The former child refugee empowering BAME women to have their voices heard

Excel Women’s Association founder Zahra Ibrahim speaking as two women look on.

Excel Women’s Association founder Zahra Ibrahim. - Credit: Jimmy Lee Photography

As a child refugee from the Somali civil war, Zahra Ibrahim saw poverty, death and destruction of her community and the disempowerment of women as a result.

Galvanised by her experiences, Zahra set up Excel Women’s Association (EWA) in Barking, dedicated to helping women find their voice and become campaigners in their own lives.

EWA was founded with the aim of supporting women in the borough by providing a safe space to come together and talk about concerns.

What started from unofficial monthly meetings 25 years ago is now a registered charity, based at its Excel Women’s Centre in London Road since 2013.

The Excel Women's Centre in Barking. Picture: Luke Acton.

Excel Women's Centre in London Road, Barking. - Credit: Luke Acton

“EWA is here to empower women to feel strong and brave in the pursuit of their rights; to increase their self-esteem, to enable women to pursue their goals rather than to just dream of achieving them,” Zahra said.

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“And when our women begin achieving their goals, we want to push them further to excel in their cause."

She added: "I founded the charity because no one knows better about the difficulties women face than those who have been through it themselves."

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“You are not defined by your circumstances - I am a former child refugee, but that label is not forever, and I didn’t want it to hold me back.

“I think we can all use our experiences to help others do better and unlock the potential we have.”

EWA is using a £55,000 grant from The National Lottery Community Fund to ensure that experts by experience are involved in all aspects of its work.

The grant is funding the east London BAME leaders programme, which will help more than 100 women take control of their lives and tackle entrenched issues and barriers they experience.

The project brings women of different backgrounds together to share knowledge and skills, and give them a voice, through peer support groups, workshops and training – all currently being run virtually.

“Many local women possess a wealth of lived experience - refugees and asylum seekers, domestic abuse, gender stereotyping - and we will train and support these women to become activists and leaders for other women facing similar issues,” she said.

“We want all women to have someone in leadership that they can relate to, look up to and connect with."

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