"Be the change you want to see" - Interview to Akeela Ahmed, co-organiser of the Women's March London
By Rossella Forle’
Taking part in the Women’s March in London for the past two years has been amazing and empowering.
I have been a feminist activist since I was 16, I had my first female band in 1997. It was natural and it seems the most fun thing to do, we were following unknowingly the Third Wave of feminism*.
I loved the message and the rage behind the songs of Babes in Toyland, Bratmobile, Bikini Kill. The Riot Grrrls were using bands and zines to speak out about gender, identity, community and resistance. They used them to comment and correct on misrepresentations and disrespect.
I didn’t understand at that time clearly what feminism was, but it helped me to recognise and understand what I was experienced as girl. Giving names to stuff that it was uncomfortable and wrong to accept.
My feminism has changed and evolved with me, it’s my skin now, it’s part of who I am. It would be weird not to be a feminism today. And weirdly enough I’am - we’ re still fighting for the same things.
Interviewing Akeela Gheewalla Ahmed, the co-organiser of the Women’s March London, is not just an honour, it is an important milestone in my life as feminist woman.
Akeela is an awesome British Muslim woman who is making a difference to her community and the world around her. Enjoy the interview.
What first led you into feminist activism? What politicised you?
Being a brown Muslim woman who wears a hijab, meant that I had no choice but to become a feminist. I face an intersection of oppressions - racism, sexism and Islamophobia- not to mention class and other various inequalities. This means that I can face misogyny from within my own communities whilst also potentially in having to deal with stereotyping and discrimination whilst seeking a job. I have often dealt with Islamophobic hate crime whilst I’m out and about with my children or on public transport. I’m also regularly trolled on Twitter.
I’ve been a campaigner and activist for the last twenty years or so, and have always felt passionate about ensuring people from marginalised groups are treated fairly. Women of colour and BAME groups still face continued inequalities across health, housing, education and employment.
Can we talk about real inclusion at work for foreign women in UK?
We’re still not there yet, issues related to foreign women and women of colour are still very much secondary to the issues faced by the majority of women in the UK. Of course these issues need addressing but inclusion at work for foreign women, especially women of colour, deserves greater attention.
What is the current situation in UK, with regard to the feminist movement and women’s rights? What are some of the challenge’s women are up against here?
The feminist movement in the UK has a come long way , especially within the last 5 years or so there is a concerted effort to be much more inclusive. It is only recently that wider society has begun to understand that women are still facing a myriad of challenges and barriers, from domestic violence where two women a week are killed, to lack of representation in FTSE 100 boardrooms and media editing suites.
The marginalisation of women is worse if you’re a woman of colour, a disabled woman or a Muslim woman. I find it difficult when traditional women’s organisations do not advocate on behalf of women who wear the niqab in the UK, albeit they are tiny in number. As a feminist I champion women’s right to choose - what they wear, how they define themselves or how they live their lives - even if that choice makes me feel uncomfortable.
The women who came together to form Women’s March London were very keen to ensure that it was an intersectional movement which reflected the diverse and many voices within the broader movement. It sounds easy however creating spaces which are intersectional involves a lot of hard work to bring people together, and often means being uncomfortable. I’ve found that I have had to do some deep work on myself, and this is an ongoing process.
I would say being intersectional and making space for women whose life experiences are different to your own, is one of the biggest challenges for the women’s movement. There are some issues right now which appear to be dividing the women’s movement in the UK, however it is important we remember that this division is also symptomatic of patriarchal structures.
Why the world needs Women’s March?
Women’s Marches across the globe have energised and galvanised millions of women, to show up, speak up, and stand up to various forms of oppressions. The initial focal point was the election of President Trump in 2016, this allowed however a space for new conversations and a new type of politics. Before Trump we were all stuck in our silos campaigning on our own issues but now we’re seeing people coming together across traditional boundaries of faith, ethnicity, gender, sex and sexuality to form alliances. Ilhan Omar and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez are brilliant examples of this.
How did the Women’s March London start?
WML was formed by women who met online and who were shocked at the election of President Trump.
What is your top piece of advice for a young female activist?
Gosh, I would say believe in yourself, have conviction and don’t wait for permission. Be the change you want to see.
Finally, which woman, friend, family or famous, has inspired you most?
This is a tough question because so many women inspire me! My mother, sisters and daughters are my daily inspiration. They believe in me and support me, and that has been invaluable to my activism. Audre Lorde, Malala Yusufzai, Bell Hooks have all inspired me in different ways. I could name lots more women but will stop there!
Follow her @AkeelaAhmed
Akeela Ahmed has been an equalities activist and campaigner for nearly 20 years. In 2014 she founded She Speaks We Hear which gives unfiltered women a platform. Akeela advises and works with a government organisation in tackling anti-Muslim hatred. She is also a social entrepreneur within the social housing sector, and a senior project manager of a homelessness organisation that she setup. In January 2017 Akeela spoke to over one hundred thousand people at the Women’s March London, and was listed as one of Stylist Women of the Year 2017.