Anila Noor is the founder of New Women Connectors (NWC), a movement that aspires to be a feminist and inclusive ecosystem builder. Its actions strive to build a more inclusive Europe especially for refugee and migrant women and for the LGBTQ+ community, by empowering them and allowing their voices to be heard.
FAIRE was pleased to meet Anila and discuss her work and projects with NWC.
Hello Anila Noor! Thank you for taking the time to talk with FAIRE about your work. First, could you please tell us a little bit about your background?
I’m originally from Pakistan where I was a non-traditional mother and wife working to advance women’s rights. I was working with the Aurat Foundation giving small grants to women-led or other community-based organizations that spread information about women’s right on a local and rural level.
You can imagine how hard it is for women living in a conservative Muslim society not only to talk about their own selves but also to raise these issues publicly. In 2015 I claimed political asylum in the Netherlands.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when you arrived in Europe?
I was given social assistance when I arrived. Obviously, I was thankful for the government of Netherlands helping us. But to receive this assistance my husband and I were forced to work as manual workers in a factory. It was honestly quite a painful period for me especially because I felt, once again, trapped. In Pakistan, we were fighting for our human rights and here in Europe we were seen as a burden and without any potential to offer, regardless of degree, educational background, or motivation to work.
I tried to look around for other jobs and the government said that I could either keep working at the factory to receive social assistance or find my own job but no longer receive any assistance. In 2017 I went for the second option and that same year, I applied for an Open Society Foundation fellowship. This allowed me to become a policy advisor for the city of Amsterdam. I later also became part of the European Migrant Advisory Board.
Can you describe the mission of New Women Connectors, the organization that you founded?
Women are not allowed to become themselves. As women coming from developing countries and going to Europe to realize our own potential and say “no” to gender-based violence and traditional patriarchal systems, we find the same vicious cycle of exploitation of women in Europe. It unfortunately exists in Europe, and that is why I founded New Women Connectors (NWC).
As previously mentioned, I was involved in the European Migrant Advisory Board and I came to understand how so many NGOs and other mainstream actors who are making the decisions are doing so behind closed doors and without the input of refugees, especially women refugees. I founded NWC to remedy this issue and particularly the distance that exists between decision-makers and the people affected by these decisions. At NWC, we are trying to support migrant refugee women and make them a central part of these policy discussions.
How do you bridge this gap between decision-makers and the refugee community?
I work with the [refugee] community to give them confidence, to tell them that they do have the right to talk about policy. We are also trying to change the narrative about migration, how others define us, and how we are defining ourselves. Second, we are trying to make policymakers realize the institutional gaps that exist and ensure inclusion and diversity truly exist.
NWC aims to be a feminist ecosystem builder. We want to say: “Nothing about us without us.” We have to be part of the discussion; we have to be part of the designing.
We are aware of the difficulties [of international NGOs working for refugees and women’s rights] but we are trying to challenge the way they see us. They just see us as refugees and ask for consultations. We are human. We are the future of Europe.
Can you give us an idea of the type of work NWC does?
Despite the pandemic, we managed to secure funding from the European Culture Foundation and the European Program for Integration and Migration. Securing this funding is the result of long-term advocacy work and also being recognized as an organization with a direct connection to the communities at stake.
The funding allowed us to provide a platform in more than eight languages where we invited migrants and especially women refugees to give them a voice, a platform that belongs to them.
The platform included virtual gatherings where we discussed the issues they wanted to discuss in the way they saw fit. We talked about many things such as gender-based violence, digital inclusion, education, the labor market, and [refugee] narratives.
Can you tell us more about the role volunteers and other organizations play in helping NWC?
We have an advisory board and volunteer experts who are all helping us pro bono and it is thanks to them that our organization is surviving. We have many volunteers who can help us depending on their interests, their expertise, and their skills. We often get help from young people who are knowledgeable about social media. We also receive the help of organizations like FAIRE that bring us to the table and help connect us with the private sector.
What is the next big goal for your organization?
Right now big corporations, when they want to connect with refugees and help, only know one place to turn to and that is towards mainstream INGOs. This process makes refugees depend on these large organizations and the corporations don’t realize that they are not helping, that they are perpetuating inequalities. NWC wants to re-set the agenda of discussions and tables by co-designing a platform where corporations can connect directly with the refugee community.