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Brilliant Women! Meet Hafsah Aneela Bashir

As part of International Women's Day this year, we decided to ask some of the brilliant women we've worked with over the past year to tell us more about their careers, influences and proud moments.

Hafsah Aneela Bashir is a writer, performer, and a phenomenal woman we've been lucky to work with!

Creative City: How do you describe the work that you do?

Hafsah Aneela Bashir: I’m a poet, playwright & performer who loves using imagination and experience to speak my truth knowing that if I don’t tell my own stories, someone else will do it for me and it may not necessarily be in the ways that I want. I am a firm believer in using our collective voice & our skills to write ourselves into existence and more importantly to take up space that has been denied to women for too long. As a British Pakistani

Muslim women of colour I am passionate about working in, with and for the community amplifying voices of those who may not normally access the arts or feel that the arts are not accessible to them. I write poetry, short fiction & plays and have worked with organisations like The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester International Festival, Manchester Literature Festival, Ballet Black, Oldham Coliseum & The Poetry Exchange connecting with people through the he-arts! I am co-director with Nikki Mailer of an arts collective we founded together called Outside The Frame Arts championing voices outside the mainstream

CC: Tell us about a proud moment in your career

Hafsah: I’ve valued each moment, even what seems like the smallest of achievements, celebrating them wholeheartedly, because I remember how difficult my first step was. I was a nervous woman sat at a writers group for the first time about to share a poem called Patience that I had written a decade ago. This was back in 2014. The response to that poem made me realise my words could be functional & that they connected with people. Since then I’ve delivered creative writing workshops with so many different women and always have the proudest of moments when we reach that point where they believe in their own power, when art amplifies their voices and they realise their experiences absolutely matter and are of value. A proud moment for myself has to be when in 2019, I was awarded the Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship - something that so many established poets had applied for. I thought they had made a mistake when they called me to say I’d got it and when I realised this fellowship was really happening, I reached in and scooped up my inner child with such a sense of pride and swung her around! Definitely one of my most memorable moments!

CC: Who are some of your female role models?

Hafsah: Historically a noble woman called Khadija who lived in Mecca around the time of Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him. She was what we would call in this day and age, an entrepreneurial business woman, the CEO of her company, owning more caravans than all of the Meccan men. She proposed to the Prophet herself who was younger than her at the time and I’ve always had great admiration for her as an independent strong woman. My grandmother is also my role model. She was displaced in the 1947 Partition of India. Her father was killed by Hindus & Sikhs as the British colonialists abandoned ship and she lost a lot of her family over the years including her son and husband. She came to Pakistan as a refugee and then migrated to England. She is a soon-to-be-90-year-old feminist spitfire and has taught me how to face adversity with grace, patience and faith. Having said that my mum is a fave role model too. A mother of five, she has always had a golden heart and tries to help those in need all the time as does my grandmother. To be ‘in service’ to humanity for the short time we are here on this planet, are beliefs these women have instilled in us, it’s in our blood. I also love poet, author, activist & mother, Maya Angelou. She was a huge inspiration to me since I studied her at college and I have often turned to her writing for strength. Also in there are Audre Lorde & Angela Davis for their stance on resistance and speaking truth to power in the face of racism, sexism and classism. Right now I’m obsessed with the fire that is Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, the American activist & politician and Egyptian American author and journalist Mona Eltahawy. I am also inspired by the brillliant writers Arundhati Roy and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Closer to home I really admire poets Suhaiyma Manzoor Khan for her passion & always speaking out against injustice & Salma El Wardany for her body positive posts and inspiring writing. Also love the sisters Nafisa & Salina Bakkar behind the online forum Amaliah dedicated to amplifying the voices of Muslim women. There are so many women I admire! My list is endless!

CC: If you could smash down one barrier that (some or all) women face today, what would it be?

Hafsah: Patriarchy for sure as it’s the main form of oppression that straddles the entire world, no matter where you live. The different sources of oppression that take place, by the state, on the street and in the home because of patriarchy are all barriers that hinder women to self-actualise and live life fully without fear or violence.

CC: Do you have a message to share with other women out there trying to make a positive change through the arts or through social enterprise?

Hafsah: You are needed, you are powerful and never ever doubt the ripple effect YOU are making for social good even if the doubts creep in! There is a past you that is incredibly proud of all you have achieved so keep going! Move forward in solidarity with fellow women. Let's continue to pull each other up! And most of all, look after yourself and your mental health.

Wonderful woman. Hafsah was writer in residence at Longsight Library as part of Manchester Literature Festival 2019. With community engagement supported by Creative City, Hafsah connected with community members, immersed herself in the vibrancy of the area and collected stories to produce a new piece of poetry - a letter celebrating the characters she met along the way, and capturing the essence of contemporary Longsight. The piece was a co-commission for Manchester Literature Festival and Manchester Libraries for their #CreativeSpacesMcr programme. Creative City is creative producer for the project. Watch a video of Hafsah reading her new work here:

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