30 Under 30: Nadine Aisha Jassat

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Nadine Aisha Jassat (28), Edinburgh

Nadine is a feminist writer, poet, and professional working the field of gender-based violence. Nadine has delivered workshops to over 2,300 young people in Edinburgh alone, and trained youth work staff on gender-based violence and young people across Scotland.

She has worked with young people to create theatre on sexual violence, a DVD adaptation of which is used by Rape Crisis workers in schools and youth groups across Scotland. Nadine’s work has particularly focused on the creative participation of young ethnic minority and/or Muslim women, evident in her current project ‘My Big Beating Voice’, a joint project between Amina Muslim Women’s Resource Centre and Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre.

As a poet, Nadine’s poetry pamphlet Still was launched at the Scottish Poetry Library in April 2016, and she has performed her poetry widely, including having solo shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, Just and Audacious Women Festivals. She has also spoken at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and Aye Write, Glasgow’s Festival of Literature on her contribution to 404 Ink’s ‘Nasty Women’.

She delivers feminist creative writing workshops and creative workshops in schools on inequality and street harassment, and her particular combination of storytelling and social justice means she often focuses on working with those who experience marginalisation.

Her favourite quote is by Angela Davis; “walls turned sideways are bridges”. This is a philosophy she lives by.


What’s your proudest achievement?

I feel that over the past few years I’ve achieved many things, both little and large, that I’m really proud of – some of them easy to define like a work achievement, others less so, more personal, but just as significant. I think my proudest achievement sits in the latter.

I feel I have taken my experiences, good and bad, and used them to try and create a change in the world for the better. I’ve stayed true to myself and my unique, gentle, funny ways, and I’m really proud that I’ve embraced who I am; where I once used to whisper ‘I’m a poet’, now I shout it from the rooftops and help others on their journey to shouting who they are, too.

What women inspire you?

I’ve always credited Audre Lorde as a huge inspiration of mine – and would recommend everyone to read her essay ‘The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action’. I find the women I work with and have worked with in Scotland’s VAW sector incredibly inspiring and powerful (shout-outs in particular to Ellie Hutchinson, Talat Yaqoob and Mridul Wadhwa for inspiring me on my journey within this field to where I am today!).

The women in my family, including those who I know only through family stories and tales. As a poet, the authors I read and listen to are also very close to my heart; Amy Tan is someone who has resonated with and inspired me greatly recently, and I don’t quite have the words for the impact that poet Andrea Gibson has had on me – their words, their courage, their talent and raw truth and beauty and humour helped me on my own journey to recognising the power of my voice as a poet immeasurably. I recommend looking Andrea up if you haven’t already; their wisdom and words will stay with you.

What change would you like to see for girls and young women in Scotland in next 10 years?

There’s so much! And it’s difficult because, in some ways we have seen some things get harder again for young women over recent years – especially with regards to UK Government cuts to housing, financial support to stay in education, and welfare reform, as well as the additional dynamics that new technologies and pornography add to the gender inequality already present in society.

I feel like over the past 10 years the landscape in regard to the latter has changed significantly, and I would like to see in the next 10 years a change of the same significance, but for the better. That said, I’ve been really heartened to see in my work – and indeed, my learning on these matters has been informed by listening to young women – young women speaking out and wanting to tackle and name these issues.

I’d love to see a growth in the education system on three key points: one, which has a diverse curriculum which supports young women who learn in different ways (i.e. valuing the arts and skills outside of traditional academia) and which is also supportive and welcoming to young women who are new to Scotland and young refugee and asylum-seeking women. I heard about a school in Bradford, England, which operated a trauma informed approach and was proactively inclusive in recognising the multitude of experiences young people had had, and barriers they may now face.

Secondly, I’d want an education system which showcases the contribution of women, especially women of colour as this was sorely lacking in my own education growing up, in the curriculum. My school curriculum would include books like Angie Thomas’ ‘The Hate You Give’ – both to make space for young women of colour to see themselves and issues they are struggling with reflected, and to see their stories treated as valid and writers of colour also, but also to counter racism and sexism in their white and/or male peers.

The third change would be an education system which thoroughly addresses gender-based violence, both in terms of education provided as well as tackling instances of it and attitudes towards it within schools and places of learning, and I’m really encouraged to see Rape Crisis Scotland already leading the way on this with their Whole School Approach work.

It upsets, angers and disturbs me to hear from young women about the everyday misogyny and entitlement they face from men – an example of which can be found in YWCA’s own SYWS 2017 report where young women talk about men refusing to use condoms, or in wider research which has shown time and again how sexual coercion is being normalised.

So, if in 10 years’ time the currently high rates of gender-based violence (overwhelmingly though not exclusively perpetrated by men against women and trans people) has decreased I will be glad of that percentage shift, but we need to continue working until gender-based violence itself is a thing of the past, and what is needed for that is a complete culture change.

What can we do to shatter the glass ceiling once and for all?

We have to recognise that it is less a ceiling with one layer, but more a multi-faced maze, of which there are barriers at every corner, and layer upon layer to tackle. In reality, navigating patriarchal (and for many, also, white supremacist and ableist) barriers is less a case of smashing a glass ceiling and more a continuing, pac-man like, challenge, in which there are successes but also new levels and hidden traps revealed.

Congratulations – despite not writing about the allegedly ‘universal’ or ‘default’ experience of the straight white man, you’ve managed to smash ceiling one and become a published poet! Uhoh, hidden door: you may now be labelled or pigeon-holed based on your gender and ethnicity! Pass go and collect 70% of £200, or less depending on your ethnicity or disability!

Ultimately, to dismantle this maze, and remove gender inequality, requires tackling that inequality where it is found in language and the everyday, as well as addressing it in actions, policy and the law. We must also recognise that this maze exists globally and across multitudes of experiences, and not ignore our sisters who live in different places to us, or whose life experience is different to ours – which is why essay collections like Nasty Women are a great.

What 3 women (past or present, real or fictional) would you invite to your dream dinner party/picnic?

This is such a good question! Frida Kahlo, Bertha Mason from Jane Eyre, and Audre Lorde. And of course since it’s a dinner party I could invite them all to bring their favourite food, too, which would be very exciting.

What would your message be for girls and young women in Scotland?

The first time I went on a trip on my own, in my early 20s, I joked to a colleague, “what if I run away with a charming man!?”. She replied, “what if you run away with yourself?”. The most important relationship is the one you have with yourself. Get to know yourself, invest in yourself, question yourself, listen to yourself, have your own back. Run away with yourself, believe in yourself, get excited in what you could achieve, see where You take You.

Fine out more about Nadine at www.nadineaishaj.com or follow her on Twitter @nadineaishaj.

Pictures courtesy of James Barlow, Chris Scott at Flint and Pitch, and Edinburgh Rape Crisis

You can see the full list of our amazing 30 Under 30 2017 finalists here, and keep a look out on the blog as we feature  a different finalist every day throughout November.

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