Interview with Hoda Ali

“Whatever you do, please don’t turn away and pretend we don’t exist. And don’t, for one second, think it couldn’t have been you.”

We interviewed human rights activist Hoda Ali about what it means to be a refugee working in the UK.

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

My name is Hoda Ali and I am a nurse and human rights activist. My focus is defending the rights of girls through campaigning to end female genital mutilation (FGM) in the United Kingdom. FGM is one of the most extreme forms of violence against girls and women. It involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia and has devastating lifelong consequences for survivors. FGM is usually carried out on girls before they reach puberty. It is child abuse.

I currently lead a 3-year project working as a Community Outreach Project Manager for Safeguarding in Perivale Primary School, one of the first schools to set up an outreach programme on FGM. Education is critical in preventing FGM and through our outreach programme we educate in the school and run workshops for parents and the wider community. The feedback is overwhelmingly positive, and we are working together to ensure the safety of all the girls in our schools.

My passion for human rights comes from my own experience as a survivor of FGM and being a child refugee. In 1988 my family had to flee from its home when the first civil war broke out in Somaliland and 1991 after the second civil war started in Mogadishu, we had to leave Somalia. Eventually, I came to the UK and I have now lived here for 21 years.

After qualifying as a nurse, I worked in the sexual health clinic at Ealing hospital and after taking part in the Channel 4 documentary The Cruel Cut in 2012 I started campaigning against FGM. In 2013 I co-founded the Vavengers, an FGM awareness-raising group and we ran the first anti-FGM billboard campaign in the UK.

In March 2018 I was nominated as an Amnesty International Human Rights Defender and I was honoured to be included on the Suffragette Spirit Map.

This month we are focusing on women in conflict; from displaced peoples to the women working in conflict zones as journalists and medics. How can we be more aware of their experiences?

It can be easy to rush through life, focusing on our personal priorities and not taking time to think about life from another person’s perspective. In a country like the UK it can be hard to imagine suddenly losing everything, but it is the reality for millions of people whose lives are torn apart by war, famine or other disasters. Women and children are especially vulnerable in all conflicts and suffer terribly. Try and think about if that was you, imagine leaving everything you know behind, your country, your home, your friends, your school and everything familiar. These things are gone forever, and you no longer feel safe. What would you do? Who would you turn to for help?

We should all try to be more aware of what is happening in the world and pay attention to the stories of those living in or escaping from war zones. Follow the work of journalists who go to the refugee camps and allow the voices of the injured and homeless to be heard. When you hear the heart-breaking personal stories and not just the political posturing of warring leaders you start to understand what war really means.

If you are lucky to live in safety and prosperity, treasure it and use your advantaged position to support those who need your empathy and help.

Can you tell us a little bit about the challenges that refugees face whilst living in the UK?

Leaving everything behind in one life and beginning another in a new country with different laws, different education and health systems, different languages and different cultural expectations is frightening and requires a period of adjustment.

For people who seek refugee status the process is one of the most difficult things they go through due to the circumstances under which they leave their home country. It is administratively complicated and can feel dehumanising and many refugees are deeply traumatised, so this difficult process is even more challenging.

One of the worst things is feeling isolated. Refugees may be separated from family and friends and everything around them is unfamiliar. Communication may be difficult or even impossible due to language barriers and this makes integrating into a new community very hard. Food, clothes and all the daily things we take for granted seem strange and can get overwhelming when you are suddenly in a new country.

There is also a lot of ignorance and racism towards refugees. It is exhausting and soul destroying to have to constantly justify yourself. Settled refugees contribute greatly to their new homes but this is rarely acknowledged.

Being a refugee is especially hard for children. You lose everything including your sense of safety and may be separated from your parents which has a huge psychological impact. Many refugee children also have interrupted education and need support to catch up. However, given security and support most go on to shine!

If you could share one thing with our supporters, what would it be?

Some days, just hearing the news makes it hard to breathe. Like everyone else, I want to shut my ears whenever the word refugee is mentioned. Switch stations on the radio; turn off the TV and pretend it isn’t happening. But unlike most people, I can’t. You see, I know what war is. The words ‘bombs’ and ‘massacre’ are not something I’ve only ever heard in the news. I am a refugee and I always will be.

