Mandy Sanghera is an international human rights activists who has spent the last 27 years supporting victims and survivors of Honour Based Violence and cultural Abuse, Forced Marriage , Faith Based Abuse etc. Mandy is an international motivational speaker who has spent years supporting and empowering others find their purpose and rebuild their lives after abuse .
To listen to the episode for Apple users: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1203285774
Mentioned in this podcast:
CSW for youth
Girl summit 2014
Kalbir Bains, author of “not our daughter” https://twitter.com/kalbirbains
Hello Mandy, welcome at the PAVE podcast. There is so much we can say about you; you are a Tedx speaker, an international human rights activist who has spent the last 27 years supporting victims and survivors of honour based violence and cultural abuse, forced marriage. Mandy what can you tell us more about yourself?
Mandy: Okay I am Mandy Sanghera, I live in the UK but actually I travel all around the world and talking about honour based violence, ritual abusive practices. So a lot of the work that I do is nothing to do with religion it’s about cultural practices. So we talk about FGM, we talk about forced marriages; we talk about children being branded witches or young girls experiencing breast ironing. So forms of violence against women and I have been doing this for 27 years.
Alianne: And you are involved with UN?
Mandy: With what I am involved with the UN is actually a part of the UN women for youth. So what I am doing now, because something that I am very passionate about is actually inspiring and motivating the next generation. Because somebody like myself who has now smashed the glass ceiling is so important that actually I inspire and actually empower and help the next generation. It’s important that a woman of colour who has campaigned on disability and women’s rights and talked about issues that my community would not talk about 27 or 25 years ago. So it’s important now that I am empowering the next generation to take a stand so that’s why I am involved. I am flying out to New York again in March and I will be talking at CSW for youth, I will be talking about ending violence against women again.
Alianne: Is this something going on right now that you are working on?
Mandy: I am doing quite a lot at the moment, I am feeling really really excited. One of the things that I’m currently doing is I am doing quite a lot of research at the moment because actually it’s really important that you are always learning, you are always kind of educating yourself because things move forward so much and one of the things that I am doing now is I am looking at women with learning disabilities who had been victims of honour based violence, who had been victims of abuse being forced into a marriage. So to me it’s really important that professionals understand capacity, they understand consent. They understand that sometimes parents would force their child with a disability into a marriage so I am working on that. I am also involved with the child abuse inquiry in the United Kingdom, so we are looking at children who had been victims of child abuse in the United Kingdom whether that was years ago or now with grooming. So there’s been an awful lot of young children who had been victims of being sexually exploited by men. I am also involved with a forced marriage campaign with the Sharan project and the campaign is called Our Girl and we are now going into schools and colleges and we are raising awareness of forced marriages and I do a lot of talks around the world. I was out in Malaysia, Singapore, Dubai, Indonesia and America, Riga and Canada last year. It’s been a crazy year last year and this year seems to be no different.
Alianne: I was wondering that when you are old and are looking back to your life, what do you want to have accomplished or what is the desired outcome of your work?
Mandy: I feel very blessed and very lucky because I feel that actually I have achieved so much more than I have ever expected but when I look back at my life, which I do all the time and I kind of think wow I have spoken at the UN, spoken at UN women, spoken in Geneva, spoken at Brussels I have spoken all around the world, in the world’s most prestigious venues, colleges and universities but that is not what drives me. To me when I am empowering the next generation, when I see young people becoming activist because they want to follow my footsteps, to me that is the biggest passion that is the biggest driving force. To me when I see young people like you wanting to make a difference that’s what motivates me because actually there is no “I am” team, I am not on my own is so important that I continue to mentor and empower the next generation. That is what my legacy, I hope will be and that is what driving me.
Alianne: Were there any roadblocks in your way?
Mandy: There were some real issues; there is an awful lot of things happening at the moment because I am meeting a lot of women who are victims in conflict. So women who are being victims of say had been abused by Isis or women who had been abused in any country. I mean a few years ago I was lucky enough to be involved in the End Rape and Conflict with Angelina Jolie. I was involved with the Girls Summit with Prime Minister Cameron, Malala and Prime Minister May, who is now our Prime Minister. Like yesterday when I was watching the news and we’re still facing women being marching around the world to stand up for their own rights and we are still tackling gender equality in 2017. It is a really sad time and I think that we need to change attitudes we need to change mindsets, not just men but women as well because actually people use culture, they use religion, they use out-of-date practices to hide behind and to inflict violence against women and that needs to stop.
