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2 Spring 201
Welcome… To this issue of the Routes to Solidarity (RTS) newsletter. The first phase of the RTS project came to a close at the end of March 2012. This issue will act as a conference report for RTS’s Black Women on the Agenda conference in January 2012. The issue will also look back on the staff’s experience and forward to our plans for the future. This newsletter is for everyone involved in fighting the poverty and discrimination experienced by Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) women and their organisations, particularly in the North of England.
What is Routes to Solidarity? Routes to Solidarity was created to develop a stronger BME women’s sector, with increased strategic and influencing power, particularly in the North of England. The project is funded by the Department of Communities and Local Government and offers a unique opportunity for ethnic minority women and their organisations to collectively share their experiences, and to act on the issues they face. The programme activities include training programmes, mentoring, developing/supporting networks and forums, developing partnership projects, organising events and policy seminars.
RTS training in Manchester, October 2009. Photo credit: Shaheda Choudhury
Black Women on the Agenda, 17th January 2012 The impact of the public sector cuts was revisited at numerous times throughout the day in speeches and discussions. After an exciting and enthusiastic networking session, the event continued with four workshops on issues that have consistently arisen over the life of the project: • Violence against women • The needs and priorities of refugee women. • Social Enterprise and how BME women can engage with it. • The Equality Act 2010 RTS policy conference workshop Photo credit: Chris Worrall
In January, Routes to Solidarity (RTS) held its policy conference, Black Women on the Agenda. The event sought to discuss the key issues affecting Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) women and their organisations. The conference was chaired by Amina Lone, Chair of BME Women’s Solidarity Forum, and opened with speeches from Oxfam and Southall Black Sisters. Oxfam Trustee Tricia Zipfel outlined Oxfam’s more widely known international work, and the close parallels shared by black and minority women all over the world – in diverse countries such as Sierra Leone, or the UK, especially in their invisibility, lack of income and protection, and the harsh conditions of their lives. Kirit Patel, Oxfam’s Programme Co-ordinator on Race Equality, detailed Oxfam’s work in the UK from which the Routes to Solidarity project had emerged. In the UK, Oxfam has chosen to work with BME women, who represent
one of the most disadvantaged and underrepresented groups in British society; especially helping small isolated women’s groups to work more closely together, develop their skills and extend their reach and influence.Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters (SBS), an organisation that highlights and challenges violence against women, spoke about SBS’s successful campaign to challenge Ealing Council’s failure to undertake a race equality impact assessment regarding the commissioning of services. This demonstrated how a small, frontline BME women’s group can be successful with determination and willingness to stand up for the rights of their women service users. Pragna explained SBS’s scepticism about the government’s Big Society and the localism agendas, seeing these policies as a cover for the vast spending cuts in public sector services and dismantling of the welfare state.
The workshops featured short presentations by policymakers and community groups. They provided an opportunity for policymakers, grassroots groups and interested organisations to discuss the issues currently facing them on an equal footing and to consider solutions and action points.
RTS conference panel Photo credit: Chris Worrall
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Andrew Stunell OBE Minister for Race Equality, Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG)
Andrew Stunell, Minister for Race Equality, DCLG Photo credit: Chris Worrall
Mr. Stunell reaffirmed the government’s commitment to developing our communities (both geographical communities and communities of ethnicity) through the work of the DCLG. He referred to the government’s Strategy on Social Mobility and Equality Strategy and noted the
Government’s strong commitment to Localism and Big Society agenda. He said that policy cannot be prescribed at a national level and issues such as integration need local responses involving local partners from all sectors. He explained that local communities can take back power through the community Right to Challenge as part of the Localism Act 2011. He stressed that communities have a number of avenues to challenge public bodies on equality grounds through tools such as the Ombudsman, EHRC and local MPs as well as the Equality Duty. The Government Equalities Office will be producing a guidance to help community and voluntary sector groups to use the Equality Act. On the government’s engagement with BME communities, especially women, Mr. Stunell asserted that though the Government is talking to people, they need feedback from participants so they know where to improve their practices and policies. He ended his speech by assuring us that,as Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister stated the Human Rights Act is here to stay; and in the coming months, the much awaited Integration Strategy will be published by his department.
