End violence against Black women

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2014 National Women's Conference
17 October 2013

Conference notes that domestic violence and abuse does not discriminate. It happens among heterosexual couples and in same-sex partnerships. It occurs within all age ranges, ethnic backgrounds, and economic levels. And while women are more commonly victimised, men are also abused. The bottom line is that abusive behaviour is never acceptable.

According to Women’s Aid:

• 1 in 4 women will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime – many of these on a number of occasions.

• One incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute.

• On average, 2 women a week are killed by a current or former male partner.

Furthermore, Women are much more likely than men to be the victim of multiple incidents of abuse, of different types of domestic abuse (partner abuse, family abuse, sexual assault and stalking) and in particular of sexual violence (Walby and Allen, 2004.)

According to Government figures, domestic violence accounts for 15% of all recorded violent crime. Women are the victims and men are the perpetrators in 4 out of 5 domestic homicides.

Domestic violence harms women and has a devastating impact on children in the family. At least 47,000 women report rape every year in the UK. Many rapes still go unreported and less than 6% of reported rapes result in a conviction, one of the lowest rates in Europe.

• 3 million women face violence every year

• The suicide rates of Asian women are up to 3 times the national average

Domestic violence affects women from all ethnic groups, however, the form the abuse takes may vary. In some communities, for example, domestic violence may be perpetrated by extended family members, or it may include forced marriage, or female genital mutilation. Women from Black communities may also be more isolated, or may have to overcome religious and cultural pressures, and they may be afraid of bringing shame onto their ‘family honour’.

Black girls and women have been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) and it has devastating physical and psychological consequences. The World Health Organization describes it as: “procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons” (WHO, 2013).

FGM is practiced in up to 42 African countries, and also in parts of the Middle East and Asia (House of Commons International Development Committee, 2013). In the UK, FGM tends to occur in areas with large populations of FGM practicing communities. These areas include London, Cardiff, Manchester, Sheffield, Northampton, Birmingham and Oxford. However, FGM can happen anywhere in the UK (NHS Choices, 2013).

66,000 women in England and Wales live with female genital mutilation. The Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Act was introduced in 2003 and came into effect in March 2004. The act:

• makes it illegal to practice FGM in the UK

• makes it illegal to take girls who are British nationals or permanent residents of the UK abroad for FGM whether or not it is lawful in that country

• makes it illegal to aid, abet, counsel or procure the carrying out of FGM abroad

• has a penalty of up to 14 years in prison

The government has declared its intention “to end violence against women and girls (VAWG)” – an ambition that the TUC shares. But the harsh reality of government cuts means that many refuges and charities, which provide a lifeline for women suffering abuse, face closure.

Conference notes that if you are a Black woman trying to escape from domestic violence, your experiences may be compounded by racism, which is pervasive in the UK. You may be unwilling to seek help from statutory agencies (such as the police, social services, or housing authorities) because you are afraid of a racist response.

Imkaan, an organisation which provides services for Black women, say that they have been forced to close two of their six specialist refuges and local authority funding for two more has also been cut. And False Economy FOI requests exposed that eight domestic violence and sexual abuse organisations took a 100% cut in local authority funding in 2011/12.

Ashiana provides temporary safe, supportive housing for South Asian, Turkish & Iranian women between the ages of 16-30 who are experiencing domestic violence. It can be difficult to seek appropriate support, especially if women do not speak English. Ashiana is working closely with partners in the voluntary and statutory sector in progressing the strategies on violence against women, honour based violence and forced marriage.

Southall Black Sisters provide general and specialist advice on gender-related issues such as domestic violence, sexual violence, forced marriage, honour killings and their intersection with the criminal justice, immigration and asylum systems, health, welfare rights, homelessness and poverty. Every year, hundreds of Black and migrant women face domestic violence from their husbands and families in the UK. For many, their insecure immigration status renders them extremely vulnerable to abusive partners who exploit their position by subjecting them to often-extreme forms of violence, imprisonment and domestic servitude, usually with impunity.

Southall Black Sisters campaign highlights the devastating impact of ‘no recourse to public funds’ on the lives of minority women without secure immigration status and who are subject to domestic violence in the context of the marriage, employment and trafficking.

As a consequence of pressure groups and government policy the CPS now flag and monitor all cases of trafficking. In addition, policy and legal guidance on exploitation of prostitution was published in June2011.

At work, unions have a big role to play. A TUC surveys suggest that too often women suffer in silence – too afraid, or perhaps too ashamed, to tell their employer. But women are more likely to turn to a trusted union rep. And with 46% of women we surveyed saying violence at home was impacting on their job performance, it’s important that they have a union on their side.

Conference believes that forced marriage should be dealt with as part of the national strategy on domestic violence and to ensure that it is perceived as a gender-related violence issue rather than as a ‘cultural practice’. Without a national strategy and funding to match, women and children will remain at risk of violence and death.

Many women have nowhere to go and no one to turn to. Yet every woman and child has the right to live in safety and access help – whether that means a bed for a night, legal assistance, counselling or support. Do we really want our children to grow up in a world where they witness their mothers being beaten and brutalised?

Conference therefore believes that, when Black women complain of male violence, our trade union should start from a position of believing them. Furthermore, we believe UNISON ought to campaign for recognition in acknowledging the relevance of the evidence provided by women to the police.

Conference therefore calls on the National Women Committee to:

• Work with the NEC and Public Services International to develop a resource pack for global trade unions to use

• Work with Ashiana, Southall Black Sisters and other community based organisations to raise awareness of domestic violence.

• Work with the NBMC to develop a web-based resource pack on specialist help and support services aimed specifically at Black female victims of violence.

• Develop a campaign pack that could be used by members in partnership with local services to fight the cuts.

• Review existing practices and guidance on how UNISON supports Black women who have been victims of male violence and where appropriate issue updated guidance.