Women for Refugee Women: leadership news

Today, 4 December, Women for Refugee Women says a huge thank you to our outgoing chair of trustees, Liz Page, and welcomes our new chair, Rachel Krys.

Liz Page has been the chair of our board of trustees for five years and steered the charity through a period of growth. She says:

"Being Chair of WRW has been a very special opportunity to work with women brought together by their commitment to ensuring that women seeking asylum in the UK are treated with justice and dignity. The energy and drive of staff, volunteers and most of all the refugee women is inspirational. As I handover to Rachel Krys I want to wish everyone associated with WRW the very best in continuing to create change."

Women for Refugee Women is very grateful to Liz for all she has done for the charity. We have really valued her good judgement and generous support throughout all our successes and challenges over the last five years.

We are also glad to welcome Rachel Krys as our new chair. Rachel was co-director of the End Violence Against Women coalition for three years and has been chair of governors for a federation of primary schools in south London for seven years.  She is currently an equality and diversity consultant for the Bar Council.

Rachel says:

"It’s a real honour to be joining the board of Women for Refugee Women, an incredible organisation which has been campaigning with and empowering refugee women for many years. How our society responds to and supports women who are seeking refuge from persecution and violence says so much about who we are and aspire to be. I am excited to work with an organisation providing life-saving services, sharing the stories and lifting up the voices of women and holding the state to account."

At the same time, Women for Refugee Women is glad to announce a new initiative, the Refugee Women Lead programme for asylum seeking and refugee women who are interested in joining charity boards. WRW, along with other charities, is very aware that we need to do more to ensure refugee women’s leadership. We are therefore putting resources and energy into a new programme to support refugee and asylum seeking women develop and consolidate the skills and confidence needed to become effective board members. This short course of four classes will be open to an initial six refugee and asylum seeking women in the first course, which will open May 2020. It will cover themes such as the duties of trustees, financial oversight for trustees, safeguarding, campaigning and strategic planning. All travel expenses and childcare expenses will be covered. For more information and expressions of interest, please email nahzley@refugeewomen.co.uk

Natasha Walter, director of Women for Refugee Women, says:

‘I would like to express my thanks to Liz for all she has done for Women for Refugee Women and all the support she has given the staff team. I’m looking forward to working with Rachel Krys, our new chair, over the coming years. It’s also exciting for me to be able to announce this new initiative aimed at developing the skills and leadership of refugee women in a programme that we hope will enable this charity and others to be led in the future by those with experience of the challenges that we are trying to tackle. The activities of Women for Refugee Women are so vital – more than ever we need to build solidarity and speak out with women who cross borders seeking safety. ’


Refugee women meet the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, at the opening of the #ChooseLove shop

Today, three refugee women in our network spoke to Sadiq Khan about their experiences of seeking safety in London at the opening of the #ChooseLove shop!

The women shared their stories of homelessness and living without any right work or other means of accessing financial support. Many women in our network become destitute at some point during their asylum claim, which puts women who have already fled extreme violence in yet more danger. Thank you Sadiq for listening to their experiences!

Help Refugees' #ChooseLove shop is open until Christmas eve at 46 Neal Street, London, WC2H 9PZ and online. Instead of buying yet more stuff this Christmas, at this store you can buy items that will make a real difference to someone who has had to flee their home!


12 women complete our 'Storytelling with a purpose' course

Today, twelve refugee and asylum-seeking women completed our 'Storytelling with a purpose' course run by Rona and JoJo at Ginger Public Speaking!

At their graduation, the women bravely told their stories to over 60 women in our network. Rona opened the meeting with words of inspiration for all of the women in the room: "Your stories can be a force for change in the world. You can change how people feel, what people think and what they go on to do."

The women told moving stories of the violence they fled and the challenges they've faced while trying to build a new life for themselves and their children in the UK. Each story finished with a powerful message for change, either to inspire the other women in the group to be strong throughout their asylum claims or to call for political change.

We want to say a huge 'Thank you' to Rona and JoJo for running this confidence-building and encouraging course for a third year! The course has a remarkable impact on women's self-esteem and ability to tell their story in an impactful way. In their feedback, women said, "The sessions gave me boldness and self-confidence to talk in public" and "[The sessions] bring out the ME in ME!"

'Rebecca', who attended the course three years ago, closed the presentations with the words, "With our stories, we're going to change this world and make it a better place!"


We are recruiting a Fundraising and Development Officer (no longer accepting applications)

Women for Refugee Women is looking for a dynamic and committed Fundraising and Development Officer to help us tell our story effectively to existing and potential supporters in order to enable the sustainable growth of the charity.

