BME women do not need penalties for who they are – they need help to flee from violence

A new report shows that BME groups for women are facing gross underfunding in spite of the many benefits they offer.

Five minutes from the centre of Rotherham – a town which made headlines over grooming gangs – you will find the charity Apna Haq. VAWG is the black and minority ethnic violence against women and girls charity, which is not unlike wild flowers which bloom on roadsides. It flourishes in spite of everything.

Apna Haq means ‘our right’ and was set up in 1994 by manager Zlakha Ahmed. In those days Ahmed was an English tutor and later a youth worker. She tells of countless beautiful and intelligent women she met. Many of them suffered abuse and social isolation, stories which have stayed with Ahmed.

It was her frustration over men controlling women’s behaviour which led her to start the charity. Being rooted in the community, the charity stands for the importance of specialist organisations in the women’s sector which cater for women from black and ethnic minorities.

Now the charity is under threat after their contract to deliver domestic violence services was passed to a generic provider.

Unfortunately the near demise of Apna Haq is depressingly familiar to Imkaan.  This is an organisation which provides advocacy to BME organisations working towards ending gender based violence across the UK. In their latest report Imkaan states that there is yet more proof of why the members remain ‘poor relations’ of the VAWG movement. The findings show that the combined income of the 15 London based BME organisations is less than that of the main single provider in the city.

London is a city where 40% of the population is BME. There is also the highest concentration of these services. When looking more broadly at the issue, gross underfunding comes to the forefront. In the UK, local authorities invested a mere £1,172 across 24 BME organisations, which represents less than 11% of these important services.

If the problem is to be overcome it is important that councils assist BME women in access to organisations which treat them as more than just their identity as women. What these women deserve are organisations which take into account the different ways they are affected by race, class, as well as other factors such as immigration status.

What has become clear in the case of Apna Haq is that if generic providers can offer services for less, squeezed budgets will also mean that organisations are squeezed. Doing this reduces the importance of the BME sector.

Being able to speak a language and work across extended family systems, to provide women seeking refuge a sense of community are all obscured. Race itself can also conveniently not factured in, and the needs of BME survivors can be ignored.

Imkaan reported that in London 733 BME survivors sought refuge spaces but only 154 were successful in finding places. The report also showed that race compounds the survivor’s experience of violence. Organisations run by and for BME women and girls are the best places to help them work through these systematic inequalities. The women who work in these organisations are often community leaders and change makers who are ready to contribute significantly to the broader movement of social justice.

The issue still remains, and for BME women the impact can be devastating. Genetic organisations who commission services for women fleeing violence simply cheapen the valuable work that BME organisations set out to do. By investing so little in these organisations, women are being sold short as are the very communities those organisations serve.

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