While EU Governments debate whether to give shelter and to how many, my hope lies in people. Everyone can help. There are things we can change in the long-term, and we have the resources to respond immediately to help those in crisis now. Write to your MEP/MP and tell them the UK has a responsibility to offer sanctuary. If we stay silent it is assumed that we don’t want to help refugees so do not let them think that you don’t care. Write to the papers and the BBC whenever you hear the word ‘migrant’ being used to describe those fleeing war. Tell them the word is ‘refugee.’ Tell them words matter when people’s lives are at stake.

Whatever you do, please don’t turn away and pretend we don’t exist. And don’t, for one second, think it couldn’t have been you.

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #GlobalFeminism


Interview with Maya Ghazal

“It is important that we always keep in mind that we are advantaged somehow and so it is good to share that advantage with others”

As part of our Women and Girls in Conflict month at The Circle, we caught up with Maya Ghazal, the inspiration refugee rights activist to speak about her the challenges that refugees face in the UK and her take on Women Empowering Women. Maya is the recipient of The Diana Legacy Award and is a student of Aviation Engineering with Pilot Studies at Brunel University.

Maya, tell us a little bit about yourself:

My name is Maya Ghazal, I am 20 years old and I am a refugee from Syria. I left Syria when I was 15 and got to the UK in 2015. I got to the UK in a plane via family reunion visa with my mum and two younger brothers as my dad was already in the UK. I faced many struggles coming to the UK and got rejected by schools in my community, however, after few dark months I was able to get over those struggles and challenges and finally got accepted to a college and was able to get back on track with my education.

Now, I am an advocate for refugees rights, speak in different events and volunteer to raise awareness and spread a message of kindness.

Can you tell us a little bit about the challenges that refugees face whilst living in the UK?

Well, from my own personal experience, I can say that integrating to the new community would be a challenge, learning English, entering the educational system and sometimes finding a job. These normal life activities can sometimes be challenging especially from people from outside the country with no one to help them or to tell them what to do or to guide them along the way.

If you could share one thing with our supporters, what would it be?

Your smallest act of kindness can change someone’s life, don’t keep it in! Something as small as a smile or a nice supportive word to refugees could make a huge difference. I wouldn’t have been who I am and got to where I am without support, help and encouragements from people around me.

Finally, what does ‘Women Empowering Women’ mean to you?

We can support each other, lift each other and bring each other together. It is important that we always keep in mind that we are advantaged somehow and so it is good to share that advantage with others, it feels good to help and support each other, it truly makes a difference. There are many myths and labels to women and we can change that, together and as one, we can make a change and it is important that we prove to the outside word that we can do it all regardless to whatever labels and society would be giving.

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #GlobalFeminism


Choose Love this Christmas

Photo credit: Ivers Parish Council

With only a week to go before Christmas you might be wondering where to buy last minute gifts. Well, now might be the perfect opportunity to think outside of the box…

Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of what they are buying. Who made it? How was it was made, and where? These questions are becoming more common amongst those who are seeking to understand the chaos of climate change and forced labour; crises exacerbated by the fast fashion industry and social media which are creating a demand for transparency in companies. So, whilst we can become overwhelmed by the magnitude of these issues, there are small steps, even as individuals we can take to tackle them this Christmas.

Christmas is an expensive time of year. We spend our money on gifts for friends and family, but we don’t always need these gifts. Lucy Siegle for the Guardian (2018) referred to a recent survey by Method, an eco-cleaning company; ‘nearly a quarter of 16- to 24-year-olds said they would only be pictured in an item one to three times on social media before discarding it.’ Millions of garments are burned or end up in landfill which is having a dangerous effect on our environment. According to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, ‘one garbage truck of textiles [is] wasted every second’. Rather than buying gifts because it is Christmas, instead we could consider how we can spend more creatively.

Rather than engaging in the consumer culture we can re-direct it towards good causes; turning away from a fast fashion buy towards a pure gift of compassion for someone who truly needs it. What if that blanket you bought your niece went to a refugee instead? Choose Love is the first store to sell practical items for refugees. When you buy any one of the items in the store such as meal ingredients or a warm blanket, a similar item goes directly to someone in need of it rather than you taking it home. When it opened in 2017 “the shop became a beacon of compassion in the heart of central London”.

