Pragna Patel discusses Southall Black Sisters



Pragna Patel recalls her experience of feeling isolated at a university where the majority of other students were white.

Southall Black Sisters

Many black and Asian feminists felt unrepresented within the predominantly white Women’s Liberation Movement; organisations such as Southall Black Sisters (SBS) have been fundamental in redressing the imbalance. SBS was established in 1979 to support all black and Asian women living in the UK. Their aims are to ‘highlight and challenge all forms of gender-related violence against women’. They do this through campaigning, providing legal advice and information, running consciousness-raising groups, and offering counselling and self-help support. SBS offers its services in a number of different languages, especially South Asian languages. Although SBS aims the majority of its services at black and Asian women, it clearly states that it will never turn away any woman who needs emergency help.

Pragna Patel as a celebrated activist

Pragna Patel is currently the director of Southall Black Sisters. As you can hear in this extract, she got deeply involved in the running of the organisation and turned it around in the early 1980s. Pragna Patel was one of the Guardian’s top 100 women in 2001 for her active campaigning on behalf of black and Asian feminism.

Why does Britain need an organisation like Southall Black Sisters?

Image details

Southall Black Sisters banner at meeting photograph © Stella Dadzie



When I was at college, what I felt most was a complete sense of isolation, because apart from my friend Gurpreet, she and I were the only black people in the whole of the college. So there was nobody with whom you could develop a sense of identity, if you like. And I was beginning to feel then I was missing out on something, because I had got myself involved with other black women when I was in Southall, Southall Black Sisters had just started, and I had seen some young Asian women handing out these journals that they had written, and it was just their various campaigns and, and it was all about racism and it was all about women’s issues and things. They worked with, alongside a lot of Asian men who were very into the anti-racist work, and they were the first left, progressive, Asian people that I’d come across, and I was wowed by it all. Because I didn’t know there was another way of being, and there they were. And so that was an exciting, exciting thing for me to discover, feeling that perhaps this was where I would feel at home, wanting to develop something myself and my work with them. So it was very radical. And so with these group of people developing a kind of socialist, black, anti-racist perspective. And then Southall Black Sisters was a group of Afro-Caribbean and Asian women, but by the time I left and came to Southall, which was, when? ’81, ’82, the group was in decline. Because a lot of them were young women who either were going on to college or finishing college themselves, or were going on to careers of some kind or another, academic careers, or doing other things. And so when I returned, the group was fizzling out, basically. But I had kind of felt that this is where I really felt I belonged, I kind of felt that this is, I felt most comfortable with that kind of identity. So basically I just said, right, never mind, I’ll just start it again. So I got new women involved, got involved, and just started the whole thing again. And I’ve been involved ever since.

Pragna Patel discusses Southall Black Sisters
18 - 19 May 2011
Sound recording
Sisterhood and After: The Women's Liberation Oral History Project
© British Library
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