Women for Refugee Women is a charity that supports women seeking asylum in the UK and challenges the injustices they experience. We work at the grassroots by empowering refugee women to speak out and advocate for themselves, and through communications and campaigning work which engages the mainstream media and politicians.

This is a new role at WRW, to support the charity in sustaining and growing our income from individual donors. You will need to be passionate about effectively communicating our work to supporters and building strong relationships with people who are keen to support refugee women to rebuild their lives with dignity.

We are looking for someone with proven fundraising experience and a strong commitment to race and gender equality.

Women for Refugee Women particularly welcomes applications from individuals with experience of migration and/or a refugee background.

 

Main purpose of role: To develop Women for Refugee Women’s income from individual donors and build relationships with donors, as well as contributing to WRW’s overall fundraising strategy and operations.

Location: Old Street, London

Accountable to: Communications and Fundraising Manager

Hours: 5 days per week (part-time applications will be considered)

Salary: £30,000 (reviewed annually) plus pension contribution

Length of contract: Permanent

Women for Refugee Women is a small organisation where every team member is valued, and everyone is supported to carry out their role effectively. We encourage staff members to take up training opportunities to develop their skills, all staff members are able to access individual counselling support if desired, and we enable staff members to work flexibly, including the potential to work some of their hours from home, according to individual preferences. We try to ensure that WRW provides a supportive environment where individuals can grow and develop their roles in line with our values and vision.

 

How to apply:

Please download and read the Fundraising and Development Officer Application Pack.

To apply, please write to joinus@refugeewomen.co.uk by 11pm on 10 December 2019 with:

  • Your CV;
  • A covering letter explaining why you want to work with WRW and how you meet the person specification;
  • A one-page document representing a new 'Fundraise for Us' page for our website, encouraging individuals to fundraise for Women for Refugee Women.

Interviews will be held on 14 January 2020 in central London, and only shortlisted candidates will be contacted.


"A pad for me or a nappy for my baby": Asylum-seeking women prevented from accessing period products

In a new report published today, 29 October 2019, Women for Refugee Women (WRW) and Bloody Good Period (BGP) show that women who are seeking asylum in the UK are prevented from accessing vital period products.

The report presents the testimony of four asylum-seeking women who share their experiences of period poverty while living destitute, without accommodation or financial support. The testimonies show:

  • Asylum-seeking women are being forced to go without food and other basic needs in order to purchase period products.
  • Period poverty is negatively impacting on women’s physical and mental health, causing infections and stress. Women are resorting to using tissue and/or strips clothing or bath towels in the place of appropriate period products.
  • Period poverty is preventing asylum-seeking women from rebuilding their lives with dignity and is part of the ‘hostile environment’ policy against women seeking safety in the UK.

WRW spoke to 78 asylum-seeking women about access to period products, as part of their research into destitution that will be published in full in February 2020. 75 per cent struggled to obtain period products, often for extended periods of time. The minority of women who did not struggle had either finished their period or consistently relied on charities for period products.

In March 2019, Penny Mordaunt, Minister for Women and Equalities, launched the Government Equalities Office’s “Period Poverty Task Force” of government, business and charities to develop new ideas to tackle period poverty in the UK.

WRW and BGP believe asylum-seeking women to be one of the most marginalised groups in terms of access to period products, and thus it is vital that the Taskforce considers and acts upon their needs.

‘Marie’, an asylum-seeking woman living in Birmingham, says:

Not having enough money to buy pads was heartbreaking and stressful. I would enter into any public toilet to get tissues that I could use instead. I was too ashamed to ask a stranger for a pad because it’s so personal. I couldn’t ask other refugee women for pads because they were in the same position as me; they weren’t allowed to work and they had no money.

‘Testimony’, an asylum-seeking woman living in London, says:

Just before my period I knew I really had to get pads urgently and so I would have to go without things like food. I wish that pads were freely available. It is really bad that pads are so expensive because it is something that women have to go through every month. It is discrimination, everyone should have access.

Natasha Walter, Director of Women for Refugee Women, says:

The stories we are hearing about asylum-seeking women’s experiences of period poverty are shocking. And let’s not forget that these are part of a bigger picture, which is the hostile environment and the government’s policy of forced destitution for many of those who are seeking asylum here. These policies result in extreme distress and daily misery for women who have come to this country in order to try to find safety.

Gabby Edlin, CEO and Founder of Bloody Good Period, says:

No-one should be forced to choose between a period pad for themselves or a nappy for their baby, or have to forgo food in order to buy the products they need.  Yet that is the reality for too many asylum-seeking women in the UK, who tell their powerful stories in this new report. Their experiences are echoed at the 40 asylum seeker drop-in centres with which we are partnered, where we are getting these vital products to people who need them. We are working hard within the Period Poverty Taskforce to ensure action is taken for these marginalised groups but urge the wider government, local authorities, the media and the general public to shine a light on the issues shared here. 


