“How personal do you want this to be?” was one of the first questions that Shamima asked me before we started the interview. It caught me off guard because it wasn’t something I had considered, but after a little contemplation we both agreed that this wasn’t an interview about the Vice President Welfare, this was an interview about Shamima Akter, the person behind that title. So, when I switched on my voice recorder and Shamima launched into a powerful personal story of resilience and transformation, I knew it was a story that many of the women at the university will be able to relate to and take inspiration from.
Shamima emphasised throughout the interview that she came from a highly restrictive and sexist background. In her words, “I knew my home, my home was my boundary, outside of my home I didn’t know anything”. It was intriguing to hear her say “ my childhood has shaped me in a way where I was quiet and scared of my own voice, unable to speak my mind” because it didn’t seem to represent the woman sat in front of me at all. The Shamima I spoke to was sure of her voice, unwavering and determined to get her message across. However, to become the woman she is today, there were many struggles she had to endure. This included narrowly escaping a forced marriage and as a result being rejected by her family, and disowned. To Shamima, becoming an empowered women, free from the shackles that bound her to her family, was about going on her own personal journey to find her identity.
[photo by Sawdah Bhaimiya, taken after the interview]
Having completed an undergraduate degree in Computer Science, Shamima has further challenged boundaries that restrict women in our society. Recent UCAS data from HESA has shown that of students studying Computer Science, only 19% were female (Stemwomen.co.uk, 2019). Furthermore, the number of women graduating in Computer Science was only 15% in 2018 (Stemwomen.co.uk, 2019). She mentioned an overwhelming feeling of not belonging at first which made her wonder, “Am I even supposed to be in this field? Am I supposed to be in this lecture?”
Feeling out of place is something that reflects on more than just her academic ambitions. It is something a lot of women feel at certain points in their life and their career. Many feel that they are an imposter and do not belong where they are. This makes it much more important for young ethnic minority girls to see women like themselves become successful. One of the things that Shamima wants to see more of in the future is “young Asian and Black girls going into positions of power so that the younger generation can see that we did it, and so can they”. Being in a position of power, Shamima has become a role model for ethnic minority students at the university. Seeing someone like Shamima resist the odds against her, is empowering.
As Vice President Welfare, she mentioned that she wants to do as much as she can to raise awareness about the issues that have affected her and she knows will affect other women too. One of the projects she mentioned in her action plan is called the #WeMove campaign which aims to inform students more about domestic violence, forced marriages, sexual violence and hate crimes. This is just one campaign of many to come in the future. Real change begins with awareness.
To hear the full interview, click the link below, and listen to it on QMTV’s youtube channel:
Stemwomen.co.uk. (2019). Women in STEM | Percentages of Women in STEM Statistics. [online] Available at: https://www.stemwomen.co.uk/blog/2019/09/women-in-stem-percentages-of-women-in-stem-statistics [Accessed 5 Nov. 2019].