#IWD2021 | Ayan

International Women’s Day 2021

International Women’s Day (IWD), held annually on March 8th, is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

As the United Nations informed us that the COVID pandemic is poised to widen the existing gender disparities, IWD marks a call to action for accelerating gender equality. This year, the theme is #ChooseToChallenge.

This week we’re celebrating the women in the communities we serve and telling their stories, including how they’ve faced challenges, where they find their inspiration, and which women inspire them.

Today, we chat with Ayan from Merseyside who has been an Onward customer since 2007. She moved to England from Somalia with her family when she was just 15. At the time Somalia was experiencing a civil war and the family had little choice but to flee.

We talk to Ayan about that experience and the success she has had since. She also tells us about her motivations, and what #ChooseToChallenge means to her.

In conversation with Ayan..

Tell us a bit about you and your experience of moving to England.

We came to England from Somalia when I was 15. There was a civil war at the time and it was not a safe country to stay and live. Life was very privileged in Somalia – we lived in the capital Mogadishu, we were in good schools, food was plentiful and there was a lovely community around us.

What are your memories of growing up in England as a young, Somalian woman? Did you ever face bias or discrimination? How did you deal with that?

I haven’t really faced discrimination as such. I have met people who didn’t understand my culture or history, or even geography, which I think is different.

When I first started school in England, some of the children asked if I had shoes in Somalia – this made me smile. I have chosen to embrace each situation and help people to learn and understand, rather than taking offence.

I volunteered at Crawford House [Community Partnership] as a young person too – doing administration jobs, teaching and translating for other refugee children. Education has always been so important to me – it gives you opportunities in life and we should share this gift with others.

Despite such an early upheaval, you’ve gone on to achieve great things. You’ve studied Health & Social Care, you’ve won awards for your writing and you’ve had a family. Where did you find your motivation to succeed?

I had good people around me. My Uncle inspired my writing – he was also a well-known writer. I had a dream that I wanted to be a nurse, so when I finished St Marys high school, I went on to Old Swan College for a year, then to Hugh Baird College for another 2 years.

An opportunity then came along for a single regeneration budget (SRB) project working with Liverpool City Council as a liaison and translator between the local Somali community and the City Council. It was a tough interview – there were 9 people on the panel, and I was so nervous. To my surprise, I got it!

I loved the job and very soon I started to work within communities. This role helped me to understand English culture even more – the systems for paying bills and rent, applying for schools and colleges. It really developed me personally.

What advice would you give to young and aspirational women in the community?

You can do it. You must work hard and you have to be determined, but you can do it! There are others like you – find them and support each other.

What women inspire you, and why?

My Mum. She is such an amazing woman. She has had a tough life and has lost so many people but she does not let this heavy grief show.

She inspires me, she always has a smile, she is funny, and she is a great writer of poems too. Staying close to her gives me the energy I need to keep pushing on.

The slogan for International Women’s Day 2021 is #ChooseToChallenge. What does that mean to you?

I challenge myself to improve and achieve. Women do work so hard, often juggling families. I am helping my son and daughters to understand equality and how to respect each other.

And finally, what’s next for Ayan?

I am hoping to start my own business. I have written some family education sessions that include culture, food and language, and I want to hold them in community settings in the future.

I also have my own YouTube channel and am just looking at how I can do some of these sessions online too so I can reach more people.

If you would like to get involved in International Women’s Day, let us know what #ChooseToChallenge means to you on social media using #IWD2021. Don’t forget to tag us!