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'There Is No Us And Them': Why Power Structures Halt Social Justice Movements

10/03/2017 08:57
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all women everywhere

Zrinka Bralo is a migrant. Growing up in Sarajevo, Bosnia, she became a radio journalist before war broke out across the country in 1992.

During the conflict, Zrinka fought hard to report the injustices of war to both her own people and the foreign media. She left Bosnia the following year and sought asylum in London.

Fighting deportation for three years, she eventually won the right to stay. But her passion for supporting fellow migrants never faded.

Since 2001, Bralo has headed up Migrants Organise, a platform to help migrants and refugees to be mentored and build their contacts - to secure them the dignity and justice they deserve.

I had the honour of speaking to Bralo ahead of the Women on the Move Awards at Southbank Centre's WOW - Women of the World Festival, six years after winning the award for her tireless campaigning.

"There is no us and them." - Zrinka Bralo

'Refugees are citizens and should be treated as such'

"My father used to tell me, all children ask why, but Zrinka asks why not?" she recounts to me, describing the moment when, as a child, she knew she wanted to become a journalist.

Having campaigned for years for equality and justice, she believes that it is important that any social justice movement organises together.

Her background in journalism has given her the confidence to agitate, to challenge, and to always ask 'why?' It's shaped her philosophy that change comes from a society that works together.

In the wake of last year's Brexit vote, the number of hate crimes rose to record levels. And the target of these incidents? Largely the migrant and refugee population in the UK.

"Refugees and migrants live here and contribute here. They are citizens and should be treated as such," she told me, arguing that their contribution to society and their communities entitles them to be part of the discussion around their lives.

They are not just a case study. They are not just a story to be heard. They must be listened to.

Devolving decision-making power

Bralo tells me that it is important to give a platform to refugees and migrants so that their voices are listened to, and action is taken to bring justice.

But it's not as simple as it seems. This needs to be done in a meaningful way. We need to avoid these efforts being just tokenistic.

She calls for more refugees and migrants to be central to decision-making processes that affect them both directly and indirectly. It comes down to the illusion of power.

"Everybody has the ability to act. It should not be about who has the power, it should be about how we open spaces for people to act," she hastens to add.

When platforms are shared, power is shared. More people get an even slice of the cake.

"Every movement requires strategy, organisation, compromise, and most importantly, it needs diversity" - Zrinka Bralo

Change comes from inclusivity

And let's not forget the importance of the women's rights movement, which, Zrinka warns, "must include all women in order to change society."

All women face different strands of oppression, and different forms of discrimination. Bralo argues that these strands must come together so that all women can access equal rights and opportunities.

"It's important to create safe spaces where everybody is welcome, so that we can bring different ideas together and organise," she adds.
When women come together, big change can happen.

Look at 24th October, 1975, for example, when 90% of Iceland's female population refused to work, cook or look after children. Or even more recently to the 2015 WOW Festival at Southbank, when broadcaster Sandi Toksvig and journalist Catherine Mayer conceived the Women's Equality Party.

Women are more disposed to violence

A stand-out point for Bralo in her campaigning was when she was protesting the conditions for those held at Yarl's Wood, the notorious immigration removal centre in London.

With many women locked up indefinitely, unsure of if or when they will be deported, many reports of sexual harassment and rape have emerged in recent years.

At a protest against Yarl's Wood a few years ago, Bralo recounts deciding on beginning her speech with, "I am lucky that I was not detained."

But, pipped to the post, actress Juliet Stevenson spoke before her, holding up the declaration of human rights.

Thinking back, Bralo tells me she reconsidered. "Why should I feel lucky not to be detained, or not to be raped? Why do women accept oppression and see access to human rights as a privilege?"

This realisation for Bralo addresses power. Surely the women in Yarl's Wood are entitled to the same rights that British citizens are entitled? After all, they're in the same country.

The women who endure disempowerment and degradation daily within the confinement of Yarl's Wood do so without the power to change their position.

"There is no us and them," Bralo states, but this constant othering by the most powerful in society certainly makes it feel this way.

The Women on the Move Awards takes place on Friday 10th March in a free event at Southbank Centre's WOW - Women of the World Festival, supported by Bloomberg. The awards celebrate people who champion refugees and migrants in the UK and tell their positive stories of survival, reliance and the contribution they make to their societies.

HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today

Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com

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