What you might not know about receiving the Queen’s Honour is that you are asked to confirm if it is “agreeable to you” and you must tick “yes” or “no”. The moment made me pause and reflect on how far our grassroots organisation has come in nearly 20 years and why we started on this journey.
For me, saying “yes” to receive an MBE was a no-brainer. Why? Because it proves the work that we do at the Women’s Inclusive Team is important and visible.
In 2003 I’d just given birth to my third child. When you become a parent, you look back on your own childhood to remember what served you well. Because my mum, a Somali immigrant, didn’t know or trust the local groups, it meant I missed out on all the school trips and going to the local youth clubs. I can remember the upset I felt every time I was left out of these activities.
My mum wasn’t unique. Like any one else in any other minority community, you tend to only trust those who look like you, and if you don’t see yourself represented, you remain excluded.
But having experienced exclusion growing up in Tower Hamlets, I felt a sense of duty to make sure my own daughter didn’t experience the same thing. And because I understood the lack of trust lots of our Somali mum’s have, it felt like my responsibility to make sure other local Somali girls weren’t left out either. When we started the charity, one of our first projects was a girl’s youth club, run by young Somali women who could be role models to girls and who were familiar enough to parents that they would send their children to us.
2020 was a year like none that we had ever seen. It shone a light on two stark realities for our Black community. The first was the pandemic and the disproportionate impact it had on Black and Asian lives. The second, was the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter campaign, and the awakening of people around the world to the equality work that still needed to be done.
This period demonstrated the appetite for making visible the global inequalities of Black people, and was important for the Women’s Inclusive Team because the Somali community is the largest Black community in Tower Hamlets. Because of the exclusion and discrimination we all continue to experience, it really was a moment to seize for ourselves, for each other and for our children. We were determined to make change happen.
As a Somali woman from Tower Hamlets, I’m no stranger to discrimination or racism. Sadly, most people of colour share this reality. However, there is another added layer to the struggle faced by our Somali community. We are a minority within a minority in the borough, and our needs over the years have been downgraded and overlooked by the people who hold power, the changemakers.
This is where the strengths of the Women’s Inclusive Team lie, and why I believe this MBE is for the entire organisation, not only me, a woman from Tower Hamlets just trying to make the world around me a better place.
The pandemic gave our Tower Hamlets community a shared challenge that allowed us to be more open to collaboration and change. It became the moment to push forward difficult conversations, to break down long-held opinions and views, to create partnerships and to deepen allyships. The Women’s Inclusive Team grabbed the opportunity with both hands, to make visible the injustice and inequality happening in our community. I never want a Somali girl or boy, man or woman, to ever feel like a second-class citizen in a society that is supposed to be equal, and this starts from childhood.
In 2020 we established a food bank and community kitchen and galvanised hundreds of volunteers to help make food deliveries and cook meals for vulnerable residents in the community. We also worked with Barnardo’s who gave us the resources to be able to provide dedicated support to our Black children, ensuring they had fair and equal access to education and other support services during the pandemic.
And we will continue this work – to challenge the disproportionate exclusion of Somali children and young people in schools, and to lobby the NHS to provide Somali interpreters. I want our future generations to have fair and equal access to a good life, and to be inspired to make change happen, in the same way I was when I made the decision that my daughter would never be excluded from youth clubs.
I would never have got here on my own. I cannot begin to explain the gratitude that I have for my WIT family. Without their dedication, the Women’s Inclusive Team would never have achieved what we have. Thank you to our trustees, and to Sahra Mire, Shakila Ali, Zoe Portlock, Hoyoo Zahra, Sado Omar, Sara Custer, Marianne Cagle, Lorriane Anshah, Sarah Hughes, WIT staff and the 500+ volunteers who during the pandemic tirelessly supported Black and Asian Women and their families.
And special thanks to our stakeholders including Barnardo’s, Barts Trust, East London Business Alliance, Canary Wharf Group, Bikeworks, Tower Hamlets Homes, Poplar HARCA, Clarion Housing, Tower Hamlets Council, Tower Hamlets Community Voluntary Service, and all our funders.
Change of any significance would not have been possible without your support and endorsement. A more equal society is possible because of you.