On Wednesday 8 January Rahela Sidiqi joined actress Thandie Newton, lawyer Helena Kennedy, campaigner Eve Ensler and Stella Creasy MP at the Royal Festival Hall in London to discuss justice for women. This event had been organised by One Billion Rising UK and opened to a packed and expectant audience which included Bianca Jagger, human rights activist; Skin, lead vocalist of Skunk Anansie, and Nimco Ali from Daughters of Eve.

Rahela Sidiqi is a trustee of Women for Refugee Women and the chair of the London Refugee Women’s Forum. She was an activist for women’s rights for more than 15 years in Afghanistan before she was forced to seek asylum in the UK.

Women for Refugee Women One Billion and Riding and Refugee Women

Rahela Sidiqi, third from left, with Helena Kennedy, Eve Ensler, Stella Creasy, Thandie Newton, Marissa BegoniaRahela spoke about her experiences in Afghanistan, where she stood up for women’s rights even when she was being threatened by the Taliban and warlords. She then spoke about coming to the UK to seek asylum and the injustices that are experienced by women who have to cross borders to seek safety. ‘Half of women who come here for asylum have been raped,’ she told the audience.

Rahela talked about visiting Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedford, where she met women who have sought asylum in this country and yet have been locked up in detention. As Rahela said, ‘If someone is a criminal they are given a sentence and they know how long they will be in prison. But if someone is put in detention after they seek asylum, they don’t know how long they will be locked up. It is not right to put women through this. They suffer in this situation.’

Stella Creasy spoke after Rahela, and also after the audience had heard from Marissa Begonia, the co-ordinator of Justice for Domestic Workers, and Sophie Barton-Hawkins, an ex-offender. Stella said about their stories: ‘This is not the Britain I want to live in. I want to live in a better Britain than this.’

On 29 January Women for Refugee Women will publish new research on the experiences of women in detention in the UK. Stella Creasy will host the Parliamentary reception for this launch, and she said: ‘We need to hear these women’s stories. Let’s give a voice to this report.’

Rahela Sidiqi also asked the panel and the audience if they would support a One Billion Rising action in solidarity with women who are detained in Yarl’s Wood on 13 February. The answer was a resounding yes – let’s rise!

For more information about Women for Refugee Women’s forthcoming research, please contact Sophie Radice on sophie@refugeewomen.co.uk. For more information on the action at Yarl’s Wood, follow @4refugeewomen and @obruk_1, or check back on this blog.