Muslim women have certainly been making their mark across Bradford district and to showcase the exceptional talent and contributions, Bradford’s leading educational institutions, the University of Bradford and Bradford College have recognised the regions prominent Muslim women at their end of year graduation ceremonies for 2022.
Celebrations kicked off, with the Muslim Women’s Council’s Chief Executive, Bana Gora, being award an Honorary Fellowship by Bradford College
The Honorary Fellow Awards were first initiated by Bradford College in 1933 and are given to inspirational individuals distinguished by their outstanding contribution to their fields, the College, or the City of Bradford.
Chief Executive Bana Gora received the Award for over 20 years of supporting women’s rights in the city and beyond. Bana is a former Bradford College BTEC National Business Studies student who co-founded the Muslim Women’s Council in 2009 – an independent charity based in Bradford.
In 2015, Bana hit the headlines when she announced the intention to build the UK’s first female-led mosque. The hope is for the mosque to become a community hub, offering advice and symbolising inclusion for all women. Bana is involved with social policy and community engagement on a local and national level, working directly with ethnically and religiously diverse communities and marginalised groups. Bana also founded a weekly food initiative called the Curry Circle, which supports the homeless and those in need.
In 2019, Bana was announced as one of the top 25 women shaping Britain’s future by Vogue, alongside names such as Naomi Campbell, The Duchess of Sussex, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. In 2021 Bana became the first Muslim woman to receive the Peacemaker Award.
Bradford College Principal and CEO, Chris Webb, said: “You are now a Bradford College Alumni, joining a family of graduates who have all gone on to remarkable success in life, this is just the beginning. Congratulations to you all.”
Honours continued at the University of Bradford, with Sofia Buncy MBE and Saira Ali being conferred with Honorary degrees.
Twice a year, the University of Bradford confers honorary degrees on individuals who have distinguished themselves in some way.Sofia Buncy is one of the UK’s leading practitioners and thought leaders on the experiences of Muslim women in the criminal justice system. She was the ground-breaking researcher and co-author of the 2014 report titled Muslim Women in Prison- Second Chance: Fresh Horizons, the first ever report of its nature in the country.
Sofia has since pioneered on a sequence of reports with her team based on the lived experiences of Muslim women in British prisons. In 2017 the reports and the modelling of good practice won Sofia a coveted Butler Trust award from Patron HRH Princess Anne and an Asian Woman of Achievement Award in the social and humanitarian category amongst many other accolades.
Sofia is currently leading her team on their fourth academic research alongside two
northern Universities into ‘Muslim women prison leavers and desistance’, which will look at impact on their lives post-prison and routes to recovery.
In 2020, Sofia was confirmed as a Deputy Lieutenant for West Yorkshire and in the 2022 New Year Honours she received her MBE for ‘services to prisoners and the community of Bradford.’
Sofia said: “I’m glad that my work has resulted in giving understanding and visibility to an issue that many people either did not know about or did not want to confront. It has given impetus to conversations around the issue of Muslim women who come into contact with the criminal justice system (CJS) and it has opened up broader conversion around equality for black, brown ethnic minority groups in CJS.”
She added: “It’s an absolute honour to receive this award from a principal institution in Bradford such as the university, because I am very passionate about supporting communities in Bradford. To have had the warm welcome I’ve had, Bradford really invigorated me. Yes, it has areas of deprivation and challenges like any other place, but it also has pockets of hope and inspiration which, if nurtured correctly, can become something so very special.
“Looking back to when I left university, there no was no master plan, no definitive grid I had laid out. I think my message to those graduating this year would be that sometimes you have to try your best in the moments you are in, to make the best choices with the right intentions and ask, ‘why am I doing this?’ If you are passionate about it and want to affect change, these are the things that will inform your decisions.”
Joining Sofia with an Honorary doctorate was Bradford born and raised Saira Ali. Saira sees herself as a glass half full person – she believes in a positive outlook, even when the world is against you.
The award-winning landscape architect has been given an honorary doctorate by the University of Bradford in recognition of her work on the environment, climate change and the promotion of greener healthier communities.
Saira is Team Leader of Bradford Council’s Landscape Design and Conservation Team. She studied landscape architecture at Leeds Metropolitan University and has worked for leading landscape design practices Barton Willmore (now Stantec), Chris Blandford Associates and David Huskisson Associates.
She is also winner of Susdrain’s SuDS Champion 2021 ‘Rising Star’, a national award voted by her peers and the public, awarded to the individual who has the ability to inspire, inform and influence the delivery of exceptional Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS).
Saira’s team are also double winners of both the ‘Green Europe: Green and Resilient Communities in Rural and Urban Settings’ award – voted for by the public – and the Overall public vote award of all the categories at the European Commission’s Regiostars Awards 2021 and winners of the ‘Future Place Programme 2018’ (an initiative in partnership with Royal Institute of British Architects, Local Government Association with Local Partnerships, Homes England, Historic England, and the Royal Town Planning Institute).
Speaking about the award, she said: “If I could give one message to graduates it is that when you go out into the world, you will have both good and bad experiences – but remember that there is always a positive to be drawn from those experiences you think at the time are negative.
“To make mistakes is to be human. But mistakes are just opportunities to build character and resilience. If we didn’t make mistakes, we would never learn anything. If you go through life without making any mistakes, you haven’t lived. So be brave, be bold and don’t be afraid of what the future may bring, you have the power to change it.”
Her approach to life in general – and, indeed, her dedication to her profession – is summed up by an anecdote from her early career in which not even wild horses could keep her from completing her work – literally.
She recalled: “I was surveying in a field and was suddenly chased by a herd of wild horses. I had to jump over a wall to get away and my foot went down a rabbit hole and I twisted my knee. I drove 68 miles back to work and completed my shift, before driving another 30 miles to hospital, by which time my knee was the size of a football. I had surgery 18 months later and was back at work six weeks later.
“My point is, unexpected things happen all the time, it’s how we choose to deal with them that counts. I’ve been very lucky in my life and career to have met some really inspirational people, including some very strong women. People come in and out of your life at different points, it’s important to learn from those encounters.”