This year’s IWD 2021 campaign theme was #choosetochallenge, “A challenged world is an alert world. Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality.” International Women’s Day on 8thMarch is an annual event in Sangini’s calendar. Though Covid-19 has put a stop to many things but regardless of this, in line with social distancing and COVID-19 rules we brought women together to celebrate their acts of courage, determination and achievements that often go unrecognized. We organised a virtual event with Srijoni and Sunderland Women’s Art Group SWAG who are making a real difference in a Covid-19 world and who #choosetochallenge.
Women gathered via Zoom, dressed in purple hijabs to signify justice and dignity and shared songs, made posters and composed music by playing the piano with mesmerising melody. They discussed what International Women’s Day means to them. The poster below have words that the women shared.
The opening of this truly remarkable celebration started with Kath Boodhai, the Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees at Sangini, who delivered a speech that was uplifting and inspiring for attendees. In her speech Kath spoke about celebrating ‘feminism’ and ‘women’s rights’, inspiring women and everyone to act in the on-going fight for ‘gender equality’. Kath emphasised how important it is to understand the ‘struggles’ that women have endured over centuries, in the first and second wave feminist movements of the 20thCentury and highlighted that we are still to this day ‘fighting for justice’, ‘equal pay’ and ‘better career progression’.
Kath said: “The pandemic over the last year and major significant upheavals across the world has created greater global challenges and has widened the gap in inequalities of all kinds, in our communities, our countries and across the world. We have had to become more alert in a positive way, more empathetic and indeed more resilient to stand up against many social injustices. But we also need to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements and bring more inclusivity and a gender equal world.”
In her speech Kath noted the significant milestone of Kamala Harris being the first African and Indian heritage American women inaugurated as Vice President in the history of America, “as we celebrate this achievement we need to look closer to home and in our communities for women leaders and leaderships in the UK.”
Kath emphasised the importance of looking for leaders in our own “families and communities like mothers, sisters and grandmothers from women in arts culture and heritage industry to form strength and sisterhood, we need more women leaders from Black minoritized community.”
Heartfelt recognition was extended to the team at Sangini, Asma Shohid for her brilliant outreach work, artist Roohia Syed-Ahmed, in helping women to explore and empress their creativity, Sangini partners and allies Sunderland Women’s Art Group SWAG, Friends of the Drop In FODI, Kainat Javed for her support to Padma by injecting new and fresh ideas into the work of Sangini.
She thanked Padma Rao for her “infinite fierce determination and leadership, by taking this organisation from strength to strength”. She also thanked Sreelekha Reddy, founder of Sangini “without whom we wouldn’t have been here together”. Sreelekha was thanked for her resilience, unbounding care, fairness and justness.
Gaynor Clarke, Swag member, in her speech she spoke about how important it is to recognise ‘pride and strength’ and acknowledging what you deserve, she ended her speech with a quote from former Labour Party MP Joe Cox for the Batley and Spen Constituency who was sadly murdered “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”
The event also featured poet, Masuma Yesmin, who is a participating member at the Srijoni group and has written hundreds of poems. She courageously read a beautiful poem called ‘Naari’ (translates as ‘women’ in Bengali). This poem was about her reflecting on how she was inspired by her husband to be a fighter and never give up. She said: “With my power I can do anything, I’m not afraid of anyone, I can stand up for my father, my brother, I can stand for everyone.” The tone and the rhythm of her reading portrayed her inner fighter and warrior in a world that often sees Muslim women as weak and fearful. There is no denial that Masuma is a strong woman who will never give up, nor is she afraid of any obstacles that comes her way!
Indeed, this year the need for celebration is far greater than ever as the pandemic has left many women burdened with more struggles, disadvantages and inequality than ever before.
A celebration that will truly be remembered during a time where we had to celebrate in extra-ordinary circumstances. Due to the global pandemic and against a backdrop of real fear and disadvantage for women arising in the news this years celebrations have felt sombre. The revelations made by Meghan Markle and the story of Sarah Everard’s disappearance and news of her murder have been jarring for women across the UK, knowing all too well from each of our own experiences how it feels to be afraid in spaces outside of your home, whether in a new marriage or in a park.
Marking the event allowed us to reflect on the struggles we have faced and still face today, but also look at what we have and how we can support one another through good times and bad. At Sangini, we are a family who support, encourage and empower one another through our arts and craft led projects to achieve our wholesome self. To give women opportunities to express and excel, and to show a true reflection of themselves is an honour and as we stand together, we show solidarity despite the triumphs and tragedy this last year has brought us.
Our Project Director, Padma Rao reflected, “having resilience, never giving up and asking for more” is crucial to our progress and continuing to fight for gender equality and women’s rights. “I want to thank Sangini’s Board for their wealth of knowledge and experience in helping to steer the organisation”. And we as an organisation thank Padma Rao, for her fearless determination and tireless efforts in running this organisation for the last 20 years, taking it from strength to strength,
We look forward to celebrating our 20 year anniversary in 2022 and will release further details about the events, gatherings, work and celebrations that will be held in due course. For now, we hope that whatever you did this International Women’s Day, that you did have an opportunity to challenge inequality and made space for yourself to reflect on the incredible achievements of women world wide.