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Monday, June 27, 2022

Meet the woman behind Shantona – the “rebel organisation” helping women in Harehills

Raising the women’s centre from the ground up, Nahid Rasool is responsible for transforming Shantona into the successful organisation that it is today.

Established by local Bangladeshi women in Harehills, Shantona Women’s and Family Centre began in the late 1980s as a group where women from the community could get together to socialise and discuss social issues among friends.

Today, the community organisation helps support women from across 36 South Asian, Black, and Minority Ethnic communities with matters from domestic violence and mental health to gaining education and employment opportunities.

The woman responsible for transforming Shantona from a social group to the successful women’s health centre that it is today is Nahid Rasool.

Originally from Bangladesh, Mrs Rasool earned her undergraduate degree in General History from the University of Dhaka in 1987, before completing a Master’s in Business Administration at Leeds Beckett University in 2007.

Mrs Rasoool earned an honorary doctorate from Leeds Beckett University in 2007.

Five years ago, Mrs Rasool earned an honorary doctorate from Leeds Beckett for her contribution to voluntary and public sector contributions.

Working in the third sector for almost four decades and at Shantona for the best part of 24 years, the honorary doctor worked in London and Bradford in various capacities before starting her job in Harehills.

It was in these roles that she faced a lot of challenges, prejudice, inequality and barriers not only within the South Asian community, but the wider community and in herself, she says.

Faced with these obstacles, Mrs Rasool was determined to do something for the culturally diverse women and girls in the UK, who face inequality and discrimination within their home and the wider world.

In 1998, the opportunity came up for Mrs Rasool to play a wider role in society through Shantona Women’s and Family Centre.

We worked with the community to provide them with an understanding that no culture should accept domestic violence against women. We were considered a ‘rebel organisation’ but we slowly showed that we were just trying to challenge negative behaviour and increase harmony in families.”

With only one and a half full-time staff including herself on the books, the women’s centre started helping and supporting women of the Bangladeshi community to build up confidence and independence.

Now, the centre has grown with over 30 staff working to deliver culturally sensitive services around diverse and multi-cultural issues, challenging negative behaviour, stereotypes and expectations of Asian, Black, and Ethnic minority women in Harehills and across the city.

Mrs Rasool, said: “Shantona began as a group set up by local Bangladeshi women who wanted a separated space. In 1998, I was appointed as the group coordinator, and I am now the CEO of the organisation.

“I used to work in various sectors before Shantona, working in social care and as a lecturer in college.

“When I started, I saw a huge amount of need. I started looking at domestic violence after noticing that a lot of women were not accessing education and employment because of these issues. Slowly, the organisation became about supporting the overall health of women and families.”

The community centre supports women from across 36 different communities. Image: No 10.

The centre quickly expanded to serving women from different communities, including women from other South Asian countries, Africa, and the Middle East, with staff and volunteers speaking over two dozen languages so that women can be listened to without any barriers.

The honorary doctor, added: “Currently, we serve around 36 communities in Leeds, meeting the changing needs of the local people. A lot of the work we do is around tackling cultural issues and challenging negative behaviour.

“For example, domestic violence was considered normal in my community. Emotional, financial, and physical control is quite accepted behaviour, people didn’t understand that it was wrong. When we first started raising the issue, people were fearful of Shantona.

“However, we worked with the community to provide them with an understanding that no culture should accept domestic violence against women. We were considered a ‘rebel organisation’ but we slowly showed that we were just trying to challenge negative behaviour and increase harmony in families.”

Before Brexit, Mrs Rasool was personally involved as a coordinator in “Genderwise,” a transnational European project, including eight partners from various EU countries including Italy, Spain and Denmark, looking at gender equality issues before international policy came into practice.

Her drive, determination and passion for her work have steered the organisation towards great success in delivering various projects locally, nationally, and internationally.

Mrs Rasool’s passion for her work has steered the organisation towards great success.

This successfully targeted strategy has not gone unnoticed, with various accolades and award successes for the community centre.

Most notably, the organisation won the Duke of York Community Initiatives Award not once but twice, in 2007 and 2012.

The centre has also collected the A1 Business Excellence Award for the Best Women’s Centre and was named the winner of the GSK Impact Awards 2020 in partnership with the King’s Fund.

Some of her contributions through Shantona include developing the Hate crime strategy for Leeds and surrounding areas, creating the Say No to Islamophobia project, and producing a film about the impact of domestic violence in South Asian communities.

Mrs Rasool is currently supporting the Forum Central, which is looking at small and micro organisations’ involvement in integrated care partnership development.

The CEO’S connection with Bangladesh continues. In 2016, the experienced community leader launched a free medical centre – Sufia Khatun Health Clinic- in Baluarchor, Bangladesh, named in memory of her grandmother in her village in Bangladesh.

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