2015 Women on the Move Awards were held on the 4th March at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank Centre during the week long Women of the World Festival, in celebration of the International Women’s Day.
The Awards were set up in 2012 to recognise exceptional migrant and refugee women from across the UK who – against the odds – have made an outstanding contribution to women’s empowerment and integration. These women left their homes and loved ones, fleeing war and persecution, and managed not only to build a new life for themselves and their families, but also to support and inspire people and communities across the UK.
Annie Lennox presented the Woman of the Year Award to Sonia Khoury. Sonia is a qualified medical doctor arrived in the UK in October 2011 to do her PhD. But war in Syria forced her to claim asylum. Now living in Wales, Sonia supports migrant women, particularly those fleeing domestic abuse and campaigns about the need to resettle more women and children to the UK. “As a woman, and a refugee, I know how difficult it is for Syrians. I want to reflect that experience and make their voices heard. Women are so powerful, and whatever the obstacles, we can overcome them together.” Says Sonia.
Annie Lennox said: “I am delighted to be taking part in this inspiring awards ceremony, honouring some of the bravest and strongest of women refugees. This event gives us an opportunity to pause, reflect and acknowledge the potential and courage of women in our refugee community.”
The Young Woman of the Year Award presented by Livia Firth, was awarded to Chrisann Jarrett a law student at LSE, who founded Let Us Learn, an organisation campaigning for the rights of irregular and undocumented young people frozen out of higher education by their immigration status. A former head girl with top grades at A-Level, it was only when she applied to university that Chrisann discovered she was unable to get a student loan due to her status. Instead of giving up her dreams of becoming a lawyer, she fought to bring attention to the situation of many migrant children in a similar situation and won a full scholarship from LSE.
A Special Jury Award was given to Asma Mohamed Ali, born on the Brava Coast in Somalia and came to the UK in 1992 having spent much of her childhood in Kenyan refugee camps. Now working in Barnet at the Somali Bravanese Welfare Association, Asma supports 200 students and their families. In 2013, her Bravanese community hall was burnt down in a racist arson attack. But within a week, while six months pregnant, Asma forged ties between the local Jewish and Muslim communities to keep the programme going, and led community action to rebuild the centre.
The Awards also recognise Pauline Hawkes, Champion of the Year. Pauline had been a foster carer for over a decade when she heard about the situation facing refugee children around the world. She set up her own foster care agency, the Phoenix Centre in Tottenham, which has now looked after more than 150 migrant children. An inspirational woman, Pauline is an unsung hero living and working on our doorstep in London. “I just knew I had to do something with those things to help other people. Fostering migrant children is an absolute privilege and I get back far more than I give.” said Pauline
UNHCR’s Representative to the UK Gonzalo Vargas Llosa said: ‘The Women on the Move Awards are a humbling reminder of how refugees are making a positive difference to their new home towns in Britain, how they can build bridges between faiths and cultures and create friendships in their communities. Women can face particular difficulties when it comes to applying for asylum in the UK. But against the odds, women like Sonia, Asma and Chrisann have fought for their own survival and are now fighting to help other people to survive. At a time when we’re unfortunately too often used to hearing the words refugee and migrant negatively, it’s wonderful to come together to celebrate the people, both British and migrant, who are brave enough to think differently.’
The Awards celebrated outstanding media coverage of the protection needs of refugee and migrant women. This year the Media Award went to Giles Duley for his Channel 4 Unreported World documentary on disabled Syrian refugees and Katie Razzall for her BBC Newsnight report on talented migrant students denied funding for higher education featuring Chrisann Jarrett.
Zrinka Bralo, Executive Director of The Forum and the founder of the Awards said: ‘For me as a refugee woman, it is heart-warming to see how our modest attempt to shift the negative debate into a celebration of contribution is attracting so much genuine support from celebrities and people across the country. Our past winners continue to do amazing work and winning this Award has opened doors for them. It is great to be at WOW Festival again. We are grateful to Jude Kelly, South Bank Center’s Artistic Director for having faith in our crazy little idea and supporting us all the way.
The ceremony started with performance by Maya Youssef – a Syrian kanun player who has performed all over the world and has won an Exceptional Talent Award in the UK – and ended with Roshi Nasehi is a singer-composer and sound artist born in Wales to Iranian parents, and entire audience joining her in singing love song in Farsi.
© Marco Mignone & Danilo Moroni