My Greatest Champion: Baroness Helena Kennedy

Many people have asked how I’ve found the strength to continue my long and painful battle for justice in the employment tribunals. This is the first piece in the “Champions Series” in which I introduce those who have cheered me on throughout my horrific ordeal against a faceless Academy chain. 

We live in a time when the slightest mishap on the streets will involve passersby taking out their mobile phones and filming the scene, which has led to some of the most cruelest acts of injustice being broadcast to the world. Public acts of racism and islamaphobia in particular, have been caught on camera and perpetrators have been brought to justice. But what do you do when you’re at work where there are no cameras and no one will speak up for you, as they’re too afraid of losing their jobs, or because they’d rather support the longstanding member of their team over the newbie? What do you do when qualified lawyers tell you that you have no evidence and therefore there is no case to answer?

You believe in yourself and surround yourself with those who believe in you.

When I was dismissed for raising a safeguarding concern; that it was inappropriate for 11 year old children to be viewing an 18-rated video of people jumping to their deaths during the 9/11 attacks, something was not right. A 9/11 video (which had an 18 rating that in the end no one at the school cared about), my being a Muslim and wearing headscarf, a school with a large muslim student body, a white British teacher who taught the class and whose attitude frankly speaking, reeked with “you’re to blame for the 9/11 attacks”, a broader politicised city-scape of the so called trojan horse affair which has caused many school leaders to get their knickers in a twist, and two white British, senior teachers who sacked me without an investigation into my concerns and who twisted my concerns into an ‘Islamic issue’, and an academy chain that colluded with the local council to brand me as an extremist Muslim. You get where I’m going with this.

At a time when the school was making it out as if it was all in my head, when Muslim organisations hung me to dry (more details in a later post), when lawyers were not willing to take on my case, Baroness Helena Kennedy stood by me and told me the case was clear as day. Helena and I had met during my time as an undergraduate at Oxford, and remained in contact ever since. Little did I know at the time that such an inspirational woman and special friend, would be so instrumental during a difficult period when I could barely bring myself to get out of bed and draw my curtains.

To have such an inspirational and acclaimed woman (Principal of Mansfield College, Oxford, a member of the House of Lords, a QC [Queen’s Counsel], the Appeals Court for violent video games) tell me that I can win this case, was magical. It was only six months after I initiated the litigation process that I uncovered a paper trail proving discriminatory acts against me had indeed been committed. Helena however, did not require a paper trail to believe me. One of the most precious lessons I take away from the legal battle and one that I will forever hold close to my heart, is how rare and exceptional it is to have someone believe in you. It is a wealth like no other.

Helena embodies the notions of feminism and sisterhood. She doesn’t talk the talk, she walks the walk when she says we have a responsibility to the women coming behind us, when she says she believes in and fights for justice, human rights, women’s rights, and equal rights. We only have to turn the TV on or read the papers every morning to find that a prominent public figure has gone back on their word. But not Helena. She is a pioneer in a society where authenticity, integrity, love, and support are rare.

She has taught me that its okay to speak up and stand up for yourself and others –  even if it gets you into trouble. She has taught me that while our struggles are not over, we can use them to bring about real change.

She is a credit to humanity.

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