We are witness to an unprecedented attack on the welfare state and legal aid services.
We are experiencing some of the most inhumane and brutal spending cuts to essential services that were historically set up to address poverty and inequality. The cuts will have a disproportionate impact on all women, but they will have a specifically dangerous impact on marginalised and vulnerable black and minority ethnic women who need protection from violence, abuse and persecution within family and community.
Specialist refuges and other black services are disappearing fast and those concerned with social justice are having to fight harder than ever to preserve the sparse resources that they have struggled for. These services are steeped in feminist, anti-racist and secular histories. Like Southall Black Sisters (SBS), many have been at the forefront of struggles against race, class and gender discrimination and inequality.
Our services are literally life saving; we work with some of the most vulnerable women and children who on a daily basis experience domestic and sexual violence, rape, honour based violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and dowry related abuse.
Historically, the state has offered little protection to women in the face of these problems, indeed its response had often exacerbated inequality. For example, by enacting draconian immigration laws based on racist, class-ridden and sexist notions of migrants and asylum seekers, removing ESOL classes and by rolling back the welfare state and making the poor take responsibility for themselves. For example, by targeting and chastising poor women for not working, for being single parents.
Black women are more likely to be poor and experience multiple forms of inequality and discrimination (40% of BME women live in poverty). They are the farthest away from policy and decision makers, resulting in policy and programmes that do not reflect their needs.
SBS and other BME women’s groups provide services that do meet these needs. Indeed, as the economic and political climate worsens, we are compelled to undertake harder and more complex cases, but we are continually made to deliver more for less and even to justify the very need for our services.
This is part of an aggressive context in which we are being told to find so called “new” and “innovative” ways of working if we want to exist. Often this amounts to nothing more than forcing us to merge with mainstream services and to work in “partnerships” with faith-based and conservative elements within our communities (who have little interest in women’s rights or social justice.)
The backlash against feminist progress has been coming for years, and minority women are experiencing it from all corners.
We have no choice but to protect what we have achieved and fight against those who seek to take away the very lifelines that protect vulnerable women, day in day out. Our tradition: struggle not submission.