2018 marked 100 years since some women won the vote. The significance of this year resonated with the refugee women in our network, who took every opportunity to ensure their voices could be heard.
Refugee women come to the UK seeking safety, but too often they face new dangers. This year we have supported many refugee women and empowered them to speak out against detention and exploitation.
This is our year in photos:
Women for Refugee Women began the year by reopening our doors to over 100 refugee and asylum-seeking women who join us every week for yoga, English lessons, advice and a warm lunch.
Our first event of the year was in January 2018, the #TimesUp rally organised by Women’s March London, where our grassroots director, Marchu Girma, and a refugee woman from our network spoke to over 7000 people about why refugee women’s experiences of sexual violence must be included in the #MeToo movement.
In March 2018 we organised the #AllWomenCount lobby of Parliament on International Women’s Day, when we brought together over 200 refugee and migrant women to demand their rights to safety, dignity and liberty. Over 40 partner organisations worked with us on the event, and all our speakers were refugee and migrant women or MPs.
In March 2018 we supported women who were on hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood detention centre. They sent us a statement, which was published in full in the New Statesman, that said, “We are on a hunger strike because we are suffering unfair imprisonment and racist abuse in this archaic institution in Britain.” One woman spoke on Woman’s Hour with our policy and research coordinator, Gemma Lousley, about why the Home Office must stop detaining vulnerable women. And we supported two women who were previously detained to give evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee, alongside Gemma.
In April 2018, Marchu Girma joined actress Sheila Atim and female activists on the red carpet at the Olivier Awards, to draw attention to refugee women’s experiences of sexual harassment and abuse here in the UK. And one of the refugee women in our network, ‘Grace’ shared her story of being sexually exploited in the UK in a BBC article that was read over 1 million times.
In June 2018 our drama group, who meet every Friday at the Southbank Centre, gave a public performance poetry about their experiences of sexual violence while seeking safety in the UK, called ‘my body is/my body is not’.
We worked with artist Caroline Walker who produced a series of paintings, ‘Home’, showing refugee women in our network in their homes. Caroline’s paintings were exhibited at the Kettle’s Yard gallery in Cambridge in April 2018 and the project was covered in a detailed photo essay in the Financial Times Magazine.
In June 2018 we collaborated with embroidery artist Jess de Wahls to produce a banner for PROCESSIONS, a celebration of the centenary year of women’s suffrage. With Jess’ support, group of women in our network stitched a beautiful banner demanding safety, dignity and liberty and marched with it at the Processions event.
in July our Grassroots Co-ordinator Monica Aidoo spoke at the meeting organised by the Novo Foundation and Oak Foundation on movement building among women’s organisations, an inspiring day which was opened by Emma Watson and Marai Larasi of Imkaan.
We also ran the first of two IT courses in collaboration with Birkbeck University. The courses equipped refugee women with basic computer skills that are essential for building a life in the UK.
20 refugee women joined the Bring the Noise demonstration in July 2018 at the time of Donald Trump’s visit to the UK and Marchu and two refugee women in our network spoke at the rally.
This year we also started a new group for lesbian and bisexual refugee women: Rainbow Sisters. A highlight for the group was marching in the Pride Parade in London and speaking at UK Black Pride. You can read their blog about the experience here.
Throughout the year our grassroots director, Marchu Girma, spoke at various events about the need to empower refugee women to lead campaigns. In July, four women in our network led a workshop at a conference organised by Trust for London for charity sector professionals on how to make space for people with personal experience of injustice in their work.
In late summer, we partnered with the publisher Hachette to put on an event at which our drama group performed their own poetry. Hachette supported us to run a book club throughout our autumn term for refugee women to develop their love for reading.
A highlight of our autumn was the wonderful support that we received from Her Stories, a collective of creative women who raised over £20,000 for our work with refugee women, through an auction of women’s art and a series of other events.
The closing months of the year were also an important time in our #SetHerFree campaign against the detention of asylum-seeking women. On 19 November, Yarl’s Wood had been open for 17 years facilitating the detention of thousands of vulnerable women who have sought safety in the UK, at great cost to their well-being and safety. Alongside women who had been detained there, we called for the closure of Yarl’s Wood in media pieces in the New Statesman and BBC Look East-West. We also worked closely with Tulip Siddiq MP on her new Parliamentary Bill to end indefinite detention, that received cross-party support.
And in December 2018 we worked with The Guardian to expose the increasing number of highly-vulnerable trafficked Chinese women that the Government is locking up in Yarl’s Wood. We worked closely with a number of Chinese women who were detained and supported them to find legal representation so that some have been released.
We continue to support refugee women at the grassroots. In November 2018 Ginger Public Speaking ran a course with us for 10 refugee women to develop their ability to tell their own stories. We are now running a writing group for a small group of committed refugee women writers, and a new Transitions group to support refugee women with the right to work into employment or education.
And we rounded off a busy year with our Christmas party for 200 refugee women in our network. It was a day of celebration and joy, with performances from women who had developed their skills with us this year. We shared food from around the world and gave every woman a gift from our supporters.
Thank you to all of our donors, supporters and volunteers who made this work possible!
If you can, please donate to enable us to reach more refugee women in 2019. You can donate online by clicking here.