Elinah Mugwagwa and Violet Dickenson (conference participants) Photo credit: Chris Worrall
BME Women and Social Enterprise With presentations by Asha Neighbourhood Project and The Big Life Group. Facilitated by the Young Foundation. Social Enterprise is increasingly promoted by government as central to the development of the voluntary and community sector to generate income to be put back into the community and as a way for organisations to be self sustaining. Social enterprise is seen as a route out of poverty that is especially applicable to BME women. There may be a number of barriers for BME women looking to start a social enterprise; these include finance, lack of confidence, lack of guidance and support, lack of knowledge and family pressures such as assumptions about women’s role and childcare responsibility. These barriers were shared and discussed in the workshops, which concluded with the following action points: Recommendations • Social Enterprise infrastructure organisations need to reach out to BME women • A network to support BME women entrepreneurs should be supported by policy-makers • More research and case studies of positive examples of successful BME women, and research into their needs • BME social enterprises are central in achieving the goals of the Big Society, but there is a need to build relevant infrastructure to support the emerging BME social enterprises, which requires funding.
Women Asylum Seekers Together choir performance Photo credit: Chris Worrall
Refugees and Asylumseeking Women With presentations by Why Refugee Women? and the UK Border Agency. Facilitated by Refugee Council. The failure of the asylum system to recognise the different experiences of men and women asylum seekers is cause for serious concern. The stereotypical image of the male asylum seeker often results in a lack of understanding of women’s needs, which in turn can have direct consequences in terms of the fair determination of their asylum claims. At worst, a lack of gender sensitivity can lead to those who have fled persecution (torture, imprisonment, rape) in their country of origin being denied asylum and returned to face further persecution or left destitute in the UK. Whilst some steps have been made, including the appointment of a gender champion, further action is urgently needed to create a system that is truly sensitive to women asylum seekers’ needs. In a workshop overwhelmingly attended by women with direct experience of the asylum system, workshop participants found it challenging to identify three priority areas in a system that they clearly felt was failing women on many fronts. After wide-ranging discussions, one area that workshop participants identified as in urgent need of change is the Azure payment card. With a value of approximately £5 per day, the Azure payment card is provided for those who have been refused asylum in the UK, but cannot go home through no fault of their own. The card can only be used at a limited range of shops and cannot be used to obtain cash, making it impossible for women (and men) to access value for money, purchase food that meets their cultural needs, or access vital services without cash for travel of phone calls. This has led to problems such as pregnant women walking to hospitals when in labour. Women also feel stigmatised using it.
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Another serious concern was raised around maternity. The Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health found that 12% of all maternal deaths in the UK were to refugee and asylum seeking women, despite this group making up less than 0.5% of the population. (CEMACH 2007). Workshop participants called for a review of the experiences of pregnant asylum seeking women in the asylum system from end-to-end, including the screening interview, detention, access to financial support and access to healthcare during the antenatal and postnatal period. Following the presentation from UKBA, discussion revealed a disconnect between policy and practice. iI was clear from workshop participants’ experiences that some staff on the ground were not aware of, or were not implementing, improved new policies. UKBA representatives at the conference said they acknowledged these concerns and would look into them. Following the discussion, three priority areas for change for asylum seeking women as identified by workshop participants were: Recommendations • The Azure payment card should be replaced with cash. • Given the disproportionate levels of maternal deaths, there should be an urgent end-to-end review of the experiences of pregnant women in the asylum system • UKBA to ensure that all relevant staff are aware of and implementing gender sensitive policies
Violence against Women With presentations by Apna Haq and the Ministry of Justice. Facilitated by Women’s Resource Centre. One in four BME women experience some form of domestic violence in their lifetime and forced marriages overwhelmingly affect BME women. Violence against women continues to be multi-dimensional problem in all communities. However, services open to BME women often fail to understand the complex needs of BME women and lack the cultural sensitivity and language skills to respond effectively. The situation is being compounded by spending cuts to women’s refuges resulting in the loss of expertise and specialist advice, which further risks marginalising BME women. Legal aid provision is also being drastically cut, which is leading to increasing access problems for particular groups within BME communities, especially newly arrived migrants. Cuts to the public sector - which have will impact upon the funding of BME women’s organisations - are likely to deepen the problems faced by women experiencing domestic violence. Having no recourse to public funds is a significant issue for women affected by domestic violence with limited or no immigration status. Whilst some positive steps have been made to protect migrant women on spousal visas, this still leaves many women, such as trafficked women and asylum seeking women vulneable to domestic violence. There is a real concern that public bodies are potentially not meeting their duties under the Equality Act, such as paying ‘due regard’ to different women’s needs, with some participants fearing that public bodies often see race and gender equality as mere tick-box exercises. Recommendations • Abolish the no recourse to public funds rule; and create safeguarding policy for women as there is already one for children • Develop a national strategy on Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) with a focus on BME women • More training on cultural issues/gender and race equality for policy makers
