Health and Wellbeing in Gender Justice
In the run-up to Women's History Month, our first impact podcast episode delves into the importance of equal access to health and well-being for women. Women are often left behind in research and access to proper healthcare due to prevailing gender inequalities in our systems.
Busra, our fantastic Goodera host, speaks to Safia Jama, CEO of Women’s Inclusive Team, UK, who is doing substantial work to contribute to the cause of gender equality. Safia very recently received an MBE from the late Queen and juggles many roles to further the causes she believes in.
Busra: How did you form the Women's Inclusive Team? What is your mission?
Safia: The Women's Inclusive Team started exactly 20 years ago. It began with a group of amazing Somalian women. And it was our way of solving our problems. Initially, the intention or the mission wasn't to start an organization, but it was to try and see some of the barriers and challenges that we faced growing up. So not being able to attend certain youth clubs because of cultural nuances or racism that we faced at that point, or knowing that we had diverse and unique nuances, needs within our community, cultural nuances that weren't being met by stakeholders.
So it was coming together as a collective of women that grew up in the borough, to try and use the Women's Inclusive Team as a tool to solve our problems. We wanted to make sure that girls who look like us, who are younger, don't face the same challenges and barriers.
And Tower Hamlets, the area that we're based in, has the largest Black community, which is the Somali community; there are unique challenges that we face for being the Black community and having layers of inequalities, whether it's Muslim women or being Somali or Black.
Busra: Can you walk us through the various programs that you're providing or running currently for the community?
Safia: Initially, we started with an early years program. And the importance of educating kids at a young age and how important that was in terms of giving them the best life from teenagehood to adulthood.
And I guess it was just showing them the research and the understanding, just because we had the language access to information like that. And that started off the mother and toddler session. And then grew into what we call now the Chickstown Preschool, which provides free childcare for local mothers who can go and work or just have a break for their mental well-being.
We created a youth project that meets the needs of girls who look like me and makes sure that those girls have the same experience as their peers, regardless of what background they are from; we still run those youth projects to make sure these girls have fair and equal access to services.
And then we have our developing potential project which empowers and supports women to reach their potential whatever that looks like, whether it's learning, whether it's their mental health, whether it's about volunteering, or even if it's working.
And then we have health and equality programs that we have whether it's around mental health and providing. Services sometimes don't reflect the needs of all. Our NHS, for example, has excellent services, but we know that certain communities don't access them. So how do we work with them to make sure that those services are equally accessible to those communities? So we have contracts with the NHS mental health specifically. We also have an inequalities program called Flourishing Communities, which looks at how you make sure that people can people that need access to GPs are helped.
Early intervention is really important in some cases. Access to maternity, and making sure that people have equal access to maternity because we know that data has shown us that women, Black women specifically, are four times more likely to die as a result of giving birth than compared to any other community.
And then we have the Mungard Project, which looks at and supports young kids with special needs. We understand cultural nuances and guide them through making sure that they have a safe, happy, and productive life for themselves and their family.
Busra: It sounds like the programs you're providing give peace of mind to women in knowing that their kids will be supported and they will get some employability. What are your learnings from working in this space?
Safia: I'll use COVID as an example, that horrific and challenging period that we all faced and still face worldwide. It enabled us to think outside the box regardless of what background, skills, or community we were from, we had this common enemy and we all united to fight this common enemy. We had over 500 volunteers during that period, and it enabled us to be able to do more.
We desire, if we desire a better world, then we need to sacrifice our time, our comfort, and our energy. And a lot of people did that. All it takes is for one to see the inequality and contribute to the cause irrespective of the background one comes from.
Busra: What kind of reception did you receive from the public and corporations for your work?
Safia: COVID made us open our eyes. It was a sense of awakening where we saw the inequalities and we saw that certain communities were being affected more. So death rates were higher for black and ethnic minority communities. And then it made us realize that actually because we had the Black Lives Matter during that time, we ended up getting support from the community and corporations that gave us their spaces and time and we ended up starting a community kitchen and a food bank.
Busra: If you had to share something about the health and well-being of women with another nonprofit working in this space. What would that be?
Safia: I think representation is really important. You can provide a service and say that the service is for everybody, but the staff or the people leading do not reflect the local community. And so representation is really important and language comes with that. Automatically, people have access to those services with better language skills.
Building trust is important while working with communities, and communication in a common language helps build that trust. Helping the communities with language skills so that they can better access the systems is critical.
Busra: But I also wonder, how important is employee and community engagement in this space?
Safia: Stakeholders need to understand that you need to engage with your community, but it's not just a tick box. It's not you saying, “Oh, by the way, we sent a leaflet that had 10 different languages” and that we've engaged with our community.
A meaningful engagement is where you sit with those communities and you say to them, “Well, what does engagement look like to you? Is it language? For example, in the Somali community, the language was only developed in the 1970s. And so not a lot of the older women can read and write because they never went to school and, and there was a civil war and so on.
And so reading leaflets is not something they're going to be good at. And we also know that when they come here, having their families and so on, they haven't been able to build their English language. For them, we make videos in an engaging way.
I think community engagement is key, but doing it properly and not doing it as a tick box is important. There is a term in psychology called ‘bystander effect’. You realize that things are going really bad around you, but you can't take action because you feel like you can't change anything on your own.
But thanks to an organization such as Goodera for facilitating this path for employees to come together and engage with women in local communities through volunteering.
Busra: Can you tell us how we can amplify impact in this space?
Safia: Volunteering your time, your intellectual ability, your passion, and your connection is a form of donation. We think about donations as just being financial giving, but the most valuable commodity is when someone comes in and shows up with passion and gives their time and they don't hold back their intellectual ability because they want to support you. You don’t even have to be a part of the community to support. Your allyship towards humanity can be uplifting.