Today marks the centenary of some women getting the right to vote in the UK. It’s a moment to pause and reflect on the incredible achievement of the Suffragettes and what the vote has meant for women in this country. But more than that, it’s a moment to listen to the voices of women who are still struggling for representation.
Most of the asylum-seeking and refugee women with whom we work do not have the right to vote. Nor do they have access to the basic rights, to safety, dignity and liberty that all women should be able to expect.
But these women are ready to speak out, and it is time that their voices are heard by those who make the laws and policies that impact so greatly upon their lives.
As one woman who sought safety in the UK put it at a recent discussion we held after a screening of the film Suffragette, “2018 is the centenary of this great achievement by women in the UK. But our voices are still not heard, despite the challenges and injustices we face every single day.”
On 8 March, refugee and migrant women from across the country will come together to lobby their local MPs and share their stories. Refugee women are routinely locked up in detention, made destitute and put in positions where they are made unsafe.
As constituents, the refugee women in our network are inviting their MPs to meet with them at the #AllWomenCount lobby of Parliament. On Monday they got together at their regular English lessons to write letters to their MPs, and in these letters they explain their situations:
“My experience of seeking asylum in this country is traumatic, terrible and unsupportive. I came to this country in 2014 to seek safety. But I was put in detention twice… I am a vulnerable woman but the Home Office disbelieves me and asks me to leave this country and go back to D.R. Congo where I was sexually abused. My life is a nightmare. Since 2015 I am homeless.”
“I came to this country in September 2015… I am waiting until now for a first Home Office decision. I suffered rape and torture in D.R. Congo… I left my family, my children, my job and everything. I come for safety but unfortunately I have to struggle every day of my life.”
“My concern as an asylum seeker is that I am not able to afford legal representation and Home Office fees. My experience of seeking asylum is stressful and has caused me emotional ill health.”
“My concerns as a refugee are me still being homeless. I have experienced domestic violence, I cannot work and I have nowhere to live. I am struggling with my mental health.”
“Until now I have been dying to get in touch with you. My family has been suffering for a long time, we have been separated which causes so much pain and depression. Please use your good office to listen to my voice and support the rights and safety of my family.”
These women’s letters are now on the way to their MPs. If you agree that it is time that all women have basic rights to safety, dignity and liberty, please invite your own MP to meet you at the lobby and hear refugee women’s priorities.