Alianne: Yes absolutely, is there a way we can support you?
Mandy: Yes, I do a twitter chat every Wednesday and it’s called empowerment hour that’s a Wednesday from 8 to 9 PM UK time and people all across the world that come on that and we talk about topics that are affecting young people like today I’ll be giving a twitter chat 3:30 UK time with somebody in India who approached me because they were inspired by the marches in India yesterday and they have asked me to come on and do a twitter chat. So I do webinars I do a lot of things where I think it’s important; when you have a voice and you are respected in the media the community gets behind you then you have to use that position and you have to use it to get the message out there. You have to challenge out-of-date cultural conditioning and out-of-date cultural norms and say to people enough is enough; you know what we need to empower our young girls. We cannot carry on inflicting violence and also I am doing a lot of work with men because actually men have to be a part of the solution, not being seen as the problem. So I have a friend Jerry Campbell and Ravi in the UN, I have people like Maz who works with the police so I have a really good network of males who are supporting me, who are a part of my network, who are supporting me with that message to end violence against women and they are promoting gender equality so it’s so important that actually I work with young people I work with communities around the world whether that’s in England or the Netherlands or in Pakistan.
Alianne: I agree that we should involve the men too that they have a responsibility to speak out. Their voice should be heard and to be listened to. Mandy last October I was invited to speak during one of the workshops of the Wave conference in Berlin and after that I stayed to follow some of the other workshops that were given and it was during the third workshop which was presented by Pia Deleuran from Denmark. I probably will pronounce the names wrong but Tanja Ignjatovic and Vanja Macanović from Serbia and Sibylle Stotz from Germany, during that workshop I felt completely silent because at that moment I discovered that the problems we face in the Netherlands and protection of children after this was a big global issue. There were so many nationalities in the room and that moment was life-changing for me. Do you have a moment in your life or during your career perhaps that changed the way you look at your place in the world differently?
Mandy: Life for everyone, we all go through journeys and sometimes we will come across hurdles, we will come across barriers we will come across things that we should never experience whether it’s violence or whether it’s a health or losing somebody that you love and I have experienced all of those things at some point in my life but I think that my spirit within me told me to never give up. I have been somewhat different to most people in my community and my family. I had a strong sense of self aware to me it was about standing up for what I believe in. Being brought up in a loving home, being brought up in a good family and around a good community. I am not that religious I am more of a spiritual person.
I believe in being a good person and they believe in standing up for what is right and not hiding behind region and culture. There have been times in my life that I have been pushed and I’ve been tested. I have seen things that I wish that I would have never seen in my lifetime but then I have to see those things because actually I believe that God brings things to my attention because He knows that I’m strong enough to voice and empower and support this women and I do believe that actually this was my calling. I was not dealt a card like other people where I could have children do 2.4 children or anything like that, I had gone through cancer, I had gone through hysterectomy, I have gone through an awful marriage. I have gone through things that other women have gone through that I have never given up, actually has made me stronger I am so proud of what I have managed to achieve in my life time. If I look at my life and I think, wow it’s been an amazing life it has been an amazing opportunity but I don’t take that for granted I believe in wanting to help other people.
I want to be inspiring women who may have lost their way, who may not have hope, who may not be able to believe in themselves and so well actually do know what, I can do that, look at that Mandy has got over that, Mandy has achieved what she wanted to. I have achieved way more than I ever expected in my lifetime, I look at my life and I think like it really is a question. It has been an amazing life I’m so grateful to God, I am so grateful for every opportunity but I think it’s important that people like myself in a position of power creates this opportunities for the next generation. It is so important that we continue to inspire and we give the next generation hope. We have to take you along on the journey because that is where I sleep, brief and live. I have mentored now so many people around the world, I feel honoured that I am being headhunted by organizations to be taken onto headhunt and to mentor and empower the next generation. I’m going out to do a talk at King’s College next month; the tickets have already sold out. I’m doing an event with Prince’s trust on Friday with Prince Charles and his organization about engaging young children who have not got opportunities. I feel so blessed I feel so lucky, it’s been an amazing life.
