Actor Emma Watson was appointed UN Women goodwill ambassador in 2014 and helped launch HeForShe, a UN campaign for the advancement of gender equality. Here, she nominates Marai Larasi MBE, who was until recently the executive director of black feminist organisation Imkaan and co-chair of the End Violence Against Women coalition. In 2018, she and Watson attended the Golden Globes together as part of the launch of Time’s Up.
Marai Larasi is mother to Ikamara and Jahred, but she is a mother to many. She is the person on the frontline of the issues I care about in the UK – from feminism to LGBTQI+ rights. Throughout this decade, Marai has supported and championed women who have survived unimaginable abuses. She is there for people who have no one and nothing, in their hardest moments.
Who knows what’s going to happen in the next decade? If the apocalypse comes, I’d ride into battle in her wake. This would definitely make her laugh because she is the least violent person I know, in word, gesture and thought, even though she speaks beautifully about rage. She is all sorts of beautiful contradictions.
She is contained, having carefully learned to wield her energy. She knows when to use it and when not to, and knows that “no” is a complete sentence. She is passionately vegan, in the funniest, least self-aggrandising or patronising way possible. She just cocks her head sideways at people as if to say, “What on earth are they doing, eating animals?” She’s a neat freak. Whatever Marie Kondo is on, Marai is on, too. Again, if the apocalypse comes, I’m hiding out in Marai’s room. She is heavy and light, old and young, an anvil that’s fluid.
My abiding memory of attending the Golden Globes with Marai? Two things. We picked tarot cards before we went, and she wore the best shoes I’ve ever seen. I bought her fluffy Birkenstocks as a thank you gift, which her children think are an abomination. I am told she wears them anyway.
I wish I could name the single most impactful thing she has done over the last decade, but I haven’t known her long enough, and she is notoriously modest, rarely speaking about all that she is juggling. Personally, though, it was probably something incredibly simple she said to me the first time we met. We were at Imkaan and she introduced herself as a black lesbian feminist. Why, I asked, did she feel the need to define herself this specifically? She answered and later sent me an Audre Lorde quote explaining that it is our differences that make us more powerful, not weaker. Knowing our experiences are different doesn’t fracture us; it makes us more intimate, stronger, more connected.
I find her presence in the world profoundly comforting. I’ve never met a woman I felt had more of the answers.