Monday, 4 December 2017

VAW 2017: Supporting Black and Ethnic Minority Women and Girls on Issues of Domestic Violence

by Zlakha Ahmed MBE
The violence against women and girl’s strategy which was developed in 2010 has become an important national framework for responding to the multiple forms of violence women experience. It has transformed the criminal justice response and influenced that of health and education, placing prevention at the centre and recognising violence against women and girls as an equality issue. Violence against women and girls includes a range of violent and abusive behaviour, including:

  • Domestic Violence
  • Forced Marriage 
  • Dowry Abuse
  • Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (female circumcision)
  • Honour Based Violence
  • Sexual Violence
  • Rape
  • Sexual Assault
  • Stalking and Harassment
The Government’s definition of domestic violence is: any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality (Home Office, 2016). This can encompass, but is not limited to, the following types of abuse:
  • Psychological
  • Physical
  • Sexual
  • Financial
  • Emotional
More recently, controlling behaviour has also been added to the list, which is defined as ‘a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour’ (Home Office, 2016). So too has coercive behaviour – that is, ‘an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.’ (Home Office, 2016). This definition, which is not a legal definition, includes so called ‘honour’ based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage, and is clear that victims are not confined to one gender or ethnic group.
Domestic violence can be the same as ‘honour based violence’ (HBV) if it is done to defend the honour of the family/community, or if the victim feels they cannot leave the abuser/s because they fear bringing shame and dishonour upon them. ‘Honour’-based violence or ‘honour’ crime is an act of violence explained by the abuser/s as being committed to protect or defend the ‘honour’ of the family/community. These crimes include:
  • Domestic and Sexual Violence
  • Forced Marriage
  • Sexual Harassment
  • Social rejection and other forms of controlling and abusive practices carried out by the extended family or community members

Women may experience HBV if they are accused of not conforming to traditional cultural and religious expectations, including, for example:
  • Wearing make-up or western clothing
  • Having a boyfriend or being seen alone with a male who is not a family member
  • Pregnant outside of marriage
  • Having a relationship with someone from a different religion or nationality
  • Rejecting a forced marriage
  • Rumours/being seen acting inappropriately

In HBV, the risks can be high as there may be abusers in the extended family or community networks who may be more organised in the harassment or abuse of women. Other people in the family or community may pressure the victim to return to abusive situations or fail to support them.
How can you help as a professional?
Health and social care practitioners can play a very important role in this regard and below are some suggestions:
  • Acknowledge that you recognise how difficult it can be to leave an abusive relationship, overcome cultural or religious pressures from family and community members, as well as concerns over your immigration status and access to support. 
  • Share that most statutory agencies will be able to provide independent interpreter and that a different interpreter can be requested if there is the fear that they will tell your family about you.

Share that that there are agencies that will be able to go through the legal options available, including criminal action against the abuser/s and civil or family court orders for protection. These agencies can also advise on:

  • Housing
  • Money issues
  • Health and mental health, including self-harm
  • Social care
  • Educational and children’s needs.
  • Reassure and reinforce the need for reaching out for help and support if feeling unsafe.
The above article has been produced by drawing on both the End the Violence against Women and girls coalition (EVAW) that Apna Haq is a member organisation of, and the document THREE STEPS TO ESCAPING VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS A guide for black and minority ethnic (BME) women and children, that was produced in 2010 by a government department with Southall Black sisters.
Zlakha holds a Higher National Diploma in business studies, a Certificate in Education and a Postgraduate Diploma in youth and community. She was awarded an MBE for Services to Women’s Rights and Community Cohesion in 2016. 21 years ago she founded the Apna Haq organisation, an early intervention prevention organisation supporting Black and ethnic minority women and girls on issues of violence against women and girls.
Zlakha was selected as a panel member by NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence) to develop the national domestic violence standards for health and social care, which were launched in Feb 2013.
Zlakha is ardent in ensuring that issues faced by women in the community are brought to the attention of policy makers at local, regional, national and international level. Thus she has engaged with the Government Select committee on Islamic Shariah councils representing Muslim women’s survivors voices, the Truth Project looking at sexual violence, and is a member of the South Yorkshire Crown Prosecution Service’s domestic violence scrutiny panel.

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