By Hannah Bondi
On 21 January millions of people worldwide joined the Women’s March in support of human rights and equality. This inclusive protest led by women was a reaction to the misogyny and prejudice seen in the US election, and was also a positive call to protect women’s rights and build a more tolerant and equal society in the face of current threats. The march attracted around 100,000 people in London alone.
Sandi Toksvig led the rally in Trafalgar Square, where Natasha Walter, director of Women for Refugee Women, spoke alongside refugee women from our network. Joy Mukendi, Shahd Abusalama, Rahela Sidiqi, Jade Amoli-Jackson and Rehemah Ndagire performed their own poetry, which provided a rousing call to action for the huge crowd.
Natasha called attention to the purpose of Women’s March, saying that we were gathering to tell “those that have taken power today that we will build a better tomorrow, a tomorrow based on love, not hate; on bridges, not walls.” She remembered the inspiring history of feminism, and the many women who fought for the rights we have today. And then she asked the huge crowd to think about “who we are working with, and who we are working for.” She asked if this movement is about those who can already speak out, or about all women, including those who are crossing borders, and those who are locked up in detention centres.
Considering the roar that answered her from the thousands listening, the women in Trafalgar Square agreed that this movement must show solidarity with refugee women. Natasha then introduced refugee women from our network, because “These women are not just victims who need our help. These women are the survivors, the heroines, who will help light the way to the future.”
The poems that the women performed speak for themselves:
Jade: Freedom is walking without fear
Freedom is walking without looking behind you with fear
Freedom is key to a happy life
Freedom is flying without a wing
Freedom is walking naked with no one ogling at you
Freedom is being a woman or a man without fear
Freedom is speaking up without persecution
Shahd: Women refugees stand together
In exile where we are seen as the threatening other
All we ask for is a life of dignity, where we can be safe
Women refugees stand together
And in hopeless situations they give each other hope
With support from people of conscience they can better cope
When our voice is united in the fight for justice
Rehemah: Women are not born to be abused, they are the heart of the rose
Please don’t shut doors on me, I’m a peaceful woman
I am here to raise, and my mind wants to embrace
Women are not born to be abused, they are the heart of the rose
Life is beautiful and cruel
Please let me learn, let me sing, let me pray, I want to live!
Joy: Anyone can be a refugee anywhere,
Unknowing, I came to the UK seeking protection, somewhere I could be safe
I suffered rape, trauma, torture
I don’t remember names, evidence
I am refused, abused, misjudged
I am disbelieved, detained, deported
I came here to seek asylum
Rahela: For all the pain and hurt SET HER FREE!
For all the trauma and depression SET HER FREE!
For all the suffering, sadness and sleepless nights SET HER FREE!
SET HER FREE! SET HER FREE! SET US FREE!
The crowd joined in the final words of the poem, in a memorable moment of hopeful solidarity. You can see the performance here, at 2 hours 6 minutes in.
If you would like to demonstrate your solidarity with refugee women, do come to our National Refugee Women’s Conference on 1 March, where we will be discussing how to plan, build and organise for a better future.