Afrah Qassim, CEO “I #ChooseToChallenge…”

Our newsletter is celebrating International Women’s Day where we observe and celebrate women’s achievements but also highlight the challenge for gender equality and human rights for all.

I grew up with my Grandmother in Yemen and she inspired me. She was a young widow with five children who did not know how to read or write. She never left her village, but she was a woman of many talents, knowledge and skills and was and still is my ultimate role model. She was able to challenge and navigate her male-dominated environment to ensure that she was not cheated of the land/farms that belonged to her and her children after her husband’s death.

It was challenging and difficult to convince a whole village that she had the right to the land, but never once did it stop her from securing what was rightfully hers and her children’s. Just like my grandmother, I choose to challenge when I know things are not right. Her determination and motivation live in me and I continue to choose to challenge injustice and gender inequalities.

We should celebrate the huge breakthroughs that many women throughout history have achieved and continue their work until we have a world where every woman can make her own choice, have a voice and be who she wants to be.

When I moved to the UK as a teenager, I had a vision of a world that was full of inspiration, freedom and choices. Sadly, that vision came crashing down. Women from similar backgrounds to me felt they were living between two cultures: one that gave choices and another that controlled your independence. Growing up in this environment, I felt that I had to conform to the norms of my culture to be accepted.

I knew I had to challenge the cultural norms that stopped many women from spreading their wings and reaching their dreams. Back home, a friend of mine who worked in a high-level official job that allowed her to travel across the world was not able to buy a home in her country when she returned because she was not married. Here in the UK, my community was astonished that my father allowed me to buy my own home even though I wasn’t married. I was told, if I wore a scarf, men wpuld be willing to accept me for marriage. When I refused marriage to a man in the community, he told me that I had disrespected him and that I was lucky to be asked as he could give me a home.

I choose to challenge this behaviour and will continue to do so until all women can have a voice and sit at all levels of society. ‘Honour’-based abuse and harmful practices have a life-long impact. Let’s stop putting women through this and remember those who had so much to give, but lost their lives to these practices instead.

Let’s stand together with those brave and strong survivors. #SpeakOut and say no to ‘honour’-based abuse, forced marriage and FGM.

I want to say a huge thank you to Savera UK Team, for their passion, commitment and going above and beyond to deliver the best and holistic support for all our survivors, while also providing high-quality advice and information to professionals and services. A very special thank you to Tania for her significant contribution. She will be leaving us at the end of April and she will be missed by us all. Thank you to all our funders, donors, ambassadors, patron, board and supporters—you all have given so much and continue to do so.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Afrah Qassim
Founder & CEO

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