An honour for women, Muslims, minorities and immigrants
Last month I received a letter notifying me that I had been nominated for an Honours. To say I was surprised is an understatement. I couldn’t believe what I was reading and had to ask hubby dearest to double check that I had indeed been nominated for an MBE, as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours. I was flabbergasted.
It’s an incredible feeling knowing that someone in my network of colleagues and friends had not only taken the time to first consider that I would be deserving of such an accolade, but then took the time to nominate me.
Apparently the nomination process is a long one which can take years, and involves a number of people. So I am truly humbled to know that someone believed that the work I do has made a difference, and involved others in the process too.
But shortly after finding out about the nomination, I initially went though self-doubt and the usual imposter syndrome that many of us women face. And this led me to reflect on what it meant to receive such an honour.
In my heart I know that if I am to be recognised for services to Muslim women then this award is not just for me, but for all the incredible British Muslim women that I have had the honour of working with, whose voices, experiences and perspectives are so often unheard and stereotyped. This award is for them and for every marginalised (or otherwise) woman who thinks that her voice won’t be heard or doesn’t matter. I am only honoured because I have been lucky enough to work with amazing women who are inspirational change makers, making significant and positive contributions within their local communities, and nationally too.
On a more personal level, the award has a profound significance. It is an award for my own mother, who was a 12 year old girl when, as a British subject, Idi Amin decided to expel her and many others from Uganda. She travelled across two continents with her family to finally settle in the UK at the tender age of 16. She missed out on an education but soon after her arrival she started work in a factory with her older brother. Soon she faced racism that was typical of the 70’s. Caucasian in appearance, her co-workers asked her why she hung out with a black guy (her brother) and didn’t just stick with them. Being the jolly person that she is, she laughed it off and told them he was her brother. It didn’t deter her from working hard and getting on with it, and to achieve her dreams. A few years later she was taken aside again by a concerned colleague who was worried that people were shortening her name to something that sounded like ‘Nazi’, and recommended that she started using a new nickname, ‘Sue’. For many years growing up I knew my mum as Sue, because that was the way it was.
This honour is also for my father, who came to this country from poverty in India, with the hopes and dreams of his mother, a Gujarati woman who had to provide for her children and wanted them to have a better life than her in a democratic country in which they wouldn’t be discriminated against on the basis of their faith, caste or gender. My grandmother had a vision of Britain being a society based on fairness and equality, something she hadn’t experienced in India, as a minority within a minority. If it wasn’t for her, my father wouldn’t be here today. If it wasn’t for him and my mother, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
So this honour is for them, ‘Sue and Jimmy’, and testament to the sacrifices they have made and the obstacles they have overcome to give us a better life than their parents could have ever dreamed of. Indeed, this honour is not only for all my immigrant grandparents; it is for all immigrants who come to the UK with aspirations, hopes and dreams.
By Akeela Ahmed MBE
I also want to thank my tribe without whom none of this would be possible. Thank you to my sisters, who ‘get me’. Thank you to my daughters and son, who motivate and support me endlessly. And a special thank you to hubby who is with me every step of this journey.