30 under 30: Neneh BojangWritten by The Young Women's Movement
Neneh Bojang, 28, born in Gambia, lives in Edinburgh
It is hard to put into words how inspiring Neneh Bojang is – she gives so much of herself to others, even on the toughest of days.
Neneh moved to Scotland from Gambia and now lives in Edinburgh with her son, and her partner lives in France. She provides in-home one to one care for elderly people and those living with difficulties. She is a fantastic parent and lights up every room she walks into with her colourful outfits, big smile and loving energy.
Neneh is a survivor of FGM, and of domestic violence at the hands of her ex-husband. She believes that FGM played a part in her accepting the abusive situation she was in, and as puts it herself: “I justified it to myself. I thought I’m different from other women – sexual contact was so painful for me, that’s why he was so frustrated with me”. Neneh found the courage to leave her husband five years ago, when her son was just one. And her motto through all that she endured always remained “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.
She has given speeches on ending FGM and she runs FGM awareness workshops in Edinburgh. She is also an emerging young activist on women’s rights, and campaigns against No Recourse to Public Funds.
Neneh has one of the most incredible life stories we have heard, and her positive outlook on life is infectious and inspiring. We feel very privileged to be able to share her story with you!
IN HER OWN WORDS…
What’s your proudest achievement?
My proudest achievement is taking my son away from the abusive situation we were in.
What women inspire you?
I’d say my mum. She has five kids, and is a single mum, and she never waited for a man to do things for her. In Africa, it’s often the case that if the dad doesn’t pay the school fees then your kid can’t go to school. My mom is totally different. There is five of us, and we all went to school. I’ve never experienced poverty while I was staying with my mum like I did when I was with my dad, and my dad has more than my mum. We always had food. We always went to school. We were always well dressed. And today I’m sitting here thinking “hmm I’m struggling with one child”, and she had five! But sometimes I’m not sure if I can call her my inspiration. Because she was also abused, and I witnessed her being beaten so badly, and when my husband started abusing me, I kept thinking my mum accepted it, so it must be the way things are, it’s just how relationships are. Still she was a single mum with five kids, and she provided everything for us, and never waited for anyone to do anything for her. So, she’s my inspiration.
I’m also my own inspiration. When I was going through domestic abuse, I didn’t have any family in Scotland, all I had was my one-year-old child. This man who was abusing me was the only man that I knew in Scotland. He was the one that I trusted. The one I thought would protect me. I moved miles for this man, you understand? I didn’t have a shoulder to cry on. I was so terrified. I couldn’t sleep for months. I didn’t trust anybody. I thought of killing myself. But then who would look after my child? I thought maybe the best thing to do would be to take his life and then my life. So I won’t have to have any guilt when I’m gone. These were my thoughts when I was going through those horrible things. But God was with me, and I didn’t go through with it. I’m still here. I bounced back. I went through two years of hell, but I’m still here.
What change would you like to see for girls and young women in Scotland in the next 10 years?
The change I’d like to see is more empowerment. Prioritising issues that girls and young women are going through and struggling with. Not to turn the blind eye on these issues. When I was in Africa, I thought it’s so much better in Europe. But there are still so many issues that women here face as well. For example, No Recourse to Public Funds – it’s women who are paying the price for this inhumane treatment. A man can get you a visa as his wife, but you’re coming here not knowing what the restrictions of that are. If there is a problem, no one can help you. You go to charities and they can’t help you, because you have No Recourse to Public Funds. Is that not discrimination? To me it looks like discrimination.
Charities are there to help people, not to judge people. The first thing they would ask you is “what’s your visa”. I phoned Shakti for help and they asked me to leave and to go to them. And I was convinced that they were going to protect me that day. I stole this man’s money, because I was never given money, I didn’t have anything. I stole his money to get a taxi, and get myself and my child to them. They took me to the council. My child is British, he has a British passport. The council said they couldn’t house me. Even after I explained everything I was going through with this man. And Shakti couldn’t house me as well, because they have been told they can’t house women who have No Recourse to Public Funds.
When I went back, and if that man was in the house, I could have been killed that day. It frightens me when I think about it. Imagine, what he would do if he saw me there with my luggage, after I stole his money. He would know that I was trying to escape. My life and my son’s life was at risk. When I left him, and before I got my residency, I was £7000 in debt. Today, I can’t have a rest. I’m working day and night to pay that debt. I’m not sleeping at night because of that debt. I had to borrow money to feed my child. Three years with No Recourse to Public Funds. Those laws are stopping a lot of women from sleeping at night. So this needs to change.
What can we do to shatter the glass ceiling once and for all?
It’s a very big question. But I think the way we can shatter the glass ceiling is more humanity in us. Because if I see your problem as something that doesn’t affect me, I don’t need to bother. But today it’s you, tomorrow it might be me. We need to care not just about ourselves, but about everyone around. And if we care enough we will work to find a solution to every problem. When one person will suffer we will all feel like we are suffering, like we are all in it together.
What 3 women (past, present or future) would you invite to your dream dinner or party/picnic?
Number 1 would be my mum. Number 2 would be Nicola Sturgeon. Number 3, I have to cheat a bit – it would have to be the women who work at Small Steps nursery and Midlothian Sure Start. I was taken to a refuge, and I was there alone for three weeks, because my support worker was on holiday. I was there without food without nothing. I was alone. Imagine how terrifying it was after I left the house I’d known. I had no one to speak to. I was cutting my son’s vests to use for my period – I didn’t have tampons. I didn’t have toothpaste to brush my teeth. The refuge never provided me with anything.
And the nursery just called me to check on me, check how I was settling in, if I was looked after. I asked them if I could maybe get tampons, and they couldn’t believe I didn’t get anything. And guess what? The woman was just in tears on the phone with me. Just because I said I did not have tampons, I did not have toothpaste. 25 minutes later she was at my door with a box full of staff. She went to a store and bought everything for me. And she was really angry. She phoned them. If she wasn’t this caring, and thought it wasn’t her problem to worry about, my son wouldn’t have had milk. We would have nothing. And these women who work there made me see there is more to life than just pain. And even if it’s painful, and life tests you, still there are people out there who care. Even if you’re not the same colour. They just have the heart of gold. They would do whatever they can to help you. So I’d have to invite all of them.
What would your message be for young girls and women in Scotland?
Don’t let anyone dictate your mind. Don’t let anyone dictate your life. Do you. Aim higher. Dare to dream bigger. If you are willing to make it happen it will happen. All it takes is for you to believe in yourself that you can do it. Failure is part of success, and if you want to win you have to accept that. And once you fail you become more determined to try until you see yourself where you want to be. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do this. It’s not going to be an easy ride, because good things don’t come cheap, but just keep trying.
Pictures courtesy of Neneh Bojang
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.Back To Top