A pioneering ethnic minority women’s organisation is giving a “ray of hope” to survivors of honour-based abuse.
Southall Black Sisters (SBS) was formed in 1979 to tackle domestic violence, racism, and religious extremism perpetrated against Black (Asian and African-Caribbean) women.
One of their most notable campaigns led to legislation being introduced in 2007 to protect individuals from being forced into marriage without consent.
Their work has also highlighted discriminatory immigration and state practices, including cuts in public spending and specialist services that they say threaten the lives of women and girls in certain communities.
In 2022, many survivors of gender-based violence are still benefiting from SBS support.
In the lead up to the National Day of Remembrance for Honour Based Violence (July 14th), a leading National Lottery funded charity, Southall Black Sisters, is now calling on victims to spot the signs, report the crime and get the right support they need.
One survivor said: “Southall Black Sisters can accommodate victims like me. It is vital to have that support because they are changing lives.
“They are giving that ray of hope to women when they see no way out.”
SBS advises professionals and women on matters such as immigration policy, family law, and resources for escaping domestic violence, with the aim of supporting survivors on a journey to empowerment and independence.
In 2021, honour-based offences in England rose by 81%, referring to crimes committed to protect or defend the ‘honour’ of a family or a community, such as forced marriage, female genital mutilation, or honour killings.
SBS has been involved in campaigns to make misogynistic cultural or religious defences aggravating factors in cases of femicide and gender-based violence.
Head of Policy and Research at Southall Black Sisters, Hannana Siddiqui, said: “We are trying to prevent cultural defences like misogyny being a justification for these crimes.”
SBS resources have been stretched further since they saw a 195% rise in helpline calls during lockdown.
Siddiqui added: “We also continue to witness failures in policing and state responses in protecting black and minority, including migrant, victims.
“This is because of a failure to introduce or implement and enforce the law and best practice, particularly because of ‘cultural and religious sensitivity’ or racism.
“More specialist services ‘by and for’ black and minority women and increased police and state accountability is urgently needed to prevent more deaths.”
For survivors, having the support of National Lottery-funded organisations like SBS can mean the difference between life and death.
Sareen*, a survivor of domestic abuse, said: “If a space at Southall Black Sisters was not here today, I wouldn’t have been here as well.
“The National Lottery is helping thousands of people because if they don’t fundraise, the organisation wouldn’t be able to help many people.”
Journalist and broadcaster Samira Ahmed, who has long been a supporter of projects tackling HBA, said: “Throughout my career, I’ve always had a special interest and concern in violence against women, particularly honour-based violence against women.
“Honour-based violence has always been there, but we didn’t always call it honour-based violence. The word ‘honour’ is controversial - some people feel it shouldn’t ever be used in the context of violence against women - but it struck me that the problem was never going away, that there were always accusations of racism if people tried to talk about it, and women were being silenced.”
Mrs Ahmed acknowledged HBA continues to be underreported and underacknowledged by the wider public, partly due to these difficulties associated with labelling and discussing it.
She added: “I’ve been really struck when I’ve gone into some communities, and spent time talking to people, police, social workers, women’s groups, about how much pressure there is to not talk about honour-based violence, because somehow it tars a whole community and that it suits racists to talk about it.
“That’s been the real challenge as a journalist: finding that balance between being scrupulously fair and not feeding racism, but also just calling a crime a crime.”
*Name changed to protect the identity of the survivor
To find out more about Southall Black Sisters and the work they do, visit https://southallblacksisters.org.uk/
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