It can be hard for refugee and migrant community groups to raise, and address, issues of gender based violence…
- Staff working within community organisations can fear being seen as ‘betraying’ their community by talking about these issues.
- Staff within refugee and migrant community groups may not feel that they have the skills to tackle issues of gender based violence and abuse, particularly where there are complex immigration issues involved.
- At the same time staff may fear a backlash from men within their community if they are seen to be ‘breaking up families’.
Women working at Shpresa Programme described how it was important for them to work in partnership with a specialist provider of services for those fleeing gender based violence, as this enabled them to refer women to skilled and experienced practitioners, while also ensuring that addressing gender based violence was not left to isolated staff members at Shpresa.
However, developing partnerships across organisations involves an investment of time and resources. While the voluntary sector in general is facing unprecedented funding cuts at the same time as demand for services is increasing, Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee (BAMER) community groups have been disproportionately affected (by the cuts). Refugee community groups are likely to struggle to find time and resources for partnership working when the lives of their service users may be devastated by poverty and violence and staff and volunteers are struggling with competing priorities each and every day. Shpresa staff spoke of the importance of making it clear to funders that partnerships are not a quick and easy route to improved services and Solace Women’s Aid and Shpresa Programme learnt the importance of clear, transparent communication and regular meetings.
While gender based violence cuts across all groups of women, research indicates that migrants, asylum seeking and refugee women are especially at risk of gender based violence and refugee and migrant community groups are critical in ensuring that women from these communities access the support that they need. Refugee community groups, and those groups working with refugee and migrant women in community settings, can develop environments where it is safe for women and girls – as well as boys and men – to raise issues of gender based violence. Women accessing Shpresa’s community-based services, run by women from the community who had been trained and empowered to deliver peer support, were able, often for the first time, to discuss the taboo of gender based violence and its impact on their lives. Staff at Solace were acutely aware that these women would not have accessed their services had they not been able to begin to acknowledge the violence they were subjected to in the safe community setting of Shpresa Programme.
This project demonstrates the very successful outcomes that are possible if refugee community groups and mainstream agencies addressing gender based violence do work together. Partnership working is key to meeting the needs of women from new migrant communities experiencing gender based violence.
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