Young Women’s Music Project (YWMP) is an educational charity that provides a safe space for young women in Oxford to create music, express themselves, learn new skills and gain confidence. We had a quick chat to Zahra Haji Fath Ali Tehrani, the director of YWMP.
Zahra started at YWMP as a trainee at the age of 16. After the founder of YWMP, Kate Garrett, sadly passed away, Zahra took it upon herself to continue her legacy and has been running YWMP for the past nine years.
‘I was on a mission to build it up and up, because of the struggles I faced as a young woman in bands in Oxford and further afield touring – I was in a post punk band when I was a teenager. All those experiences that I faced, I realised that other young women I had come in to contact with had also faced similar things.’
The charity runs regular open music sessions twice a month and participants can try their hand at whatever they feel comfortable with. ‘Anyone can turn up and try something new or just sit and talk or watch.’ 60 young women from all over Oxfordshire currently attend the sessions and the set up changes each week based on the requirements of the attendees.
Other activities include, mentoring sessions for the young women and regular drum sessions, for any ability, for their drum troupe, Team Drum. They write their own drum beats and have appeared at Pride and Cowley Road Carnival.
YWMP recently launched Changing Herstory which is funded by the Rosa Fund. The project aims to dismantle barriers that women in music face and highlight sexism in the music scene in Oxfordshire.
YWMP also exists to support young women from disadvantaged backgrounds or with mental health issues. Zahra explained that she grew up in a multicultural part of Oxford far from what people generally perceive it to be. The project is really close to her heart as she didn’t have a safe space, like the one YWMP provides, growing up.
‘If someone is feeling uncomfortable about something, they can come to us and say, this has happened, it doesn’t feel right what should I do, and they have our full support to deal with those situations.’
One of the challenges that they have faced is doing sound checks. ‘Your sound is being done more times than not by a guy, because it’s one of those fields where women are very underrepresented. It can be really tough trying to get what you need for your sound for your gig…’
When the group has travelled out of town to perform, Zahra told WMN that they have experienced ‘a lot of aggression that is completely unnecessarily directed at our group in particular’.
However, Zahra has noticed the industry ‘changing slowly but surely’ and people are becoming increasingly aware of the issues women face in the music scene.
In 2016, YWMP were awarded BBC Introducing Oxford Act of the Year. ‘25 of the girls showed up at the studio. It was amazing to be given something like that for all the hard work that was put in by them…
‘Just seeing the girls themselves overcome stuff regularly makes me feel really proud that they have done that with the help of the project.
‘I’ve seen some of them in really dark times and now they’re speaking up, they’re confident and they know what they want – it’s just a really great thing to be a part of.’
If you’d like to find out more about the project or donate to support them, visit their website: www.ywmp.org.uk