A Muslim woman breaks glass ceilings to be UK’s first Asian life peer

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A Muslim woman dedicated to the society 

Pola Uddin, the only Muslim woman to be appointed to the House of Lords, in the United Kingdom, is a shining example of how political heights can be achieved through dedicated community service. She became a life peer, as Baroness Uddin, on July 18, 1998. And at that point in time, she was also the youngest and the only Asian on the benches of the House of Lords. This, of course, is a huge achievement for a person who was not even born in Britain. Uddin is of Bangladeshi origin. She came to the UK at the age of 13. Ever since, she has been involved in community services in Britain, with a particular focus on the youth.

Early years of Baroness Uddin

Pola Uddin was born to Matin Khan in 1959 in the Rajshahi Division of what was then East Pakistan. She spent her childhood in her homeland, which became the sovereign nation of Bangladesh in 1971. Two years later young Uddin shifted to Britain with her family. She spent much of her youth in east London and received a degree in social work from the University of North London. Right from her college days, the remarkable Muslim woman involved herself deeply in social work. In 1980 she formally joined the Young Women’s Christian Association as a Youth and Community Worker. Over the next eight years, she worked with the Tower Hamlets Social Services and even became the manager of the Tower Hamlets Women’s Health Project.

She achieved her first major political success when she was elected to be councilor on behalf of the Labour Party in the London borough of Tower Hamlets. Indeed, she was the first Bengali to hold such an office. Uddin also held the office of Deputy Leader of the Tower Hamlets council from 1994 to 1996. Clearly, leaders in the highest corridors of power in Britain were beginning to notice the highly dedicated and energetic Muslim woman. And this, in two years, resulted in Prime Minister Tony Blair raising her to the peerage for life by Letters Patent.

The social contribution of Baroness Pola Uddin 

Baroness Uddin didn’t waver from her dedication to social causes, and to this day she champions several initiatives and organizations. One of her major areas of support is the promotion of women’s participation in civil society. She works relentlessly to mitigate violence against women and human rights, not only in the UK but in other countries as well. As a Muslim woman herself, she has a special interest in promoting civil rights in the Islamic world. And she routinely liaises with the governments of many Islamic states. Baroness Uddin also passionately promotes peaceful conflict resolution, particularly in West Asian countries. She has traveled widely on bridge-building missions, with this goal in mind.

Baroness Uddin is a patron of numerous social organizations. These include Bethnal Green and Victoria Park Housing Association, Orbis International, and Student Partnership Worldwide. Exeter University awarded her an honorary doctorate in 2004. As a Muslim woman, Baroness Uddin has been able to break many glass ceilings, which in turn ushers hope for other women of her community.


(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)

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