By Jash Patel
Photo of Jashmin Patel, BME Women’s Hub Project Manager with the BME women community leaders in Manchester.
Since I joined MRN as the BME Women’s Hub Project Manager back in April, I have been developing, coordinating and delivering a BME Women’s Community Leadership Programme. From the beginning, I wanted to create a programme for BME migrant women that moved away from the usual narrative of “integration” and how they can become “better citizens” in the UK. I wanted to make sure that women had the space and platform to influence change in their local communities and that they were equipped to challenge those who currently hold power.
In 2018, MRN joined the Real Change Collective (RCC), along with Arhag Housing Association, Praxis Community Projects, Olmec, Doctors of the World, Iranian Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation. They all provide essential services and support to Black and ‘minority ethnic’ (BME) migrant communities and are specialists in their respective fields.
RCC recognised that referral pathways between support services for BME migrant women were not smooth and didn’t tend to meet their holistic needs. We found that BME migrant women wanted support beyond typical casework – help to build and develop their skills to become leaders and advocates in their communities.
I wanted to use MRN’s experience in supporting and strengthening the voices of migrant communities locally and campaigning at a national level to develop and deliver a bespoke community leadership programme, outside of London, specifically designed for and led by BME women. I wanted to work with BME women only facilitators where possible, and social enterprises (for example, offering food and self-care practices) set up and run by BME migrant women.
Last year, MRN delivered a pilot in London, which we learnt a lot from. The programme in Manchester and Sheffield builds on this learning and works in partnership with Arches and Arawak Housing Associations.
We created new partnerships with local specialist organisations, including Saheli, the Maya Project, Safety4Sisters, WAST, Rochdale Women’s Welfare Project, Assist, Ubuntu, New Beginnings Project, City of Sanctuary, Global Mama and Suneeta Cosmetic London. They have all played a vital role in the delivery of the programme. They have helped with the development of the sessions, outreach and recruitment of the women, the catering and donations.
Photo of the self-care package we created for the leaders, collaborated with Suneeta Cosmetics London and Healing Justice.
Three weeks in and so far we have had Saara Jaffery-Roberts Healing Justice and Councillor Amna Abdullatif co-facilitate sessions on self and community care and how to influence local government/ politics. Councillor Amna Abdullatif said “Thank you for a really inspiring morning thinking about power, who has it, where it lays and who doesn’t have it and why. Insightful comments from women involved in this BAME leadership programme, with lots for me to think about!”
The feedback from the sessions has been very positive. One leader said that she was “feeling confident, being able to work for change” and “It’s really great to have a safe environment with other like minded women within which to discuss issues that are important – it feels very empowering.”
Photo of Councillor Amna Abdullatif with the Manchester leaders.
In the upcoming sessions, we will be exploring topics including the impact of the ‘hostile environment’ on BME migrant communities, knowing your rights, and developing effective community projects. We have amazing co-facilitators lined-up, including; Councillor Abtisam Mohamed, community development specialist Rehaila Sharif, Heads of Housing Tara Horner and Jade Simmonds.
The past few weeks have been really emotional for me! I was reminded, amongst the hostility in the world right now, of the power and pure strength of BME women coming together and sharing space and stories. It’s sacred.