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Migration

After the Awards …

Jessica Kennedy of the Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum celebrates  the legacy of the Women on the Move Awards

 

On Thursday 6th March, 260 people gathered at the Southbank Centre to celebrate the achievements of inspirational women from refugee and migrant communities. The Women on the Move Awards, part of the WOW Festival and supported by Barrow Cadbury Trust are held to recognise the outstanding contributions that refugee women make to empowering and integrating their communities.  My organisation – The Forum – co-hosts the Awards alongside Migrants Rights Network and UNHCR.

 

The Awards are more than just a one night event, and aim to make an ongoing and lasting difference to the winners and their communities. The women gain recognition for, and raise the profile of, their work.  In addition, a fellowship provides access to high quality leadership development and help to build a network of exceptional women and the organisations they work with.

 

A month after the awards, as the dust has settled and the plaudits die down, what has changed?

 

Connections

 

Lilian Seenoi, who founded the only migrant forum in Derry-Londonderry from her kitchen table, won the Women of the Year Award for her work to ensure migrants and refugees can access support. The North-West Migrants Forum brings together diverse migrant groups and local communities which have suffered years of tension. The Awards have catapulted Lilian onto an international stage – she has just come back from Brussels, where she contributed to a public debate at the European Union on practical steps to challenge the poor treatment of migrants in Greece. She is shortly to fly to Turin, Italy, to take part in a European-wide project to tackle hate speech, before another visit to Brussels. All that before running a festival in June to bring together communities building on Derry-Londonderry’s place as UK City of Culture in 2013.

 

International attention also followed Tatiana Garavito, winner of the Young Woman of the Year Award for her tireless and determined work with the Latin American community in London. El Espectador, a mainstream newspaper in Colombia, published an article about Tatiana.  A short film commissioned by the Women on the Move Awards about Tatiana’s work will be shown at a documentary film festival in Colombia.  After the Awards Tatiana said they were “an amazing opportunity for us migrant women to show the world what we can achieve given a fair chance”.

 

Those who attended the Awards also found powerful connections. My personal highlight of the night was seeing, in the crush of the after-party, members of a collective of domestic workers connecting with a woman who works with Lilian and the North-West Migrants Forum and is trying to tackle exploitative labour practices in Northern Ireland. This fledgling relationship is continuing and already leading to mutual support, learning and, ultimately, stronger and more effective organisations.

 

Interest

 

Although the Awards receive little coverage from major news organisations, the winners and their organisations gain interest from a variety of other sources. Diana Nammi, who founded the Iranian-Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO) as a reaction to ‘honour’ killing and violence, was given special recognition for her tireless work. On the night, IKWRO’s twitter followers notably increased.  All our winners have been inundated with requests for interviews and articles.

 

Films that Women on the Move made about the Award winners have reached 5,561 viewers – spreading these courageous stories even further. As organisers, we are so glad to see how the Awards create a platform for extraordinary women to shout about their own and their organisations’ great work.  Tatiana was able to highlight the invisibility of the Latin American community in London: “with this [attention], the whole community get the recognition that we are campaigning for”.

 

Confidence

 

Perhaps most important, the women tell me, is an improvement in their confidence. Standing on stage as an Award winner, being celebrated for your work and able to share your story from a place of strength, can have a huge personal impact. From what we already know about these courageous and determined women, the only way from here is up.

 

We also know this is just the start of working relationships that benefit us all. As Diana, one of the award-winners, said after the ceremony, “it has been a huge pleasure – and I hope this will be a start for partnership work for the future”. The Forum hopes the Awards continue to impact throughout the year and look forward to seeing all our supporters – and more extraordinary women – in 2015! There may be only one day to celebrate international women, but Women on the Move are changing lives everyday.