When Patricia Hewitt was Minister for Women, she set up a new independent advisory committee to advise government on the views of women in the UK Muslim community. Because of her expertise and standing in the community Haleh Afshar was invited to chair the new advisory committee, which was supported by Women's National Commission (WNC). The first minuted meeting was held with a small group of women on 6th May 2003. The informal group named itself Muslim Women’s Network (MWN) and membership expanded over the next few years.
Becoming Independent from Government
Baroness Haleh Afshar and Cassandra Balchin were amongst the first members of this group with Shaista Gohir joining in 2005. This group gave independent advice to government on issues relating to Muslim women and public policy. However, some of the committee members (which included Haleh, Cass and Shaista) then went on to become founding members of the new independent (from government) and renamed, Muslim Women’s Network UK (MWNUK). MWNUK was registered as a Community Interest Company in May 2008 with Shaista becoming its first Executive Director and Haleh being the inaugural Chair. Cassandra then took over the role as the Chair from 2009 until she passed away in 2012. Dr. Iram Sattar (Treasurer) remains the longest serving board member as she joined the board in 2009.
Shaista joined the board as a trustee in 2011, becoming the Chair in 2013 when MWNUK registered as a charity. Faeeza Vaid who had started as a volunteer in 2008, then Co-Ordinator in 2009, took over as the next Executive Director from 2011. Nazmin Akthar who became Vice-Chair in 2013 and Co-Chair in 2019. Dr. Khursheed joined the board in 2011 and Sophie Garner joined in 2017. Other trustees during this period also included: Mussurut Zia and Robina Iqbal.
At the end of 2021 and after 13 years with MWNUK (10 years as ED), Faeeza stepped down from her ED role and joined the Board. In early 2022, Shaista therefore stepped down from the Board to become the ED once again with Dr, Iram Sattar taking over as Co-Chair from Shaista.
Shaista has played a key role, with support of the board and staff and particularly Faeeza, to transform MWNUK into a leading and respected national award winning women’s rights charity and to become an authoritative voice on Muslim women and girls. She is currently (with the board) planning the next phase of MWNUK's development including re-structure of roles and with a focus on member growth and reach.
Why was MWNUK set up?
Muslim Women's Network UK (MWNUK) was set up to the highlight the experiences of Muslim women and girls and give them a voice so their lived realities can:
- Inform policy and practice
- Help to challenge attitudes and stereotypes
- Inform any awareness raising / campaign work
- Result in open conversations about issues often swept under the carpet
Tribute to Cassandra Balchin (24 May 1962 - 12 July 2012)
It is with the deepest sadness and sorrow that MWNUK announced on 12/06/12 the death of our friend, colleague Cassandra Balchin. She was one of the founding members of MWNUK. Cassandra was only diagnosed a few months before her passing away and unfortunately lost her battle against cancer.
Cassandra was a great women's rights activist and worked tirelessly on advancing the rights of Muslim women. She was particularly an expert in family laws, marriage, divorce, parallel legal systems /plural legal orders and religious fundamentalisms. She wrote and contributed to many publications. No words can adequately can express our sadness at Cass' death or our gratitude for the honour and privilege to have worked with her. MWNUK endeavours to honour Cass's memory by continuing to dedicate ourselves to the work she loved so much. She is deeply missed by everyone who knew her across the world.