The Al-Hasaniya Centre: A community lifeline for London's Moroccan and Arab women
Nestled away in the suburbs of Kensington in London, the people of Al-Hasaniya Women’s Centre have been working tirelessly for over three decades to help Arab-speaking women within their community escape abuse, learn new skills and thrive.
Now, as the centre gears up to celebrate its 36th anniversary, The New Arab looks deeper into how they have helped make a difference to so many women’s lives.
The Al-Hasaniya Women’s Centre opened its doors to vulnerable Arab-speaking women over three decades ago.
Souad Talsi MBE, founder and chief executive, explains how, at the time, there was an acute need by the Moroccan female migrant community to access health and other statutory services, “I felt they were denied these due to language, religious and cultural barriers,” she tells The New Arab.
“Most of them were active workers, paying their taxes as unskilled labourers in hotels and hospitals, yet they were not able to access what they were, and continue to, contribute to.”
"Al-Hasaniya has helped support the safe return of women who are sent back to their country by their partners and left with limited visas to return, risking their residence to be cancelled altogether"
Since then, the centre has gone on to help countless women within the Arab, and non-Arab, communities thrive and improve their lives. The charity, albeit small, has achieved a plethora of milestones.
“We are proud of the achievements we have attained,” Souad says.
Among such achievements include supporting the safe return of women who are sent back to their country by their partners and left with limited visas to return and risking their residence to be cancelled altogether, using the Hague Convention to return an abducted child back to his mother in Morocco after being taken without her consent by his father, becoming a UN ECOSOC accreditation – with all their hard work being a testimony that they are on the right track of supporting, protecting and empowering Moroccan and Arabic speaking women in the UK and beyond.
They have also produced three documentaries and published two books on Moroccan migration.
However, none of the above could have been achieved without the determination and grit that Souad and her team have shown throughout the years.
Souad, who migrated from Morocco to the UK in the seventies, started her career as an informal interpreter at the age of 16, before going on to study law and become a caseworker at her local Citizens Advice Bureau.
As an active member of her local community, she saw the need for a centre to serve women of Arab origin and founded the Al-Hasaniya Moroccan Women Centre.
"I breathe, live and sleep empowerment and equality for our women"
Souad’s work also goes beyond that for her local community. She has played a pivotal role in advancing the cause of other migrant and refugee groups coming from the Arab world, was appointed a member of the London Mayors' Migrant and Refugee Advisory panel as well as the National Muslim Women Advisory Group.
Then, in 2007, she was appointed as the UK member of the Council for Moroccans abroad by the King of Morocco. “I analyse Moroccan policies and how they apply to the Moroccan diaspora with the aim of supporting them to integrate better in their country of residence,” she explains.
|Testimonies from women who have been helped by Al-Hasaniya|
Despite her unwavering work ethic, Souad has faced challenges, but she explains how this has only made her want to fight harder.
Speaking about surviving double breast cancer, a diagnosis she received in 2013, Souad says, “My determination to support our women has never taken second place. I breathe, live and sleep empowerment and equality for our women.” And her resilience paid off when, in 2010, Souad was awarded an MBE for her services to the Moroccan diaspora in London.
"Al-Hasaniya has gone on to help countless women within the Arab, and non-Arab, community thrive and improve their lives"
The Al-Hasaniya Centre also continues to be a hub for women within the Arab community, despite the onset of a pandemic.
“Our users struggled during the lockdown,” Souad reveals. “The inability to manage on their own and navigate the system without face-to-face presence and contact, the inability to use the internet, adding to their limited English played havoc in their lives.”
As expected, the centre also noticed their services for domestic violence cases soaring. “Some described it as a prison sentence without a crime being committed,” Souad says. “We had to secure funding to employ another full-time domestic violence and abuse caseworker as the numbers rose. Our target for the year in 2019 was achieved within the first three months of the lockdown in 2020.”
It was during this time that Souad and her team stepped up their support for women by ensuring ‘isolation is not loneliness’ through regular food deliveries and Zoom meetups with those they deemed vulnerable or disabled.
The centre noticed their services for domestic violence cases soaring. 'Some described it as a prison sentence without a crime being committed'
Now, as Al-Hasaniya celebrates its 36th year, Souad speaks about the future of the centre, one that doesn’t sadly include her.
“I think it is important to accept an end to a journey and mine has come,” she remarks when asked about her pending retirement.
“But I have no doubt that the board of trustees and staff, who are incredibly committed and loyal to the cause, will keep Al-Hasaniya's doors open, as we continue to transform lives.
“I am deeply grateful to all those who have accompanied me in this arduous, yet fulfilling, journey of supporting our women. I feel blessed, honoured, and lucky that I have been able to do what I passionately believe during my life’s journey.”
Sami Rahman is a freelance lifestyle writer based in London.
Follow her on Twitter: @bysamirahman
This article is part of a special series called Arabs in the UK: An exciting new project that sheds light on the Arab population in the United Kingdom and aims to showcase their continuing contributions to communities. Follow here to read more articles from this series: