The coronavirus outbreak has had a devastating impact across our communities in Leicester. However, the impact it has had on women and in particular on Black, Asian and ethnic minority women is alarming.
My name is Zinthiya Ganeshpanchan, I am the founder of the Zinthiya Trust, a charity I set up in 2009 supporting women and families to be free from abuse and poverty. I believe every person has the right to live without the fear of violence and also have access to basic human needs such as food, shelter, education and dignity. The majority of those who access the Trust for support are those facing complex and multiple disadvantages. Women fleeing abuse, people facing homlessness or those who are facing poverty and are in crisis.
Since the pandemic began, The Zinthiya Trust has seen an increase of over 90% in women seeking help who are fleeing violence and abuse. Eighty five percent of the women accessing our domestic violence services are from black, asian and ethnically diverse communities and many of the women have no recourse to public funds. These women have struggled to access safe housing and other vital support because of being discriminated against due to their immigration status. Without adequate support they are forced to stay in violent relationships and homes where their lives are at risk because if they left, they would become homeless and destitute. On top of this, these women are also unable to access legal aid and facing challenges with submitting their applications to the Home Office due to the delays as well as not having the support to do so.
Black, Asian and ethnic minority women have also been hit hardest by job losses, reduced working hours or being unable to go back to work in Leicester. Lots of the women we support are working in low skilled and low paid jobs including garment factories, food factories, restaurants and shops and family run businesses which were all shut down during lockdown.
The loss of income has put additional pressure on women who are getting into debt or relying on food banks to be able to support themselves and their children. A recent worrying report suggests that child poverty is on the increase in Leicester. The majority of workers in Leicester’s exploitative garment factories – which have been blamed for contributing to the spread of the virus and local lockdown – are black, asian and minority ethnic women and their lives and health have been put at risk by poor or illegal working conditions.
“I do not feel women’s needs are being recognised, in particular the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on black, asian and minority ethnic women women.”
The Zinthiya Trust staff has been working throughout the pandemic to continue to support the beneficiaries including providing in person and online support to women and girls fleeing violence. The trust has also expanded its emergency accommodation to support safe housing for women and girls fleeing abuse and have no recourse to public funding. We have also brought in other funding thanks to organisations such as the British Gas Energy Trust, and Smallwood Trust to increase our money debt and energy support services giving those in receipt of these services the opportunity to improve their quality of their life.
Long term I’m very worried about the lack of funding for specialist support services by and for black, asian and minority ethinic women and increased money and debt issues. I think black, asian and minority ethnic women in Leicester will be more likely to struggle to find alternative work or get back into work than their white counterparts because of skills or language barriers, having to care for family members or they themselves have health conditions and don’t feel safe to go back to work. As such we have set up a project ‘She Inspires Business Box” that will provide specialist support to women in particular from ethnic minority communities to develop skills and or set up businesses through the Government’s Community Renewal fund that has been awarded to the Zinthiya Trust and its partners.
Despite this potential long-term impact on women, to my knowledge even now, there has been no consultation by the local authority or government with women’s groups in the region to understand how our needs will be met or how women can be involved in the rebuilding of the community. I do not feel women’s needs are being recognised, in particular the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on black, asian and minority ethnic women women.
I want to call upon the local authority, and those who can influence policy to take a good look at what is needed to rebuild our community and to consult those who are most impacted rather than taking an approach of assuming what is needed. Such exercise must be done in real honesty with the intent of making change rather than a tick box exercise. I want to see the government change the policy on women fleeing violence with no recourse to public funding. The current policy is based on the idea that some lives are more important than others and this is not acceptable.
About the Author
Zinthiya Ganeshpanchan is the Founder and CEO of the Zinthiya Trust a charity set up in 2009 aimed at supporting women and families in Leicester and Leicestershire to be free from poverty and abuse. A published author, a campaigner and activist, Zinthiya is the recipient of many awards and has worked throughout the lock down to raise the profile of the work she does through the Trust but also to raise awareness of the issues faced by women and girls in particular those from ethnic minority backgrounds. She is a Fellow (Gender) of the Clore Social Foundation, The School of Social Enterprise and the Royal Society of Arts. She is also a Fellow of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (2020). Zinthiya is a member of the sounddelivery media Spokesperson Network.