6/2/2020
Today from Hiiraan Online:  _
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The young Muslim girls in Cardiff taking their future into their own hands


Sunday March 8, 2020

It’s Friday night and a group of eight schoolgirls are chatting and laughing in a room just off Cardiff's Loudoun Square.

As afternoons go this one is pretty productive. To mark the end of another week these teenagers are unwinding and letting off steam before getting stuck in to the night ahead of them.

Today their subject is mental health and the girls’ aspirations. A few weeks ago it was kick boxing, on another occasion it was cooking and nutrition – whatever they feel like doing.

While these may seem like activities any after-school club may cover, for these young Muslim girls a female-only group was not an option they had before.

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But rather than accept that they just went ahead and created one right in the middle of Butetown.
Saynab Isman is 16 years old and a year 11 pupil at Fitzalan High School.

She speaks four languages – Somali, English, Dutch and Arabic – after moving from Holland to Cardiff around four years ago, but to her that’s not a big deal.

Now she is putting her head down and studying hard and is thinking about becoming a lawyer. Every week Friday nights are a time to focus on her.

Saynab, who also attends with her 13-year-old sister Aisha, said: “We wanted somewhere for girls. The boys used to have the pavilion every Friday and as girls we wanted to have something like that as well.

"We do exercises, cooking, mental health discussions. I feel more comfortable here. I can take my hijab off, it’s just more comfortable.

"I can be myself. I’ve gained more confidence. I used to be shy, not speak to people.

"I’ve learnt how to express myself, to talk in front of people.”
Co-founded by Mymuna Soleman and her 16-year-old cousin Hafsa Mahamoud, Project GLOWW (Girls Leading Others With Wisdom) is based in the CCHA Culture and Media Centre in Plas Iona, Butetown.

A building with a constant hum of activity, it's the perfect venue for the group. To accommodate the girls the centre even frosted the windows of the room they use to allow them to remove their hijabs if they wish.

Both Mymuna and Hafsa's vision saw them create the group as a safe space for girls of all ages, religions, and backgrounds to come and open up about the pressures of teenagehood. Since then it’s gone from strength to strength with as many as 15 girls turning up to take part.

As well as their weekly Friday meets up there are big plans on the horizon including a camping trip in the near future and preparations to make for a community-wide Eid celebration.

Hafsa, who is thinking about going to midwifery after she finishes school, said: "This is out of the school environment. You’re not just learning all the time you are doing things out of the classroom.

"[Growing up], balancing everything is quite hard – school, mosque, work, having a social life as well. That can be hard.

"This includes everything. As the weeks go by it gets more interesting, we can do more stuff.

"Girls understand each other more than boys might."
For Mymuna the idea behind GLOWW started with one powerful image – a photo of a Cardiff Somali woman shared on Twitter.

It was shared by Flourish, a Cardiff Community Housing Association project that supports and empowers working families both individually and a community.

To do that they give members of those Cardiff communities the reigns to do what they want and what they feel is needed most.

Mymuna said: “What caught my eye was seeing a Somali woman, a local Somali lady, which you don’t usually see who was part of this group called Flourish.

”I thought that was really amazing, that’s really different. It drew me in really quickly.

”From the get-go both [organisers] Heather and Rhiannon were amazing people. We felt like even though they were from a different background they basically said you can take ownership of it and it wasn’t patronising – that mentality wasn’t there even though they were different.

"They said this is your community, you know it best, without being patronising."

As a fierce advocate for feminism, and feminism that includes women of colour, Mymuna is determined to educate those who make assumptions about her as a Muslim women or are too hesitant to ask.

It’s not an easy job – she speaks about those who avoid sitting next to her on the bus or are taken aback when she speaks to them in Welsh – but it’s something she is determined to do.
Mymuna said: “I think one of the main things for young girls who are BAME or Muslim is being labelled and stereotyped and put into a box.

"It can be hard for them to express themselves and explain their own identity, not how people view them. [These girls in GLOWW] want to have their own voice, their own space.

“Mental health is also a huge taboo. There are these barriers culturally.

“One thing we discuss is what’s going through your mind. Some girls say they are only saying these things now because they are in a safe space. Now conversations have started off the back of what we have discussed. It’s becoming more normal.

