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Stylist’s Women of the Year 2017: The activist who helped organise the Women’s March On London

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Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
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Akeela Ahmed, 37, helped organise January’s Women’s March On London, held in response to the election and inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States. Trump’s comments about women – particularly his “grab them by the pussy” remark – people of colour and disabled people galvanised around 100,000 women and men to take part in London, with attendee numbers worldwide estimated at five million.

“I met the other women involved in organising the march on social media. The world had a lot of negativity in it – Brexit, Jo Cox’s murder – and it felt like certain people’s voices were being pushed to the edge. We wanted to create a space in which we could show solidarity. The idea came from the States. We wanted to be with those women. It was such a huge international change that was about to happen and we had to respond.

When Trump was elected, I was shocked, but not surprised. He was so clear in his views on minorities and didn’t have any kind of guilt about not treating women appropriately. It felt like: we need to do something because if we don’t, when will we do it? We were fortunate to have support from the likes of Amnesty and Pride.

My role was to bring in people from different communities who didn’t necessarily feel they could have participated in something like this before. There’s a fear for women of colour and Muslim women, when it comes to doing organised solidarity events, that they’ll be stereotyped as angry women. I had to do a lot of work to try and support women and show that it would be safe to participate.”

Akeela Ahmed photographed for Stylist.

“On the day of the march in the opening speech I said, ‘Women’s rights are human rights. Let’s unite across boundaries of faith, ethnicity, gender and sexuality for equality and justice for all, in ways that are so powerful, that we will tear down the walls of division being built by those who seek to divide us. We will not let bigotry and hatred overcome us.’

Facing sexism or Islamophobia is my everyday experience, but while giving that speech I felt all these people were with me as opposed to against me. That was powerful. I’ve never experienced anything like that before.

It was such a beautiful sunny day on the march – I brought my husband and three children with me. They held little placards. It was overwhelming, but in a good way.

Since the march, so many of us have started to talk to each other and work together. We’ve started to find a commonality. It felt like an international solidarity movement and was so needed. We’re in this together, and will all be affected by these policies whether we realise it or not.

As for the proposed state visit next year – watch this space.”

To celebrate the best in people, Stylist photographed and interviewed 10 heroic women – just a few of the many who served to inspire us all in 2017. To see the rest of our Women of the Year 2017, click here.

Photography: Mark Harrison.