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Recap: International Women's Day 2019 - 21/03/2019

For this year's International Women's Day (08/03/2019) we have teamed up with United Communities and SARI (Stand Against Racism and Inequality) and organized an event that wasn't just inspiring but also educational.

Videos of the speeches are available on our Facebook page: (https://www.facebook.com/SolonSWHA)

At this event, we heard from four very inspiring women: Jean Smith (Director of Nilaari) shared with us the story of how her organization became successful after going through difficult times. The ‘Come Back’, as she named it, was strong and successful. Nilaari didn’t just survive “but went on to thrive”. For anyone going through tough times, Jean has some great advice: stop rehearsing that difficult time, stop nursing it and don’t curse it.

The second speaker, Ruth Pitter, shared the stories of 4 women who influenced her the most. First, her mum, who was very brave and raised 7 children almost all by herself. Second, her childhood friend Rachel, who grew up in poverty and used education to come out of it. Rachel rescued Ruth from a very dangerous gang life and potentially ending up in prison by being a great role model and reading books.

Ruth met Valerie, the third woman who has greatly influenced her, after she graduated from Youth Work and went to work in London. Valerie, as it turns out, had never worked with a black woman before and didn’t think she could do it but they ended up being best friends. And as much as Valerie influenced Ruth, Ruth influenced her by showing her that she can work with someone from a different race. And lastly, Ruth mentioned her sisters from Breathing Fire, the first all-black women’s playback theatre company in the UK.

Shaheen Chaudhry shared her story of when she came to Bristol from Pakistan in 1968 as the first Asian girl in her school. She talked about her experience during her pregnancies at the difficulty of the language barrier. In order to make the pregnancy process easier and more understandable for women who have just come to the UK from the sub-Indian continent, Shaheen set up the Maternity and Health Links organization because there was a need for it. At first, she was met with opposition from the public health sector and it wasn’t until a baby died as a result of miscommunication that she received the support she needed. Although other similar organizations were established at the same time, what makes Maternity and Health Links unique is that they also offer English tutoring classes for the mothers by qualified women. When Shaheen left the organization, they had 39 tutors and 16 link workers. The service is now open to men and women from birth to death and is not limited to pregnancy anymore. Shaheen is still working as Consultant Advisor at the organization.

In her own words: “I think women thrive on challenge and that’s what gets us up on a cold Monday morning and say: ‘Yes, xyz needs to be doing.’ And we do it. And we enjoy it. It’s not for our own gratification, it’s about helping others. I think there’s something in us that makes us want to do it.“

Shaheen was the first Muslim High Sheriff (2013-2014) in the country. She encourages women from the diverse community to get engaged in the British Justice system. Most of the positions are on a voluntary basis but very beneficial.


Our last speaker, Hanna Ahmed, talked about her experience as a Somali woman in the UK. Married at the age of 18, and now having four kids, she explained the difficulties of birth after having undergone FGM (Female Genitalia Mutilation) and wanting to join the community rather than being a typical housewife. She wanted to get involved with FGM and help women in a similar situation.  Rather than staying in the house, Hanna went out to the community and started to get training at various organizations and thus becoming involved. Besides her constant volunteer work, she has also worked with FGM related issues in Bristol, and joined Refugee Women of Bristol as a support worker. She is also the Secretary for the Bristol Somali Forum. She helps women to come out of oppressive relationships or marriages and encourages everyone to go out to their local communities and see what opportunities they have to get involved.

Here's a lovely picture of the speakers with Alex Raikes from SARI. (Left to right: Alex Raikes, Jean Smith, Hanna Ahmed, Ruth Pitter, Shaheen Chaudhry)


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