With a ‘bac’ in her pocket, nothing predestined her to politics, especially not in Britain. The Frenchwoman who testified for the New York Times during the debate on the burkini in the land of Enlightenment, comes back from a distance.
She may not be topless like Marianne, leaving to displease Manuel Valls. But Saima Ashraf has something in common with the allegory of the French Republic: it is a fighter.
” Speaking, this has always been my battle, which is why I am now speaking too much, ” laughs the deputy mayor of Barking and Dagenham in London.
This young woman of 39 years now juggles between French and English. Who would’ve believed that ? When she arrived in London ten years ago, she communicated by signs.
The Frenchwoman, who testified for the New York Times during the debate on the burkini in the land of Enlightenment, comes back from afar. With only a bac in her pocket, nothing predestined her to politics, especially not in Britain.
After a marriage arranged ” as it was before “, she flies with her husband to Pakistan, the country of his parents who live in France. Originally from Champigny-sur-Marne, in the suburbs of Paris, Saima Ashraf reluctantly leaves her native France at the age of 18 years.
” I was young to marry, and to leave when we never left France, it was quite difficult, ” she notes in retrospect .
” It’s not something that I lay my children or anyone. I think a marriage should be a choice, “continues the mother of three daughters.
For six years, the bride underwent the violence of an ” abusive ” man in a country she did not know, and whose language she did not master.
She who grew up ” like a little princess ” in a family of four deceiving girls in the face of her husband’s brutality: ” I saw my parents love each other like real little lovebirds. I have never seen them quarrel. One imagines that this is life “.
Saima Ashraf returns to France. It is at this point that she searches for herself, asks herself questions, questions herself. Muslim, she decides to wear the veil.
But his identity does not only revolve around the veil: ” I wear the headscarf , yes, but I do many other things ,” she said today loudly.
On his return to France, his couple beats the wing but she decides to give a second chance to her marriage. So she flies to London where her parents-in-law live.
” It was not easy at all. The ideal for me would have been to stay in France, to be in my country with my family, “she recalls.
” I arrived on a Friday late night. On Monday morning I was abandoned by my husband with my three daughters in a shelter for the homeless, “says the young woman.
Her husband sometimes visits the children, but he does not stop his violence against his wife.
She survives with her daughters as best she can thanks to the money sent by her mother. It is ” the resourcefulness, ” but good souls encountered in social housing reach out to him.
” They were angels sent to help me, to guide me. It was just a gesture, a person telling you something, but it was important, “she recalls with emotion.
After three months, she works as a volunteer in a charity shop, and her English is improving. Persevering, she even managed to get an apartment.
Her husband reappears ” for the children ” and the couple retests his chance. But after six months, their story definitely ends and with it, nine years of eventful marriage.
” It was over and from there I started to live, ” says the young woman who was twenty-six at the time of the rupture.
The Turning Point »Margaret»
Her new job at the Metropolitan Police turns her into a ” confident ” and fulfilled woman . So much so that many French-speaking Africans parade at the door of the “Asian girl” to ask for help and advice in their administrative procedures.
This parade in the neighborhood does not escape Margaret Hodge, the member for her riding. It is to her that Saima Ashraf, who has just passed her diploma as interpreter, asks for a letter as part of her divorce proceedings.
The candidate proposes to join her, and this is how the young woman finds herself depositing Labor (Labor) leaflets in the mailboxes. She takes her party card in 2006 and runs for 2010 in municipal elections, still pushed by Mrs. Hodge who took her under her wing.
Against all expectations, she beat the British National Party in the borough of Barking and Dagenham in London, and became a municipal councilor.
” I am a Muslim and Margaret is Jewish. She helped me, is my mentor, a person I admire and with whom I have learned a lot. It gave me the opportunity to be where I am today , “she says, grateful.
Ms. Hodge’s little protege still remembers her laughter when she told him he could not show up because of his English. And of that little phrase which remains engraved in his memory: ” You will not be judged on your English, but on what you deliver .”
After his victory, his uncertainties vanish and the terrain becomes his best school. Door-to-door, neighborhood meetings, everything is done to bring it closer to its constituents and the real life of people.
The general interest prevails above all: ” I do not represent that women with the headscarf, but a whole city. I have the opportunity to change many lives in a positive way, “she says proudly.
Today deputy mayor of Barking borough and Dagenham in London, the Frenchwoman who recently acquired British nationality, held a minute of silence before her town hall after the July 14 terrorist attack in Nice. She gave a speech in English and French to share her grief and anger at the terrible tragedy that has hit France.
The same day she was followed in the train by a man who did not hesitate to call her a ” terrorist ” and to accuse her of all evils. A crowning achievement for Saima Ashraf: ” In history, it was me the Frenchman, not him .”