IWD: Ilford mum overcomes barriers to host women's awards ceremony

Sharifa Begum founded the SHE Awards to celebrate women from diverse backgrounds

Sharifa Begum founded the SHE Awards to celebrate women from diverse backgrounds - Credit: @apperturephotography

A Chadwell Heath mother-of-three is hosting an awards ceremony to celebrate "everyday women" across the UK.

Sharifa Begum launched the SHE Awards with husband Imdad Basit in 2018 to mark the centenary of the first women gaining the vote in the UK.

The annual awards - held today, International Women's Day - aim to "recognise and celebrate the achievements of women from all walks of life".

Sharifa, who works as a civil servant, told this paper: "We want to champion women in business, health, culinary skills - all the amazing thing women are doing every day.

"We deliberately represent women from diverse backgrounds - it's about celebrating everyday women who wouldn't normally get the red carpet experience, and making them feel like celebrities."

Nadire Mushtaq from Gants Hill (l) won Valiant Volunteer in 2020, presented by Chadwell Heath resident Jo Varsani (r)

Nadire Mushtaq from Gants Hill (l) won Valiant Volunteer in 2020, presented by Chadwell Heath resident Jo Varsani (r) - Credit: @aperturephotography

This year's finalists include Redbridge councillor Pushpita Gupta and founder of Barkingside Art Club Eliyah Qureashi.

Hannah Stodel, four times Paralympian and triple world champion, and Changing Faces charity ambassador Tulsi Vagjiani are among those on the judging panel.

Growing up in Hackney, Sharifa said she felt overshadowed by her louder, more confident peers.

"I was very quiet and shy, really an introvert," she said.

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"I felt like if you weren't an outspoken person, you would often get overlooked and left behind.

"But being quieter shouldn't hold people back or mean their achievements aren't recognised.

"That's why I wanted to set up the SHE Awards - it stands for Saluting Honouring Excellence".

The founder said the awards have also offered an opportunity for her to personally grow and develop.

"In 2019 I went up on stage for the first time at the She Awards and spoke in front of an audience," she explained.

"This was something I was scared to do, but it showed me and my children that anything is possible.

"I hope to show them that if I can overcome my fears, they can too."

Lavina Mehta won in the health and fitness category in 2020

Lavina Mehta won in the health and fitness category in 2020 - Credit: @aperturephotography

This year, Sky Sports presenter Bela Shah will host the awards at Chigwell's Hallmark hotel, with former Apprentice winner Carina Lapore expected to be in attendance.

Amber Joshin, 17, will be reading a poem on body dysmorphia and 18-year-old Lavina Patel will be performing.

"It started out as a small event in east London, and now we have people travelling from across the country to attend," Sharifa said.

"People who've won awards have told me it's changed their life."