Freedom and Dignity: Our Women’s Group Speak Out

Nanou, our Volunteer Women’s Rights Group Facilitator, speaks out this International Women’s Day  2021 about growing inner and collective power through peer support. 

Tell us about yourself. 

My name is Nanou. I’ve been living in the UK for nine years.  I made many connections here and it’s my home now. People here are open minded. But, still I don’t have my freedom. I have been in the asylum system for many years- waiting to hear the answer from the Home Office. 

I feel like I am in limbo, an ‘’open prison’’. 

I have been a volunteer with Migrants Organise for 18 months facilitating the “Migrant Women’s Rights Group”. It is a peer support group involving 80 migrant and refugee women.

The majority of the women are seeking asylum, including survivors of trafficking and gender-based violence. We come together to connect, share problems and  build our power.

Normally we have activities like yoga, meditation, exercise, baking, poetry or someone will  come in and talk to us: like we’ve had doctors come in about health. 

Some didn’t know they were allowed to register at a GP surgery. Not knowing our rights is a big problem. Sometimes we just come together and talk and share our feelings, and this is a big help. 

Volunteering has really helped me both mentally and emotionally, because I work with these amazing, strong women.  Together we share similar stories, struggles, pain, and experiences. This group gives me courage. 

How has the group adapted to the last 12 months? 

COVID-19 has impacted the women in many ways. Our mental health is suffering. 

Firstly it was hard connecting with each other. Getting on zoom was an issue  because the women needed phone top-up and internet connection and devices to use during the session. So we had to overcome that.   

Loneliness and destitution is having a huge impact on the women, especially those who are in the asylum accommodation.  It is a big challenge. The facilities in the housing is really tough- like five women and their young children sharing a house with one bathroom, kitchen and toilet. There is no space to isolate or for their children to play or to even do their online class. They are stuck in a small bedroom.

Sometimes when we meet on zoom we see the women helping their children with their school work- sitting on the bed because they don’t have a desk or anywhere else to go. I can see it is hard. 

No child or woman deserves this. They are single mothers- life is hard enough as it is: they deserve better. We don’t have a choice on these matters. We are supposed to be grateful, but it is not about being grateful, it’s about dignity. 

The women have also noticed that the immigration system has become super slow.  Women who are newer to the country do not yet understand the system and it’s harder to understand it. 

How do you feel when you come together?

This group has made me really strong. Together we come together and say ‘’We are still here’’.  They say help them. But, they help me.  

Lockdown might end in the next few months, but our situation will still be the same: we don’t have the right to work, we have problems seeing the doctor, issues with our housing. 

But if you can find someone with a similar story to you- you feel like you have a chance. I feel I still have hope because of them. Like, one day things might change. 

For years I have been waiting for the Home Office to give me an answer. But still, I don’t get an answer. I don’t know when my freedom will come.

What would you change if you were Prime Minister?

I would start with dignity.

There is a saying in my country that says: don’t give me a fish, teach me to fish. 

The women want a better life and want a right to work.The women in the group should have the right to provide for their children, to earn money legally and not be punished for their situation.  I have a Degree and Masters, I want to be working: I want to be independent. Their children should automatically become British Citizens even if their parents do not have their (refugee) Status yet. 

What advice can you give to someone who is thinking of setting up a women’s group? 

You need to be open minded

You need to give women the opportunity to say what they need to and give space for that. Don’t treat them like children. 

Make them feel comfortable. Think about what makes them feel safe. 

Give encouragement- I realise that now around 70% of the group are attending college. I’ve been encouraging them to do this- to develop their skills. One day they will be able to live their life again so it’s important that they continue preparing for this. I am so happy they are going to college. 

I ask them about their dreams. We have to aim for them!

Finally, It’s international women’s day, what is your hope on international Women’s Day? 

My hope is to have my freedom. For me, this is having my  status. My dream is to have my status. 

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Throughout lockdown Migrants Organise members have been rallying together, meeting weekly on zoom to  share problems, and build their collective and inner power. 

The Migrant Organise Women’s Rights Group currently meet weekly on zoom. The group is supported by our Community Programme staff who provide ongoing holistic support to migrants and refugees. 

0 thoughts on “Freedom and Dignity: Our Women’s Group Speak Out

  • Nanou – your words resonated so much. Oh, I love this expression, “Don’t give me a fish, teach me to fish”…It sums up a lot of the problems we have in this country. I know, with your group, and with your words, you are putting hope into so many people’s hearts – and I pray that the people who need to read this, read this. And that it gets easier for people in this country to get their status. Because everyone deserves dignity. Thank you for your resilience, wisdom and inspiration <3

  • This group its amazing thank you Nanou for the beautiful describing. We are not a group we are a family thanks Migrant Organise for giving a chance to us to have a space when we can share our thoughts burdens with each other.

  • Nanou. Thus is such an inspiring blog. You are full of such courage and wisdom. We learn so much through supporting each other in sharing our stories and listening to those that others have to tell. It’s what gives us the strength to keep going. It’s an inhuman process having to wait so long to have legal status ratified. I hope soon you will be able to move on -you have so much to offer.

  • Very well said and articulated Nanou! So very true and you deserve your freedom and dignity and should never stop fighting for it, it is your right. You’ve made such an impact in the 9 years you’ve been in this country and you should have your freedom and status and so should all the amazing women in your position. I’ll keep praying for your dream to come true and for the world to see change! For the prime minister and our global leaders to see and make changes to this corrupt and unjust system! This moved me, thank you for sharing your thoughts. Xx

  • Nanou thanks a lot, you intensely spoke the mind of many women going through challenging situation in this country, it has never been easy for me, just trying to survive, listening to news expecting and hoping that one day a bill will be passed to favour us. This has always been my prayers and I believe one day it will come through.

  • Falone Karimba says:

    This is soo eye opening and a source of strength to those who need it. Welldone for being a beacon to those who need that strength.

  • Leslie N Massengo says:

    Wow that was so amazing and thank you by sharing your story. I know out there and by know knowing you have give hope to many woman but the only I will say “have faith” like we say: when you still alive, have hope… God bless you and thanks once again by speaking courageously.

  • David Ardagh-Walter says:

    V glad Nanou is involved with m.o.org. She and they need all the support we settled people can provide.

  • Lilly Isaacs says:

    I have heard about this group but have not really taken time to look into what they do until after this write up by Nanou which was well presented. Very moving story indeed to understand what these group of women are going through with their children!

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