"The girls have said it’s an opportunity they have never had before. It’s an opportunity to discuss what matters to them.”

As afternoons go this one is pretty productive. To mark the end of another week these teenagers are unwinding and letting off steam before getting stuck in to the night ahead of them.

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Today their subject is mental health and the girls’ aspirations. A few weeks ago it was kick boxing, on another occasion it was cooking and nutrition – whatever they feel like doing.

While these may seem like activities any after-school club may cover, for these young Muslim girls a female-only group was not an option they had before.

But rather than accept that they just went ahead and created one right in the middle of Butetown.
Saynab Isman is 16 years old and a year 11 pupil at Fitzalan High School.

She speaks four languages – Somali, English, Dutch and Arabic – after moving from Holland to Cardiff around four years ago, but to her that’s not a big deal.

Now she is putting her head down and studying hard and is thinking about becoming a lawyer. Every week Friday nights are a time to focus on her.

Saynab, who also attends with her 13-year-old sister Aisha, said: “We wanted somewhere for girls. The boys used to have the pavilion every Friday and as girls we wanted to have something like that as well.

"We do exercises, cooking, mental health discussions. I feel more comfortable here. I can take my hijab off, it’s just more comfortable.

"I can be myself. I’ve gained more confidence. I used to be shy, not speak to people.

"I’ve learnt how to express myself, to talk in front of people.”

Co-founded by Mymuna Soleman and her 16-year-old cousin Hafsa Mahamoud, Project GLOWW (Girls Leading Others With Wisdom) is based in the CCHA Culture and Media Centre in Plas Iona, Butetown.

A building with a constant hum of activity, it's the perfect venue for the group. To accommodate the girls the centre even frosted the windows of the room they use to allow them to remove their hijabs if they wish.

Both Mymuna and Hafsa's vision saw them create the group as a safe space for girls of all ages, religions, and backgrounds to come and open up about the pressures of teenagehood. Since then it’s gone from strength to strength with as many as 15 girls turning up to take part.

As well as their weekly Friday meets up there are big plans on the horizon including a camping trip in the near future and preparations to make for a community-wide Eid celebration.

Hafsa, who is thinking about going to midwifery after she finishes school, said: "This is out of the school environment. You’re not just learning all the time you are doing things out of the classroom.

"[Growing up], balancing everything is quite hard – school, mosque, work, having a social life as well. That can be hard.

"This includes everything. As the weeks go by it gets more interesting, we can do more stuff.

"Girls understand each other more than boys might."
For Mymuna the idea behind GLOWW started with one powerful image – a photo of a Cardiff Somali woman shared on Twitter.

It was shared by Flourish, a Cardiff Community Housing Association project that supports and empowers working families both individually and a community.

To do that they give members of those Cardiff communities the reigns to do what they want and what they feel is needed most.

Mymuna said: “What caught my eye was seeing a Somali woman, a local Somali lady, which you don’t usually see who was part of this group called Flourish.

”I thought that was really amazing, that’s really different. It drew me in really quickly.

”From the get-go both [organisers] Heather and Rhiannon were amazing people. We felt like even though they were from a different background they basically said you can take ownership of it and it wasn’t patronising – that mentality wasn’t there even though they were different.

"They said this is your community, you know it best, without being patronising."

As a fierce advocate for feminism, and feminism that includes women of colour, Mymuna is determined to educate those who make assumptions about her as a Muslim women or are too hesitant to ask.

It’s not an easy job – she speaks about those who avoid sitting next to her on the bus or are taken aback when she speaks to them in Welsh – but it’s something she is determined to do.

Mymuna said: “I think one of the main things for young girls who are BAME or Muslim is being labelled and stereotyped and put into a box.

"It can be hard for them to express themselves and explain their own identity, not how people view them. [These girls in GLOWW] want to have their own voice, their own space.

“Mental health is also a huge taboo. There are these barriers culturally.

“One thing we discuss is what’s going through your mind. Some girls say they are only saying these things now because they are in a safe space. Now conversations have started off the back of what we have discussed. It’s becoming more normal.

"The girls have said it’s an opportunity they have never had before. It’s an opportunity to discuss what matters to them.”



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