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Refugee and FGM campaigner wins Woman of the Year award

TIRELESS CAMPAIGNER: Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf has been named Woman of the Year at by Women on the Move Awards

A REFUGEE who has campaigned against female genital mutilation (FGM) and domestic violence has been named Woman of the Year at the Women on the Move Awards.

Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf will be presented with her prize on Friday (March 11) at the ceremony, which takes place at the Southbank Centre’s Women of the World Festival (WOW).

Women on the Move Awards celebrates exceptional refugee women who – against the odds - have made an outstanding contribution to women's empowerment and integration.

These women fled their homes and loved ones, escaping war and persecution, and managed not only to build a new life for themselves and their families, but also to support and inspire people and communities across the UK.

Director Phyllida Lloyd will present Yusuf with her Woman of the Year award.

Yusuf arrived in the UK in 2008 fleeing war and gender-based violence in Somalia and leaving behind her two children, convinced that they would soon join her. But eight years later, having been detained, destitute and homeless, Yusuf is still stuck in the asylum system.

Wanting something positive to come out of her experience, Yusuf has dedicated her time to campaigning to ensure that asylum-seekers are not forced into similar hardships. A tireless champion for the rights of women who have experienced domestic violence and FGM, Mariam is a source of support and hope for many people who are seeking protection and trying to rebuild their lives. She is not giving up hope of seeing her children again.

On winning the award, Yusuf said: “If we did not speak out, no one would know what happened to us. It’s important for a woman who is vulnerable to say to the community that she is living in, ‘I am here, I am human’."

She continued: "I have come from a terrible background, but I have come so far. Winning the award means that somebody somewhere has been watching what I’ve been doing and my work hasn’t gone unnoticed. It gives me the courage and energy to go out there and do more.”

The Young Woman of the Year Award presented by Livia Firth, will go to 21 year-old Seada Fekadu. At the age of 16 she fled Eritrea and found her way to the UK, via Calais, on the back of the truck, on her own.

She was quickly granted refugee status and soon started volunteering, becoming a mentor and a role model to many young people. Fekadu is a powerful advocate for many of those who often do not have a voice and who, like she once was, are children seeking protection and trying to start a new life on their own. She is about to go to university to fulfil her dream of giving back to Britain by becoming a doctor.

YOUNG AND INSPIRATIONAL: Young Woman of the Year Award winner Seada Fekadu

Fekadu said: “I was always told that even as a girl, you should have the right to speak up, to choose your future and make a difference to your country. I couldn’t do that in Eritrea but here in the UK I want to help others because I have been given a new chance in life. I want people to know that refugees are human too. We may come from a different part of the world but if we help each other we can make a difference.”

The Awards also recognise Citizens UK as champion of the year. Citizens UK coordinated the Refugees Welcome movement in 85 towns and cities across the country and successfully campaigned to increase the number of Syrian refugees resettled in the UK in 2015.

WOW - Women of the World Festival was launched by Southbank Centre Artistic Director Jude Kelly CBE in 2011, the centenary of International Women's Day.

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