Alianne: Absolutely do you have the feeling that because you have known despair that you are more open to gratitude.
Mandy: I think, you know what I do I live my life by being grateful for everything that comes my way. I live my life by law of attraction some people may not know what that is, it’s based on quantum physics. I am a bit of a geek I love reading, I love science, I love maths so yeah this is why I am doing all the research and I am working with Singapore and other organizations like Thailand and everywhere this year as well. It’s important you are reinventing yourself, you are learning things but actually it’s important that we don’t become complacent.
It’s important that abuse does not become a part of life but actually it does not affect me so I don’t need to be interested in it. We all have a moral compass, we have a duty to care for everybody, we have a responsibility and do you know what you don’t have to be an international speaker like myself, you can be somebody grass root organization in the Netherlands, in Pakistan, in India making a little ripple effect. You know what a little ripple effect is better than nothing, we all have a duty to do something because it’s so important that we all come together to address the issues because in different cultures different abuses happen to women. I’m not just talking about my own community, I talk about African community, I talk about the Chinese community, I talk about native American women because violence against women is violence against women.
Whichever way you dress it up that’s what it is and we all have a duty, we have a responsibility and do you know what it was really empowering to watch women yesterday and men come together to stand up for what they thought was wrong and the other thing is that I am not going to pass judgment on here because now Trump has been elected by people he has to prove himself and sometimes people say things that I have come across many men in my lifetime who hold that point of view.
Some of them probably wouldn’t openly say those things but actually it’s been so difficult. I have had to challenge stereotypes, negative stereotypes over the years and people will challenge you and it’s not just men but I’ve also experienced it from women as well and gender does not apply to women it also applies to men. People from LBGT communities, so gender is not just around women. Being a feminist is not just about women we belong to one race regardless of our ethnicity or gender, we belong to one race and it’s called the human race. I think that my darkest times has been the most amazing time too, when I have been in a place where I have been felt vulnerable, I felt lost, felt confused; questioned faith, questioned everything but I never gave up because I had to look at it that something good will come out of the bad and do you know what, I live by that and when I look at my life it’s been amazing. When I look at it and sometimes people would say to me, oh poor you, you don’t have children and I said do you know what yeah I wasn’t dealt that card but do you know what God had bigger plans for me. I can pick up my suitcase I can go anywhere at a drop of a hat, I can go anywhere around the world and I don’t have to worry about childcare or anything like that.
So you have to look at the positives, it would be amazing to had children but I have nieces and nephews that I love more than life itself, they are everything. So you look at the positives you look at the blessings because I am lucky to be here today because actually I may have not been here. So that’s why when I look at things in my life, it’s been amazing life and I am so passionate and so driven about inspiring the next generation. This is why it was so important for me to get involved with youth organizations whether it’s the UN whether it’s the prince’s trust, whether it’s other organization around the world because to me I want to create the next generation of activists that is what is my legacy, that is my driving force. When young people come to me I connect them to organizations in my country, I bring them along to events. There is a young girl who I mentor, who is listed in Forbes and the thirty under thirty I am so proud, I feel so blessed and honoured to be a part of our journey.
There are so many young people that I meet and they are little bit lost, they don’t know where they want to be and actually a good mentor or a supporter and a friend and you can buy into their vision and you support them and you create opportunities. It is so rewarding to see people find their confidence, find their voice. So like when I see young girls in Pakistan, I am involved with the first ever world film festival for women in Pakistan. I am being the judge for some of the films that we have had, I’m so proud of the young lady that’s got behind them. She’s bringing women together and men and they are going to showcase films and I just feel so lucky that I have had an amazing life. People always say: why do you always say that? and I say you know what because I live my life by being grateful and I feel so incredibly blessed because actually you know you can’t be complacent. You know this has taken years of blood sweat and tears, it’s been a very hard journey it really has but do you know what it was about listening to your inner voice listening to your intuition and never giving up when you’re being threatened by people, and people are targeting your family or whether people are trolling you or whether women decide to gang up together three four of them to try and discredit you.
