When it comes to services addressing the needs of women and girls from the black, minority and ethnic communities there is a severe lack of research to be found. That in itself says a lot about how many people from the South Asian communities are speaking up and how much agencies and practitioners are doing to seek out their voices, and include them in shaping services.
As a South Asian woman right from childhood I’ve been told not to speak up or express myself. We’re often told that we don’t have a voice and that if we do speak up then it’s deemed as disrespectful. If we speak up then this will bring shame into the family and if agencies get involved it will break the family. For as long as I can remember I was scared of speaking up and expressing myself truly to anyone whether that was a professional or not. I always felt that I had to say the right things.
On the other hand, in our experience women and girls accessing services have felt they’ve not been understood. That their cultural/religious sensitivities haven’t been taken into account. As a result of this, women and girls have not bothered accessing mainstream services, and have often relied on family, friends and religion to overcome their issues. Whilst some of these strategies may have helped some, many have suffered in silence. This has had a knock on effect on their mental and emotional wellbeing as well as other issues such as abuse and poverty.
“We have lived experience of the issues we as women face and so we connect really well with our service users.”
This is what led me to set up, SKY Positive Minds, a charity that works to empower vulnerable women, girls and children from the local community who have experienced domestic abuse, sexual abuse or have been affected by mental health or other challenges. We have worked with women and children from the South Asian community for the last five years and have established really good trusting relationships. The majority of our referrals are via word of mouth. Women and girls prefer speaking to us as the whole of our team is made up of women and girls from the South Asian community. We have lived experience of the issues we as women face and so we connect really well with our service users. Women come to us who have tried to access mainstream services such as counselling but have had to wait weeks and so in the interim have accessed our services. We are proud of the difference we have made to the lives of women and children in our community.
On a daily basis we support victims of domestic abuse, in particular those here on a spouse visa, who do not have access to public funds. These women are new to the UK, do not understand the system here and rely on services like ours to help them learn and understand their options and rights. These are some of society’s most vulnerable women and children. Often the first professionals they encounter are the police, social workers, health care practitioners, yet these professionals are saying that the only option is for the women to return back to their country of origin. This is absolutely not the case and highlights the lack of understanding and awareness of the needs of this vulnerable community. One of the victims we supported told me that her poor experience with the social worker gave her anxiety and believes till this day that she went into labour at 33 weeks as a result of this. She said the social worker didn’t believe her, told her to return to the perpetrator and gave her one night to decide if she was going to return to Pakistan. This victim tells us that she was so relieved speaking to us and that we were the only people who explained all her options and were the only people who gave her hope.
“more work needs to be done with the South Asian women and children to help them build their confidence and resilience to speak up”
At SKY Positive Minds we are pushing for specialist services for South Asian women and children. This will enable us to build their confidence, educate them on their rights and options and raise awareness on what to expect from the different systems. Unfortunately there isn’t a specialist service in our area and our council does not have anything in their policies for this. We have approached the council for help on securing one of their empty buildings so that we can open a resource centre for South Asian women and children and provide a holistic service to ensure their voices are heard and that their needs are met. We will work in partnership with a range of agencies so that the barriers between both the service users and professionals can be broken down making room for better outcomes for all.
But more work needs to be done with the South Asian women and children to help them build their confidence and resilience to speak up, to seek help and access mainstream services where required. To overcome the fear and stigma they’ve had instilled in them for many years. And more work needs to be done with mainstream agencies and professionals to raise awareness on the approach they need to take when working with women and children from the South Asian community.
About the Author:
Shaffia Khatun is Co-Founder and Director of SKY Positive Minds. An award-winning charity that works to empower vulnerable women, girls and children from the local community who have experienced domestic abuse, sexual abuse or have been affected by mental health or other challenges. Their Quality for Health award and the MBE equivalent Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service has further cemented their position as one of the most trusted and effective local charities for women and children in North Kirklees. Shaffia has over 20 years experience working with some of the most vulnerable members of society, and has managed refuges and women’s centres, lead teams of professionals, as well as set up projects, both locally and nationally, to help victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.