Refuges for minority ethnic women must not be closed

Local authority attempts to ‘decommission’ culturally specific refuges for victims of domestic violence will endanger the lives of abused women and children.

“Honour killings” has become a coded reference which instantly demonises certain communities. And while criminal justice experts detail gruesome stories and whip up moral panics based on “estimated numbers of cases”, the routes to safety for women facing violence are being closed off by the government’s own policies.

Policies introduced under the Supporting People (SP) housing programme are “decommissioning” black, Asian, minority ethnic and refugee (BAMER) women’s refuges, slashing the funds of others and abolishing outreach and advocacy services which are lifelines for the many women and children trapped in violent relationships.

This is happening against a background of cuts in legal aid, reductions in social housing, increasing inequality and an acute shortage of services for BAMER women facing domestic violence.

SP officials now frequently ask refuge staff, “Why, in this day and age, do you need Asian women’s refuges? Why don’t you merge with generic organisations?”

The answer, as refuge workers emphasise, is that BAMER women choose specialist support “for reasons of safety”, to counter the “total isolation from family and community networks”, and because the generic (essentially white) women’s refuges or other housing associations, which local authorities want them to go to, do not provide an atmosphere free of racism where deeply traumatised women and children can recover.

Nor do these organisations meet their cultural needs, such as the food which is familiar to their children and which their religion permits, or counselling in their mother tongue from a counsellor who understands culturally specific domestic violence issues.

SP and related policies are clearly rooted in New Labour’s adoption of American style neo-liberal welfare policies, heralding the transformation of a rights-based funding system into one where a single cash-limited pot is administered by local authorities and controlled by central government.

This control over funds has little concern for human rights – for example under the “no recourse to public funds” immigration rule, women with insecure immigration status who face violence and abuse in the context of marriage, domestic work and trafficking, are effectively barred from housing or financial support.

Ironically, community organisations which serve established community needs are being destroyed in the name of “community cohesion”. At the same time “mainstreaming” – the new buzzword – means that specialist areas are being lost and agencies without skilled staff or expertise are being given the impossible task of meeting the very different needs of a large number of diverse groups.

These are steps backwards which endanger the lives of women and are implicitly racist. That is why Imkaan is demanding an enquiry into SP policy, and campaigning to save BAMER service provision and ring fence funding to combat violence against women.

Amrit Wilson is chairperson of Imkaan, an organisation which provides support and training to a national network of black Asian minority ethnic and refugee women’s refuges.

See article about meeting organised by Imkaan : Threats from all directions

See also related posting Southall Black Sisters is under threat of closure


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