Even a quick glance at our collections (https://www.racearchive.org.uk/collections/) shows that women’s stories form a significant proportion of the material. The content of these collections bears witness to the determination and resilience of some key individuals, who fought for their own and all women’s rights, facing discrimination and hostility at every step.
Ann Adeyemi’s practical and down to earth attitude, passed down from a strong mother and grandmother, was the foundation of her anti-racist work in the arts and education.
Elouise Edwards was a major influence in dozens of community organisations in Manchester, and a life long campaigner for racial equality and justice
Locita Brandy, one of the first organisers of the Moss Side Carnival, also influenced local politics as a Manchester councillor
Other collections show the power of women’s collective action in fighting back against racism and gender discrimination. For example, in the Annana (Manchester Bangladeshi Women’s Organisation) collection you will see how women from the Bengali community came together in the wake of the racist murder of Ahmed Iqbal Ullah in 1986 to form a powerful organisation that allowed Bangladeshi women to address their own needs and raise a powerful collective voice.
The Zimbabwe Women’s Organisation(ZIWO) shows how women asylum seekers from Zimbabwe worked together to ensure the visibility and preservation of the rich cultural heritage of Zimbabweans living in Greater Manchester, passing down their stories to future generations.
The Abasindi Women’s Co-operative features in several collections, where we see how Black women came together to create their own space, which developed into a wide-ranging community resource centre, offering social support, cultural activities and supplementary education
Within the Marilyn Cuffy collection there is documentation of the setting up of Sojurner’s House, a refuge set up primarily for Black women in recognition of the fact that existing refuges were often culturally inappropriate and alienating for Black women experiencing domestic abuse.
In the same collection there are records from the Cheetham Asian Women’s Association, initially established as the Cheetham Asian Girls’ Project in response to identified isolation and cultural and religious issues experienced by South Asian girls growing up in the United Kingdom.
All of these initiatives (and others documented in our archives) have in common their grassroots origin – women working together to help each other.
Challenging racist and sexist narratives
These collections offer a a great deal of information to counter and challenge some of the outdated (or discriminatory) attitudes towards migrant women and women of global majority heritage in Greater Manchester.
For example, there is a persistent stereotype that women of South Asian heritage are passive and oppressed by their own communities, unwilling or unable to act / advocate for themselves.
The Ananna collection documents how Bangladeshi women were able not only to form their own organisation, but to successfully raise funds to buy their building and create a women-only space – something that many mainstream voluntary organisations have sought but failed to do. Farhat Khan and Anwar Ditta led their own anti-deportation campaigns, speaking at large rallies and public events both for their own cause but also in support of other people’s campaigns and for a fairer immigration system. The collections that document these histories challenge the stereotype of passive and oppressed South Asian women.
Understanding gender-specific experiences
Our collections also offer the opportunity to understand the additional and gender-specific challenges that face women navigating the UK immigration systems. Farhat Khan’s experience of the asylum system (as documented in her collection) shows the specific challenges facing women fleeing honour-based violence. Anwar Ditta fought a six-year battle, undergoing distressing questioning and physical testing, to prove her Pakistani-born children were hers and to be reunited with them. The Home Office only overturned its refusal after Anwar had taken blood tests which proved the children were undoubtedly hers, something which she had offered to do all along.
Highlighting women’s contributions to fighting racism and building stronger communities
Many of the women who feature in our collections were pioneers, dedicating their lives to battling not only racism but also sexism and class-based discrimination and building their communities here in Manchester.
Ann Adeyemi, born to a mixed-heritage mother and Liberian father in 1951, had a lifelong commitment to teaching that centred Black experiences, as demonstrated in her work as a high school teacher, as well as her work on anti-racist education in London.
Women like Elouise Edwards and Locita Brandy came to Manchester as part of the Windrush generation and forged not only new lives here but new communities. Locita Brandy came from St Kitts and Nevis, was one of the first organisers of the annual Moss Side Carnival back in the 1960s. She later becoming a Labour politician and an elected political Councillor for the Moss Side Ward between (2003 -2007).
Elouise Edwards came to England in 1961 from Guyana and with her husband Beresford Edwards, was instrumental in challenging racism and developing vital resources for the predominantly Caribbean community in Moss Side. She was later awarded an MBE for her contributions and was accorded an African Chieftancy, for her work with African people in Manchester.
Opportunities for educators and people working with young people
As touched on above, centring the voices and histories of these important women and community groups in educational spaces helps to challenge dominant stereotypical or racist narratives about these women. It also tells a more balanced and accurate story of anti-racist activism and community-building, by ensuring women aren’t omitted or marginalised from the stories told.
Exploring our resources with groups of young women can create a much-needed space for girls to talk safely about their experiences and needs, showing how women activities worked with women’s issues and needs in the past. It is also important to use these resources with all young people, to encourage a recognition of women’s rights and support them to think about how they can actively take part in gender-equality activism.
Learning about how these women and groups fought for their rights back then offers the opportunity to consider what rights we still fight for today, and how we fight for them. We can also reflect on the need for women-only spaces historically and whether they are still needed, and on the specific issues and needs for women of colour then and now.
Most importantly we can think and talk about whether the achievements of these women are sufficiently recognised and celebrated, and how to ensure that they are, not just on International Women’s Day but throughout the year.