Choose Love

Choose Love is a part of the charity Help Refugees who ‘fill gaps and act where big NGOs and governments don’t.’ In December 2016 the Guardian reported that a young Afghan refugee was about to go into labour on ‘a remote and windswept hillside’ in Greece. Whilst the UN refugee agency and the government were not able to move her, Crystallynn Steed Brown, a volunteer for Help Refugees, offered that if they couldn’t move the family somewhere else, she would provide shelter in her flat in Thessaloniki.

Whilst Help Refugees provides emergency aid to refugees in countries such as France, Greece and Syria, it also seeks to provide long-term solutions. They ‘create safe spaces for women, provide sexual health clinics and medical units, and support nurseries, schools and youth centres.’ They aim to get people out of refugee camps and into employment and housing. They are helping to re-build the lives of refugees. “Help Refugees are now the biggest distributers of aid of any grassroots organisation in Europe”.

During this Christmas period refugees will be battling life-threatening conditions. How amazing to tell a family member or friend that their gift is helping to make a refugee’s winter a little bit easier. From Choose Love you can purchase an insulated babygrow to help parents keep their newborn babies warm, a ‘support for women’ pack, or even buy medical equipment.

On Monday 10th December a historic international deal was made. It is the first concerning the migration crisis. Karen McVeig, senior news reporter for the Guardian, reported that Marta Foresti, director of the human mobility initiative at the Overseas Development Institute, stated how the deal could help governments cooperate to ensure cross-border journeys are safe and legal. Although many countries are still to come on board, the deal suggests an urgency to act on this crisis. This Christmas we can do something too. We can buy blankets, food, coats, nappies and so much more. We can show refugees we love them and want to support them. We can show them that they are not alone.

If you live in London, you can pop by the store and see the array of items in person. Or if you are not local you can shop online.

SeeMe

In addition to Choose Love you might also like to buy a tangible gift for a friend or family member whilst still supporting global issues. SeeMe is a fair trade verified jewellery brand which might be of interest to you…

Every piece is beautifully crafted, handmade by women in Tunisia who have survived unimaginable violence. Through wearing one of these pieces you are providing the opportunity to open conversations about violence against women, as well as ethical and sustainable practices in the fashion industry. SeeMe enables women to learn the craft of jewellery making. But not only this, they use ancient Tunisian techniques, cultivating their country’s traditions. Furthermore, the women also get emotional support and SeeMe funds their children’s education. Please see an interview by Trusted Clothes with the founder of SeeMe, Caterina Occhio to find out more about the incredible affect this brand is having on women’s lives in Tunisia.

The jewellery is heart shaped which represents the #heartmovement. The heart is at the core of the collection, signifying a desperate need to restore love where a dark and heart-breaking experience has replaced it.

Many designers and artists are joining this movement. SeeMe has collaborated with Karl Lagerfeld for example. Lagerfeld designed a six-piece collection consisting of hand knitted collars and gloves. In 2016 Nicole Kidman wore SeeMe’s Orange Heart, created to signify the 20th anniversary of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women.[1]

This year The Circle also collaborated with SeeMe, creating a stunning necklace, cuff and ring. The SeeMe heart is inserted into a circle, representing unity and women’s empowerment.

Fashion is often thought of as a form of expression, an art form. We can use it to express our concern about global issues. Just opening up one conversation about a necklace can spark more and more conversations which can lead to physical change.

Gift a Membership

The Circle membership is also a fantastic to gift anyone who believes in equal rights for women, our values – empowerment, passion, innovation, and respect and equality –  and wants to be actively involved in the global women’s movement. Women are members from all walks of life – lawyers, teachers, students, hairdressers, journalists and many other paths. Through using their own skills and experience they help The Circle to raise awareness about important issues and raise funds to continue amplifying the voices of disempowered women worldwide.

As a member your friend or family member will join the community and be invited to inspiring events during the year. Events involve educational webinars, networking events as well as the Annual Gathering. A six month membership is £30 and a full year is £60.

This Christmas is an opportunity to consider how we can direct our spending towards tackling global crises and do something practical to help.

Let’s do something a little differently this Christmas and Choose Love for refugees, survivors of violence as well as the millions of other women who are in dire need of our love and support. Join the global fight for equality and give a glimmer of hope to someone who needs it.

[1] Find out more about the trust fund here!

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #OneReasonWhyImAGlobalFeminist

This article was written by Georgia Bridgett who is a volunteer for The Circle. Georgia is a recent English graduate and is passionate about women’s rights and the underlying issues in the fast-fashion industry.