Hayley Matthews: Tears, hugs and awe on a night of uplifting women

I mentioned it recently but I feel I have to shout from the rooftops about the women I met whilst hosting The Scottish Women's Awards 2018.

Friday, 14th September 2018, 6:00 am

It was an uplifting yet emotional night with highlights like Sandra Brown accepting her award, telling us how discovering that her father was responsible for the disappearance of Moira Anderson in 1957 is still not an easy thing to say and yet it spurred her on to start the Moira Anderson ­Foundation and she’s thriving.

She was just eight when 11-year-old Moira disappeared from Coatbridge. Some 27 years later, Sandra’s estranged father confessed to her that he had been involved in the girl’s disappearance. Only then she discovered that he was an acknowledged child molester, known to all in Coatbridge and the police. Her acceptance speech had me crying quietly on stage along with many in the audience.

We also awarded Chantal Mrimri ‘Woman of the Year’ for her work with the Scottish Rwandan Community. She explained that, as Tsutsis, her parents fled Rwanda during the massacres of 1959, having experienced horrific and obscene violence. Hutus burned their homes and killed 27 of her friends and relatives.

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However, as there were too many bodies to bury, they were thrown in the water. Everyone looked on in shock as Chantal described how they would turn on a tap and body parts would seep out.

They all would have died of cholera if they hadn’t fled to Scotland and her gratefulness for the people of Scotland giving her another life was both heart-wrenching and passionate. She received a standing ovation and again I cried after hugging her on stage for much longer than was probably sociably acceptable. I’ll never take clean water for granted ever again.

I was also joined by Madeleine Black who I first interviewed for STV just over a year ago. She’s left me utterly speechless with her story. She is strong, forgiving, resilient, powerful, determined and unbroken. Gang raped in her early teens, she was left with PTSD and she couldn’t recall the events of the night until much later on in life. She had been raped, stabbed in the genitals and dangled over a third floor balcony by her feet, as well as having much worse and truly unthinkable things happen to her that night.

I began to read her book Unbroken but can’t read past the part yet about forgiveness, as it’s something I’m not very good at and I also can’t forgive these men yet for what they did to her.

But that’s why Madeleine is a much stronger person than me and any of us. She found forgiveness for the two teenagers who did what they did and she shines like a beautiful soul, striving to help others whilst speaking out against sexual violence for all those who haven’t found their voice yet.

She has three lovely children with her husband and has really taken charge of something that could have easily destroyed her life. This is her book and she is incredible.

The reason I wanted to write about these women is because achievements can often be overlooked and the struggles of these women, albeit very different, are very real and they deserve massive recognition.

The most amazing part is that all of them are continuously striving to help others with the tools that they’ve acquired whilst surviving the most brutal of circumstances. I’m in awe of them all.