Hull Sisters Featured in Grazia Magazine

We are thrilled that Sonia Jalal, our founder, is featured in this week’s Grazia magazine.

In our regular column, Sophie Walker, feminist campaigner and author of “Five Rules For Rebellion: Let’s Change The World Ourselves”, spotlights women fighting for change. This week, she talks to Sonia Jalal, 42, founder of Hull Sisters, the only refuge for Black, Asian and ethnic minority women in that area.

How would you like to introduce yourself?

I was born in Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan and started my campaigning life as a 16-year-old working for UNHCR to support Afghan women and children’s empowerment and development.

That’s a very early age to become an activist. How did that happen?

I was inspired by my mother, who was a very charitable woman and a feminist. She told me as a child, ‘Give away everything you have and it will come back to you.’ Now I understand that means that you are surrounded by love from the people who you help and get to know. So at college, I started to work as a volunteer in my free time. Women used to come to me for help and I’d write their immigration appeals and help with their issues.

What did you study?

I came to Hull in 2004, when I was 25 to study social policy applied research. I was very interested in the mental health of ethnic minority women and the many ways they were being let down by services that didn’t understand them.

So how did you come to set up the shelter?

Hull isn’t very multicultural and the communities do not mix very much. I was working with women on human rights issues, such as violence and abuse, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, poverty, low-skilled work – and I thought, there’s so much to do here. There was no specific service for women of colour. On the first day in 2013, I hired a community hall and 79 women turned up with different issues. We now run many services. During the pandemic, we started outreach to provide services to women on their doorsteps and my house has been used for storing donations and meetings. We do awareness courses, one-to-one and group sessions; we help them develop their confidence. We teach English language, maths, IT and employability courses and we have sewing machines and cooking classes so that they can work towards gaining financial independence.

What’s your biggest challenge?

Lack of services and funding, without a doubt. People don’t understand that Black, Brown and Asian women have different experiences and need different services. We do finally at least have a building now, but unfortunately, it doesn’t have a kitchen or windows in the main hall or training rooms.

What have you learned that helps you to keep going?

You have to be straightforward, steadfast and persistent. If our communities are divided, we will all be divided. But when you bring women together, then together we can achieve a lot. And as my mother said – when you give something away, it will come back to you.

How can Grazia readers support you?

By donating to our GoFundMe page to help us run and maintain the shelter.