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31 March 2020

Leadership in hostile times: Lessons from the BME Women’s Programme

The first BME Women’s Community Leadership Programme in Manchester and Sheffield was delivered six months ago to a new and diverse group of women keen to learn and share their experiences with other women in a safe environment. 

Since then, we delivered the programme in London in partnership with London Black Women’s Project, and delivered sessions on self/ community care and how to influence local government through the support of Lateisha D Lovelace-Hanson and Newham Cllr Carleene Lee-Phakoe.

It was also important to revisit the women’s groups in Sheffield and Manchester to discuss sustainability/ vision-building and the immigration policies post general election, and understand how this programme had benefited them.

More BME women’s programmes, please

It was clear from the feedback we received that all the women were keen for more programmes like this to exist because they don’t just empower the women that participate but also enable these women to empower others.

One woman shared: “..Has helped me empower other women and raise issues concerning women’s rights…  and another described the programme and how it had benefited her:  “That was very powerful and helped me to know so many things and to learn how to stand in the community.” 

From the feedback, the women generally expressed how the programme had  increased their confidence and knowledge to advocate for the other women in their communities and further afield.

“It’s about our lived experience, it mirrors our experience. We are all from different countries, speak different languages. We’re all classed as BME, we’re classed as the minority and actually our lived experiences are the same because we are all marginalised by white majority and I think I didn’t understand that as much as I do now. The activism and the voice that we have is greater than I thought. I’m glad I came here and heard the stories of people’s lived experience and the group sharing, because I feel stronger and more determined to do advocacy work.”

Safe spaces

The importance of safe spaces was highlighted time and time again. BME women need spaces that reflect their backgrounds, values and views, so they can share their stories in confidence, and without judgement to build their communities.

“It’s so safe here, having Z and A tell their stories were amazing, absolutely amazing! And just seeing where they started and where they are now…It’s motivational, it’s inspirational.”

“Support and networking and also because it’s a safe space I feel comfortable to share real life issues and ask for advice”

Learnings from participating in this programme

As the project has come to an end, I’ve reflected on my learnings and it is clear that the value of good partnership is key, in particular small local specialist grassroot organisations, without whom this project would not have been possible. These organisations have the expertise and knowledge but may not necessarily have the access to funding or capacity to carry out projects on their own. 

Another aspect that I have taken to heart is that when we are working with some of the most vulnerable groups in society, the importance of working to a ‘by and for’ model and centering the needs and voices of those groups in our work is paramount. We need to ensure at all times that we are considering our power and privilege as organisations delivering these programmes, and that we are always respecting the rights of those we are empowering. 

Each woman I have met has been a truly powerful individual and it has been a privilege to have shared this journey with them.

In solidarity 

Jashmin- BME Women’s Hub Programme Manager