Tonight’s Women on the Move Awards recognise exceptional women from across the UK who – against the odds – have made an outstanding contribution to women’s empowerment and integration. These women left their homes and loved ones, fleeing war and persecution, and managed not only to build a new life for themselves and their families, but also to support and inspire people and communities across the UK.
Part of the WOW (Women of the World) Festival on London’s Southbank, the awards are presented by Samira Ahmed and co-hosted by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and The Forum.
Annie Lennox will present the award to the Woman of the Year, Sonia Khoury. Sonia is a qualified medical doctor arrived in the UK in October 2011 to do her PhD in Health Sciences. Whilst here, war in Syria broke out, forcing her to claim asylum due the spreading violence. Now living in Wales, Sonia supports migrant women, particularly those fleeing domestic abuse, to establish a new life for themselves in the UK. She is a tireless advocate on the situation of Syrian refugees, and has spoken in Parliament about the need to resettle more women and children to the UK.
Annie Lennox said: “I am delighted to be taking part in this inspiring awards ceremony, honouring some of the bravest and strongest of women refugees. This event gives us an opportunity to pause, reflect and acknowledge the potential and courage of women in our refugee community. “
Accepting her award, Sonia Khoury said: “As a woman, and a refugee, I know how difficult it is for Syrians. I want to reflect that experience and make their voices heard. Women are so powerful, and whatever the obstacles, we can overcome them together.”
The Young Woman of the Year Award presented by Livia Firth, goes to Chrisann Jarrett a twenty year-old student who founded Let Us Learn, an organisation campaigning for the rights of irregular and undocumented young people frozen out of higher education by their immigration status. A former head girl with top grades at A-Level, it was only when Chrisann applied to university that she discovered that having been born in Jamaica, she was unable to get a student loan. Instead of giving up her dreams of becoming a lawyer, she fought to bring attention to the situation of many migrant children in a similar situation and won a full scholarship from LSE.
On being recognised as the Young Woman of the Year, Chrisann said: “At first I was embarrassed about the stigma of being a migrant, but this award has made me proud of myself. The recognition I am doing something right is validation that I should keep going and help other people who can’t get to university.”
A Special Jury Award goes to Asma Mohamed Ali. Asma was born on the Brava Coast in Somalia and came to the UK in 1992 having spent much of her childhood in Kenyan refugee camps. Now working in Barnet at the Somali Bravanese Welfare Association, Asma has built a thriving centre and education programme that supports 200 students and their families. In 2013, her Bravanese community hall was burnt down in a racist arson attack. But within a week, while six months pregnant, Asma forged ties between the local Jewish and Muslim communities to keep the students’ programme going, and led community action to raise £1.1 million to rebuild the hall.
The Awards also recognise Pauline Hawkes as Champion of the Year. Pauline had been a foster carer for over a decade when she heard about the situation facing refugee children around the world. After contacting Haringey social services, she received her first unaccompanied asylum-seeking child, a Congolese girl who had been raped and lost both her parents. Pauline provided a home and safe place for her to rebuild her future. Since that time Pauline has dedicated her life to supporting asylum-seeking young people and victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation. She set up her own foster care agency, the Phoenix Centre in Tottenham, which has now looked after more than 150 migrant children. An inspirational woman, Pauline is an unsung hero living and working on our doorstep in London.
Pauline Hawkes said: “I’m really lucky, I have a British passport and a home. I just knew I had to do something with those things to help other people. Fostering migrant children is an absolute privilege and I get back far more than I give.”
The ceremony also celebrates outstanding media coverage of the protection needs of refugee and migrant women. This year the Media Award goes to Giles Duley for his documentary on disabled Syrian refugees and Katie Razzall for her BBC Newsnight report on talented migrant students denied funding for higher education.
Annie Lennox said: “I am delighted to be taking part in this inspiring awards ceremony which truly honours some of the bravest and strongest women refugees. This ceremony truly allows us to stop, think and realise the potential and courage of our refugee community.”
UNHCR’s Representative to the UK Gonzalo Vargas Llosa said: ‘The Women on the Move Awards are a humbling reminder of how refugees are making a positive difference to their new home towns in Britain, how they can build bridges between faiths and cultures and create friendships in their communities. Women can face particular difficulties when it comes to applying for asylum in the UK. But against the odds, women like Sonia, Asma and Chrisann have fought for their own survival and are now fighting to help other people to survive. At a time when we’re unfortunately too often used to hearing the words refugee and migrant negatively, it’s wonderful to come together to celebrate the people, both British and migrant, who are brave enough to think differently.’
Zrinka Bralo, Executive Director of The Forum, said: ‘This is the fourth year that we have celebrated amazing women through the Women on the Move Awards. For me as a refugee woman, it is heart-warming to see how our modest attempt to shift the negative debate into a celebration of contribution is attracting so much genuine support from celebrities and people across the country. Our past winners continue to do amazing work and winning this Award has opened doors for them. It has been great to see their confidence grow as they win further awards, take centre stage at TEDx events and front powerful equality campaigns. It is great to be at WOW Festival again, celebrating International Women’s Day. This is the best party in town. We are grateful to Jude Kelly, South Bank Center’s Artistic Director for having faith in our crazy little idea and supporting us all the way.