Meet the new Chair of the Violence Against Women and Girls Community Forum
14 September 2023
Author: Maisha Sumah
Title: VAWG Community Forum Chair
In this partner Q&A, we speak to the chair of the Richmond and Wandsworth Violence Against Women and Girls Forum, Maisha Sumah.
Maisha was elected as chair in March 2023 as part of the forum’s commitment to be community-led and ensure specialist knowledge of the violence against women and girls (VAWG) sector is the focus of the work being done to combat the issue.
Tell us about yourself
I’m a multi award-winning speaker who is also a youth mentor as I’m passionate about ensuring young people are empowered to achieve their full potential. The work I have done there informed my frontline work as a case worker in the VAWG sector, supporting young women and girls.
I have been a BME (Black Minority ethnic) Communities Young Expert Representative for the NHS and previously won an Inspiring Black Woman in the UK award from African Glitz for the speaking work I’ve done sharing my story and highlighting the issue of violence against women. You’ll often find me at Community Conversations because I’m interested to hear what is happening locally.
What inspired you to become Chair?
I have always considered myself an advocate committed to tackling VAWG. I was initially nervous to put myself forward but I'm passionate about the issue, have real life experience of VAWG and when it comes down to it, community is at the heart of everything I do – everything that I am.
It's an honour to be part of the forum. I have an opportunity to use my voice. I found freedom and want to help others find that freedom for themselves. I know that tackling VAWG means more than providing emotional support for survivors but making a safer community for them.
What is your vision for the forum?
I definitely imagine more people getting involved. It’s great that Richmond and Wandsworth Councils have helped facilitate it but it’s so important that the community take part in the organisation of the forum so that as locals we can have greater agency.
I hope that together we can create a strong network that involves faith groups and leaders, as they receive a lot of vulnerable people and have hands-on experience engaging with survivors. If we can do this and get a wide variety of people into this space to work collaboratively, we’ll be able to bring our collective voice out on the forum and enact change. And that’s what it comes down to. I just want change – anything I can do.
Why do you think community is so important?
Everyone in the community makes the community and I believe that one person can have a domino effect which is something I think we see a lot of here. The feeling of place is what makes the environment so unique, so when those diverse cultures and backgrounds come together, you get to know what the community is about.
My adolescence played a big part in making me. My church, my youth groups, boss man at the corner shop and especially my mum, all these factors helped make me the woman I am today.
Community helps you heal and heal others. I just think community means caring about more than yourself, which is even more important when you think about things like the pandemic or the cost of living. Do what you can when you can – it’s all about giving back and I love giving back.
Why is being based locally so key to delivering this work?
I grew up locally and have been here since my late teens. I had been in an abusive relationship and living locally means that I’m intimately familiar of how the support services and the domestic abuse system works in the area. I think that makes me well placed to consider where there are opportunities for improvement. It also means I can signpost to services in the community because I’m familiar with them through my own experiences.
Being part of this forum is great because I aspire to a great future that creates safer spaces for others than I had for myself. Whilst so many things are changing for the better, you can still see the gaps so by doing the work here, I can see the impact of the improvements being made. IDVAs (independent domestic violence advisers), case workers – survivors don’t automatically know what these are or how they can access these things, so people just don’t come forward. So, I’m working at the heart of the community I’m part of to help them gain access and close those gaps.
Up to: Partner blog 2023
Updated: 14 September 2023