To say that this year has been unprecedented seems somewhat clichéd. The world over has been plagued with unrelenting challenge and emotional difficulty that’s hard to truly express. Yet with International Women’s day - the Christmas of feminism - upon us, we are leaping at the opportunity to celebrate the achievements and successes of the incredible, strong and inspiring women whom Women’s Equality Leeds has been proud to stand alongside this year.
In the face of adversity, these women are Choosing to Challenge in pursuit of a better world for women, girls and all of mother earth’s inhabitants. They are continually ringing the changes, tirelessly striving for gender parity and calling out inequality and gender bias in a society built on oppressive patriarchal structures.
The challenges are multiple, but the answers these women provide are ceaseless. Their energy and determination to support and advocate for women and girls is truly worth celebrating all year round, but WE want to shout our praises from the rooftops on this day especially.
Sonia Jalal - Hull Sisters Board Member, Activist and Advocate for Women’s rights
Sonia leads Hull Sisters, an East Yorkshire women’s centre that has been providing support to minority ethnic women in the community since inception in 2012. They provide essential services and advice to women and children escaping abuse and domestic violence, suffering with immigration problems and racism, or dealing with health services and economic hardship.
Throughout the pandemic, Sonia has continued to facilitate the service with an incredibly small team. She’s worked relentlessly to face and counteract challenges reaching beyond the consequences of lockdown. The biggest challenge for Sonia and Hull Sisters was eviction from their building in October 2020. “It was a very painful process, with us being physically pushed out from the building which used to house our community centre.”
The eviction was senselessly cruel, and left Hull Sisters and Sonia without a physically safe and culturally appropriate space to support the 485 women and children who rely on the service. These people have subsequently been left displaced, unsupported and on the street.
“This pressure is making our service users even more vulnerable. With what funds we have, we’ve had to choose whether to save for a building or to spend it on supporting our service users, whose needs are even greater during lockdown. This is an impossible choice for myself and the Board members. I don’t think anyone else could have survived this pressure.”
But in spite of this incredible pressure and the lack of support from Hull Council, Sonia has determinedly maintained the lifeline that the organisation provides. Firmly challenging the Council's lack of transparency and disregard for the non-profit, Sonia refuses to be silenced in fighting for the specialist support that migrant, refugee and ethnic minority women need.
Sonia has supported numerous service users in bravely sharing their stories in the media to raise awareness of the Hull Sisters’ needs – and the lack of local government support they have received. This action has highlighted the disparity between the support offered to Hull Sisters, and that offered to other similar charities.
The organisation has been under incredible pressure this year, and Sonia has confronted problems with resources and supplies by creating an Amazon wishlist to facilitate donations of food, sanitary products and toiletries, distributing these to women and families in need. Hull Sisters want to become self-sustaining, but need breathing space and some temporary support to make this happen.
Sonia has courageously stood up to injustice and discrimination, vigorously advocating for the rights of women and girls and challenging the systems and beliefs that undermine progress.
“I learnt that we have to stay steadfast, even despite being displaced. Our commitment will always be to support the vulnerable women and children who use our service. They come first. I also learnt to trust that you will find your allies – they may be far away rather than close by. We have had great support from organisations such as ROSA, Women’s Resource Centre, Angelou Centre and WE.
I have been so delighted to see the number of Hull residents who have come to support – 289 families in Hull have donated to Hull Sisters, even including young people who had made the effort to go to the supermarket and walk to our drop-off point with donations of toiletries and food. It was so great to see them.”
You can support Hull Sisters’ campaign to raise money for a new building by donating to the GoFundMe Page, or donate items through the Amazon wishlist so that women and families in need will receive basic necessities and essentials. To get involved in our campaign to help Hull Sisters, please DM us on twitter or email [email protected]mensequality.org.uk
Dr Louise Jennings - Medical Engineer, Proud Mother, WEP Leeds Council Candidate
Louise is an Associate Professor of Medical Engineering at Leeds University, as well as being a proud Mum, feminist and activist.
The coronavirus pandemic and lockdown have proved immensely difficult for students at university. While juggling her own home-schooling responsibilities, Louise has been supporting students at Leeds University who are participating in remote learning. Challenging the inequalities and barriers that the pandemic has caused in accessing learning – particularly in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM) based subjects – Louise continues to ensure education is prioritised, especially in her field of medical engineering.
In spite of the difficulties, Louise has been running medical engineering undergraduate projects that focus on women’s health. The gender health gap and inequalities in healthcare research and funding continue to influence old fashioned and poor-quality treatments for women. This means that the understanding and long-term prognosis for many conditions remains unimproved. Louise is challenging this standard, currently supervising students looking at the instruments used in cervical screening for example, and solutions for pelvic organ prolapse.
At Leeds University, Louise is also an Athena Swan Champion. Athena Swan is an initiative managed by the UK Equality Challenge Unit celebrating higher education institutions that advance gender equality through supporting and recognising the careers of women in STEMM.
As a champion and through her teaching and research, Louise is steadfast in bettering opportunities and outcomes for women in STEMM, promoting and aiding this essential, pioneering research.
Louise is running in the local elections this May, standing to be the first Women's Equality Party councillor elected to Leeds City Council. She is campaigning to challenge the status quo, to empower women and to build a fairer society.
“I believe gender equality should be at the heart of Leeds Council’s words and actions.”
In this challenge, Louise is campaigning to improve the lives of women and families – striving for gender parity in her policy areas of providing adequate childcare support and ending violence against women and girls. Louise is denouncing the government's poor response to helping working parents and confronting their inaction in protecting women and girls escaping violence and abuse.
WE are hosting a Kitchen Table Event with Louise on 17th March – it’s your opportunity to meet your WE candidate for Leeds City Council. We’ll be talking about issues that matter to you in Leeds, and hearing from Louise about her journey into politics and her campaign pledges on childcare, ending violence against women and girls, and the climate emergency. Join us on Zoom on 17th March 19:30 PM. (Meeting ID: 931 0845 0700 Passcode: 136736)