Rina Surjan, Westwood and Coldhurst Women’s Association Photo credit: Chris Worrall
• Need for education to inform communities, especially young people and children on human rights, and to raise awareness on issues such as violence against women and forced marriages
Equality Act With presentations by Wai Yin Chinese Women Society and the Government Equalities Office. Facilitated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The Equality Act 2010 brought together several pieces of legislation to create a single equality duty covering nine protected characteristics. BME women in particular are likely to be discriminated under at least two of the protected characteristics – race and gender. Yet the outlook for equality is worrying, especially for BME women. A combination of cuts to public services, reduced benefits, a loss of funding for BME organisations and difficulties in moving from the public sector to the private sector could have devastating effects for BME women. Race equality NGOs strongly depend upon government funding (both central and local) for their funding and therefore face an extremely tough funding climate.During the workshop, BME women’s groups emphasised the lack of engagement from public sector bodies during the process of allocating funding. In turn, policymakers highlighted the need to focus on outcomes (rather than process) as part of the drive to reduce bureaucracy. The Government Equalities Office stressed the importance of effective relationships and ongoing dialogue with BME women’s groups to ensure delivery of outcomes. It was noted that public bodies should work with the voluntary sector to address issues of discrimination before they became statistics.Furthermore, BME women’s groups were encouraged to draw on existing equality information from sources such as data.gov.uk - to gauge the performance of public bodies. However, BME women’s groups questioned their capacity to hold government to account and continue to deliver their services in the tight funding climate. Recommendations • Clearer guidance on how the voluntary and community sector (VCS) and public sector can work together • Publicise the importance the public sector and VCS working together productively • More events and opportunities to bring VCS and public sector together • Ensure that commissioning is more equitable and includes BME women in the process.
RTS conference Photo credit: Chris Worrall
Media Training, 25th January 2012. RTS has drawn from the expertise of Oxfam’s Campaigns and Policy department to help the project develop the campaigning and media skills of RTS participants. The media and campaigns training was developed in response to evolving demand from the groups which saw new challenges arise. For example, Westwood and Coldhurst Women’s Association (WCWA) got more local media attention in the run up to an event held to present the findings from local research on Bangladeshi women’s needs and views. Rina Surjan, Project Coordinator of WCWA was asked to be part of radio and TV interviews, but she ‘found (it) difficult to manage as (she had) no experience or skills to conduct (herself) during interviews,’ she wanted to learn ‘how to manage the media and how to write press releases.’ This lack of experience and confidence in working with and using the media is not uncommon for the groups RTS work with. Through the informal coaching Rina received and her RTS mentoring, a one day media training at WCWA was devised and built around WCWA’s needs. Rina said ‘As a result of the training we have started to draw up a media policy.’ In other regions, such as Yorkshire and Humber, RTS has also run a media training course, drawing on Oxfam’s international and national campaigning expertise. RTS would like to do more work around media and campaigning, if you are interested in this type of work please contact: Maya Sharma in the North West at firstname.lastname@example.org Archana Choksi in Yorkshire and Humber at email@example.com Parveen Akhtar in the North East at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Nurturing the Roots: Building sustainability in the BME women’s sector, 6th March 2012 Routes to Solidarity held an event in March which brought together funders and BME women’s groups, to discuss the barriers faced by small BME women’s organisations to developing financial sustainability The event was attended by over 50 participants including 11 funding bodies such as The Big Lottery Foundation, Lankelly Chase, Tudor Trust, Children In Need and Charity Bank Limited and a range of representatives from BME women organisations. Discussions offered funders the chance to learn more about the challenges faced by BME women. Other key points that came out of the discussions include: • Community and voluntary groups need to take more responsibility when applying for grant fundingonly around 34% of grant applicants read the guidance notes to the Big Lottery Fund applications- the onus is on both sides to engage and be proactive • Groups need to adapt and be open to new ways of working; groups need to look more to partnerships, the private sector has a vast amount of resources and the voluntary sector can tap into that through things such as Corporate Social Responsibility schemes • Both funders and the other participants had agreed that the voluntary sector and economic climate is changing. The voluntary sector as a whole need to start ‘thinking outside the box’ to be sustainable and survive
