today and balancing all the pressures that modern life imposes on them has become evermore tougher with expectations of working, managing families and ensuring that you stay connected with friends and family.
I sadly believe that unless we have women in the decision
How do you balance family life and politics knowing how all-consuming your profession is?
Baroness Verma: I have always managed to balance my priorities and not try and be a superwoman. If it doesn’t get done it isn’t the end of the world. I have always decided on what really matters to me and not get vexed if something is left for another day or for someone else to do
How can women prioritize their happiness? Was that difficult for you and the women of your generation? To set aside ‘me time’ and put your needs and well being first?
I think it is important to have some time set aside for yourself, I think what is most important isn’t the amount of time but the quality of the time you spend on yourself.
We all experience failures in life but do not talk about them as often as we should. Failure, however, is a valuable teacher. What lessons did you learn from your failures and from your success that you could pass on to other women?
Baroness Verma: Learn to enjoy your failure as much as you relish your success, both give you enormous learning and identifies your strengths and the understanding of where you may need to seek out others whose strengths support yours.
I strongly believe that self belief, confidence and ambition are key components that as women we sometimes fail to see in ourselves, fearing failure stops many of us from trying. Find people that will support you through the highs and lows, great mentors, great stories of others that have managed to succeed are out there.
Did Margaret Thatcher break that glass ceiling for all other women who want to run for a public office or do you still feel that, as a woman, to this day, you have to prove yourself and curve out your lane?
Baroness Verma: I think Margaret Thatcher showed as a determined women she could do it.
Politics is tough, and at times can be ugly, especially in a way people interact with each other? What’s your advice for taking a high-road?
Baroness Verma: Get in and make a difference, don’t join the club to retain