[#16Voices: 16 days of activism 2017]
Every year, from the 25th of November (International day to end violence against women and girls) to the 10th of December (International Human Rights Day), women’s experiences are amplified to voice agency, dignity and empowerment.
These 16 days of activism, the Step Up Migrant Women UK campaign has released #16Voices of migrant survivors of VAWG from more than 10 BME-migrant communities in the UK. These #16Voices defend the right for all women to live free from violence, regardless of immigration status.
SUMW’s #16Voices highlight discriminatory laws that create vulnerability for undocumented women and lead to further violence not only by perpetrators but by the state. Not being able to report violence to the police without the fear of deportation or destitution has pushed migrant women to the margins, allowing more violence and revictimisation to persist. According to the Istanbul Convention and the CEDAW report, this is an inalienable right to which all measures to address gender-based violence. No one should experience violence in any form. In order to overcome challenges to report VAWG, measures should be introduced to ensure survivors are treated respectfully and with all the safeguards needed to tackle impunity from perpetrators.
These voices of migrant women survivors show agency, capacity and power in bringing about change through the assertion of their rights.
Special thanks to Angeles Rodenas for taking the artistic portraits. Link to bio below.
Voice 1 of #16Voices: Survivor, LAWRS. Being identified as an “other” reflects the multiple forms of discrimination that migrant women face when reporting violence, where race, class, sexuality and other factors intersect the way they are either believed or disbelieved. The lack of safe-reporting mechanisms has made migrant women vulnerable to violence and perpetrators to preserve impunity.
Voice 2 of #16Voices: Member of Safety 4 Sisters. Migrant women face dehumanisation by being called “illegal” and thus deliberately categorising these women as undeserving of rights. Migration is not a crime and perception from the police matters in the way migrant survivors are treated. Visit Picum’s #WordsMatter initiative.
Voice 3 of #16Voices: Member of Safety 4 Sisters. Migrant women who are subject to violence, exploitation and misinformation can easily find themselves in an undocumented situation with no possibility to re-regularise (Picum). #NoWomanIsIllegal
Voice 4 of #16Voices: Survivor of IKWRO. Immigration control mechanisms are being used by perpetrators to abuse women in the UK with impunity. A survey by Imkaan showed that of 183 women with an insecure migration status seeking support for violence, 92% reported threats of deportation from the perpetrator.
Voice 5 of #16Voices: Member from Imece. The police and statutory services providing safety and protection to victims has many times failed women with insecure migrant status. No Recourse to Public Funds campaign , along with SUMW campaign calls that all migrant women have the right to access shelter, protection and redress mechanisms, granted temporal residence permit, access to legal aid and access to victim support services.
Voice 6 of #16Voices: Survivor, KMEWO. The EU Victims Directive recognises that each member state (including the UK) should treat victims with respect and dignity in the Criminal Justice System, regardless of immigration status. Policies after Brexit should ensure that the rights of migrant women are upheld.
Voice 7 of #16Voices: Member, Safety 4 Sisters. Migrant women are subjected to further vulnerability while awaiting pending applications for residence and in turn this is used by perpetrators to exert control and violence.
Voice 8 of #16Voices: Survivor, LAWA. The current hostile environment towards migrants through policies like the Immigration Act 2015, 2016 has created a dire situation for women and children’s lives, leading to tens of thousands of families being separated. Women and their children with No Recourse to Public Funds (barred from all public services due to their migrant status) are turned away from refuges on a daily basis. According to Women’s Aid, in 2017 only 7% of women with no recourse to public funds were accommodated in shelters when fleeing violence.
Voice 9 of #16 Voices: Survivor of London Black Women’s Project. With the current government’s deliberation on the repeal of the Human Rights Act, migrant and women’s rights are at risk. As Safety 4 Sisters states: “To strip a certain group of women from their fundamental liberty to live free from violence is inhumane, unethical and immoral. As a society, we must act together to ensure safety and protection for all women and so that we leave no woman behind”.
Voice 10 of #16Voices: Survivor, LAWRS. Exploitation in the workplace in forms of sexual harassment and other forms of violations can come unnoticed and unreported to the police out of the fear of repercussions towards women. Pregnant and or migrant women with disabilities According to Deaf Hope there is an estimated that there are 22 deaf women at risk of domestic abuse everyday.
Voice 11 of #16Voices: Survivor, Migrant Rights Network (MRN). In April this year, a five-month pregnant migrant victim of sexual violence was arrested in the centre Havens when she reported rape and having been kidnap in Germany. As MRN mentions, today’s UK’s ‘hostile environment” has placed immigration control before the welfare needs of victims of crime: “When does a migrant turn from crime victim to suspect? Being undocumented” .
Voice 12 of #16Voices: Survivor, Imece. Funding to BME-specialist services cater for women from intersecting backgrounds and needs. Recent news found that the funding for London’s BME refuges has been slashed by half in 7 Years of their annual council funding. Migrant women accessing justice also have right to access safe spaces and centers for advocacy and advice.
Voice 13 of #16Voices. Survivor, Women 4 Refugee Women. A report from Women 4 Refugee Women shines a light into the experiences of women in detention. Women in detention have reported being survivors of rape and torture and one in five mention that they had tried to kill themselves whilst being in detention.
Voice 14 of #16Voices: Survivor, LAWA. Women that report violence are increasingly racially profiled and feel disbelieved by authorities. The Human Rights Act is one of the only tools we have to hold the police accountable. End Violence Against Women (EVAW) and Southall Black Sisters, published a report on how to challenge the police when they fail to support women and investigations on VAWG.
Voice 15 of #16Voices: Survivor, The Counselling Space. A Recent research by the TUC found that more than half of women workers surveyed had experienced some form of sexual harassment. In the hospitality sector, women were more likely to experience unwanted sexual conduct, Focus on Labour Exploitation states. If being a migrant woman exacerbates precarious working conditions, where do these women report safely?
Voice 16 of #16Voices: Survivor, LAWRS. Campaigning, advocacy and lobbying have made migrant, BME women more able to challenge being ‘minoritised’. The Istanbul convention prohibits discrimination on the grounds of migration status (Article 4) and requires state parties to provide an autonomous permit to victims whose status is dependent on a violent partner or spouse (Article 59). It is by this where we can talk about individual and collective empowerment through knowing our rights: ensuring our autonomy and agency.
Step Up Migrant Women UK December 2017
*Photographer: Angeles Rodenas is a freelance photographer based in London working on issues about political justice, social change and culture through stories and portraits. She also photographs campaigns and PR events for charities and corporate clients.