BME women organisations would be a good idea and funders could support this work. There were three workshops on different possibilities for small voluntary and community organisations to generate income; these were social enterprise, grant funding and bidding for contracts. The workshops allowed participants to delve in more detail into how to approach these different income opportunities. The funders were enthusiastic about the event, and the opportunity for groups like these to come together. Many were keen for similar future events, one funder said ‘we are discussing tentatively whether it would be useful to organise a focus group where we invited groups to have an honest discussion with us about their experience and perceptions of us as a funder.’ Food for the event was provided by three charity and social enterprise caterers, including two Oxfam partners. The food was very well received, and the diversity was much appreciated by all participants. RTS will be producing an event brief which aims to capture the day’s presentation, discussions, evaluation and next steps following the event. If you would like more detail, or would like to receive the report, please contact Maya Sharma at email@example.com
RTS Reflections RTS, has involved a number of staff who have all had a high level of dedication and each added their differing skills and experiences to the project. Routes to Solidarity is held closely to all our hearts. Maya Sharma “I joined RTS in July 2011 when Farah took family leave. Given certain family connections to the project (!) I already had a general idea of its work and had heard Sandhya enthuse about the project. As a result I was delighted to step in as Farah’s temporary replacement. I’ve loved working on a project which focuses specifically on BME women and have been impressed by the many dedicated, articulate and motivated women I’ve met. I have a real sense of satisfaction at being part of this project which brings together incredible women and their groups with those who are making decisions about their lives. Archana Choksi RTS has been an inspirational experience which has provided me with the opportunity to work with so many active and dynamic BME women and their organisations. The success of the RTS project has been the strength, commitment and resilience of the BME women with whom I have worked. Together we have managed to bring some positive changes but still there is a long way to go. I am sure our solidarity, strength of spirit and partnership will bring more positive changes in the future.
• Mentoring networks between
Farah Kurji I have loved working on the project and have been consistently impressed by the motivation, passion and determination of all the women that I have worked with on the project in this difficult climate. I think that a project like RTS is important to highlight the important work that you all do Sandhya Sharma Being part of RTS has strengthened my commitment and passion for working with women from BME communities across and between communities. I was lucky enough to work with such energetic women constantly striving to create positive change for themselves and others living in the North West and beyond. Although solidarity can be a hard and long journey to realise, the women who took part in RTS are a testament that, even within the current challenging and economically divisive climate, there is strength in working together. I have learnt a great deal from the project, the team and the women I met as part of it, not least the value of grass roots organising and what it can lead to! Thank you for the opportunity. Fiona Davision Working on this project has been a huge and positive learning experience for me, in a sector I had little prior knowledge or experience in. I have been motivated by many of the women I have met during the training and other events, I hope to be able to continue this kind of work in the future.
challenging social conventions and I hope I can take away what I have learnt from my colleagues and groups Iâ€™ve met in terms of successful lobbying and working flexibly to survive Kirit Patel Working with the RTS project, I do feel a great sense of pride and joy, at the high level of dedication, expertise and knowledge of the BME womenâ€™s groups and our team. I appreciate too how significant the RTSâ€™ existence and contribution has been to support women in their endeavours over the last few years. I have learnt to remain optimistic in our collective journey for equality although this often appears to be hard, painful and demoralising. I am amazed by the many women and men who have the energy, perseverance, passion and commitment for progressing the rights of women, and who continue to fight and struggle, as well as inspire all those who come into contact with them to do the same. Julie Jarman Of the many projects I have been involved in, RTS stands out for the passion and commitment of its staff and women it works with. It has been transformational.
Where Next? Routes to Solidarity (RTS) is planning a second phase of the project, partly funded through a partnership with Unilever. We have seen the project flourish over the last three years, and Routes to Solidarity is currently looking at ways we can evolve to meet new demands and challenges in a tougher economic climate for women and their organisations. We will continue our work across the three Northern regions of England (North West, Yorkshire and Humber and the North East). We will largely continue working in the same way, with predominantly the same priorities; through training and mentoring grassroots women and their support groups. We are looking at campaign and media training to support groups develop their social media skills as a way to campaign and to extend their reach and impact. In other developments, RTS will be supporting groups thinking about social enterprise and how they can develop these to become more sustainable.
RTS team Photo credit: Oxfam
Katie Lau As a relatively new member of RTS I was impressed by the high level of enthusiasm and passion of the women RTS works with. I have been inspired by stories of groups
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