Yashmin Harun’s vision to create “safe spaces” for Muslim women to take part in sport has been recognised with a British Empire Medal in the New Year Honours list.
Harun, from Redbridge in east London, set up the Muslimah Sports Association in 2014 to tackle what she saw as a gap in sports provision for women like her.
“The environment is really important,” she told the PA news agency.
“With the hall space we want to make sure there is no gallery and no access for men to come in during the time that we hire the hall, so that the caretakers and the school premises know that at that time no men are allowed to access the hall, because the ladies take off their hijabs and play.
“It’s open to all women, it’s not just for Muslim women, but we make sure that it’s a female-only environment – we hire female coaches.”
The MSA runs 18 sports classes a week, the majority in Redbridge but others in Newham and Wandsworth. Harun estimates that around 200 women attend every week across the sports, but it was not always that way.
“We used the local mosque’s sports hall but we just weren’t getting the women in – they didn’t think football was for them, they thought it was a men’s game,” she recalled.
“But once we got the qualified females that we wanted from the BAME community, and they could see that women like them were coaches, that’s when the numbers started to increase.
“Numbers were growing each week, from three to five to 25 to 30 each week. It was about persuading the community and getting people to take the time out, that they could have that time for themselves and not just for the family or for work.”
There has been sporting success off the back of it – with the MSA & Frenford FC team winning at the Nike Super 5s event at Stamford Bridge in May.
As well as playing sport, the charity helps BAME women to get coaching qualifications in football, tennis, badminton, netball and fencing.
Harun collaborated with Sporting Equals, London Sport and the Essex FA to successfully launch an FA Level 1 Coaching course aimed at getting more BAME women into coaching. The model is one the FA and British Fencing now intend to launch in other ethnically diverse communities across the country.
Harun, who was born in Manchester and lived in Scotland before moving to the south-east of England at the age of 15, is also a director of the London FA and sits on its inclusion advisory group committee.
She is also a non-executive director at British Fencing, in addition to working full-time for a bank, and has high hopes for the decade ahead.
“We’re very concentrated in London at the moment but the model we have can easily be picked up and grown nationwide,” she said.
“So it’s growing the resources and having the volunteers come forward and say they want to set up something similar.
“My passion is getting more BAME women, more British Asian women, in sports, to have more role models and getting them on that pathway from grassroots to elite sport.”