The truth will always be the truth no matter how many people decide to stand together. I have got a motto that I would say I let my work do the talking, my actions speak louder than words and also I read a post on Facebook recently and they said empty vessels make the loudest noises and they kind of made me smile and I thought you know what people will see through what I am about and just because two or three people have decided that they don’t like the way I look or they don’t like what I stand for that does not bother me because there are hundreds and thousands of people who believe in my vision. They believe in me standing up for women, they believe in what I do for children, they love what I do with young man and my changing mindsets, changing attitudes, out of date cultural attitudes where man had been treated like princess and I am kind of thinking, well why do you need to be on that pedestal, why can your sister not be on that stool. So we’re changing attitudes and that is going to take a long time but you know what will get there.
Alianne: There is no doubt that you are an inspiration but who are the women that inspire you the most?
Mandy: Do you know what I would say that actually over the years somebody like Oprah, Maya, and I kind of look at those women, there were women of colour who were… Because when I look at myself when I was campaigning 27 years ago, there wasn’t many Asian women are women of colour at the UN or in government or amnesty or anywhere like that. It was dominated by men then it was dominated by the white middle-class women and there were no real women of colour able to do campaign and that level. So to me I then had to look at it and think can actually people like Oprah are doing so well and I was living in Canada at the time and in America and I was watching women and I was thinking, do you know what we need to be standing up and talking about issues affecting women in my community.
We need to become these women who are going to smash that ceiling, we need to be the women who are going to empower the next generation and show young people from ethnic minorities, from the black community, the Asian, the Hispanic community what other communinty that is okay to dream because actually we do get through that ceiling. And now we have, it’s a flow for the next generation. So people like you Alianne is so important that you follow through and make your own mark and you get through there that because you’ve got the driven, the passion and it’s important for people like me to mentor, to support you, to connect you, to open doors for you so then you are going to be the next generation and thank you for believing in what I am about as well because that means a lot to me that young people buy into my vision, that is what motivates, that is what drives me, that is what gets me out of bed in the morning.
Alianne: Mandy you have just mentioned that you do a lot of research and that you read books and I was wondering what is the book that recently inspired you and why?
Mandy: Do you know what because I am actually writing fore words there are few books that I am actually reviewing so many books and there is a young girl that I mentor, her name is Calbie and she has written a book called Not Our Daughter and I have just written a review on that book and it hits a nerve with me because I went through a marriage and actually you know what my marriage didn’t last longer, it wasn’t that great of an experience it was pretty awful to be honest with you but actually what happened was, it hit a lot of nerves in me 20 odd years later I looked at it and I thought why have we not changed. People married daughters into their homes and they still treat daughters like second-class citizens. They still see they are not like their own daughter, they sometimes treat them differently. They don’t want to let them sit on the table, they don’t want them to be going out with them at times, and they are just there to cook clean and be like a maid.
We need to change those attitudes, women are more than those labels, women are women and we have to respect women. They re-create life and we need to give them the status that they deserve, is so important. I am always reading, I just love reading but this is that the book that I am currently reading is Calbia’s because I have reviewed it and I was really blown away and I think not just Asian women or black women or anybody, I think all women can relate to that because there is always attitude with mother-in-laws, not thinking that you are good enough for this. So I think it’s going to be a real good book.
Alianne: We are reaching the end of the interview; I really want to thank you for our conversation and sharing your knowledge and your vision with the audience and myself.
Mandy: Thank you, you are doing an amazing work, raising awareness as well. Violence against women is so important that people in your country and people around the world get behind you and support you because actually you know I am so passionate, I am so driven about wanting to support the next generation is my vision and I am so honoured to be on your podcast and I wish you all the best and I look forward to hearing it but thank you again and hope you all have a lovely Sunday too.
Alianne: Thank you Mandy for telling us about your work and inspiring with your visions and ideas. I am pretty much looking forward to see what you about to do next. You have been listening to the PAVE podcast, created by Alianne Looijenga for professionals working to end the violence against women and children.