Climate Justice is Migrant Justice!

On 20 September, we joined thousands of protestors at the Youth Climate Strike in London to demand action on the climate crisis that is forcing more and more people to flee their homes.

Above: Refugee women at the Climate Strike with the statue of Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst.


Rebecca’s Refugee Week Diary

Every year Refugee Week is filled with so many wonderful events, and people coming together in a welcoming spirit. For me being a refugee is not just a week, but my everyday experiences and the struggles I get through each moment for the past two decades.

This year’s Refugee Week theme was ‘You, me and those who came before us’; it was about recognising that all of us have a migration story somewhere in our family history. During Refugee Week, I challenged myself to attend as many events and do as many things as I could. I chose this year to take every opportunity that came my way and celebrate the week.


Monday

I’m always excited about Monday’s because it’s our drop-in day at Women for Refugee Women (WRW), with several activities to attend. However, this Monday, it was different because as well as attending the usual activities at WRW, which included yoga class, intersectional feminism class and the Rainbow Sisters group - I managed to rush out during lunch and attended a free self-defence workshop organised by Routes as part of Refugee Week. I learnt some basic boxing techniques in a really fun and supportive women-only space. It pushed me beyond my usual comfort zone and made me realise that I need new trainers, because I want to be more active.

Tuesday

I have a big day on Sunday, performing in our new show, ‘A Day in Our Lives’, so I arranged to meet with one of the volunteers of WRW to help me learn my lines. She was so fantastically supportive. She told me I had an outstanding ability to tell a story. I felt good in learning my lines.

Wednesday

Over the past few months I have been working on developing a campaign about ending destitution with WRW. I have been trained as a peer researcher and have been a key part of developing the research we are about to do. Today I was invited to a roundtable meeting about destitution with organisations such as NACCOM, Asylum Aid, City of Sanctuary etc. I strongly believe I delivered at that meeting and my voice was heard.

Thursday

This morning, I went to meet my befriender for a full English breakfast. I met my befriender through Host Nation, who matched me with a kind lady. During our breakfast I spoke to her about my upcoming performance on Sunday.

In the evening I went to the monthly Welcome Kitchen and Cinema event hosted at Amnesty International. It’s a great space that unites refugees and Londoners through a shared love of film, food and friendship. I enjoyed a delicious, freshly made and home-cooked meal made by refugees all over the world!

Friday

I got up early to attend the usual drama sessions at the Southbank Centre run by WRW. This was our final rehearsal session before our big performance on Sunday, so we all had to learn our lines. After the session, I stayed around the Southbank and watched a lunch time performance of singing by 100 primary school children who were part of Music Action International’s Harmonise programme. Through music they are raising awareness about refugees in schools, and enable people who have survived war, torture and persecution to express themselves creatively using music. I know music can be a therapy and a way to connect with other people. I have felt it when we sing together at my drama group. One of my friends said, “We dance and sing through our struggles,” and that is so true.

Saturday

Since I don’t have secure immigration status in this country, I am destitute. Currently, I am staying with a family. They provide a roof over my head and in exchange, I look after their children. I drop them off to school and back usually. Today I had to drop off the kids to their different activities, one to music and the other to football.

Later in the evening our drama group joined the Morris Folk Choir for a concert on the theme of migration in Dalston. This was our performance before our big day and it went really well. After I performed I stayed around to the end and made some good friends, who I invited to our event tomorrow.

Sunday

I got up excited and nervous at the same time, and I really wanted to do well at the performance today. The drama group means so much to me. It has enabled me to improve my confidence and look to the future.

After the performance, I was so proud of myself for remembering all my lines, and proud of everyone for doing so well.


Going to all these events has made me realise that migration is forever happening and everywhere, and that everyone has a migration story in their family. I’m a refugee because of circumstances beyond my control. But this week has taught me not to be ashamed that I came here to seek safety. It has made me feel welcomed by so many fantastic people I met throughout the week.

You all made me feel at home.


We have joined the new Taskforce on Victims of Human Trafficking in Immigration Detention

Women for Refugee Women is proud to join a new Taskforce on Victims of Human Trafficking in Immigration Detention, alongside 10 other specialist organisations calling for an end to the immigration detention of trafficking survivors.

JOINT STATEMENT FROM THE TASKFORCE ON VICTIMS OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING IN IMMIGRATION DETENTION

10 organisations working with, or for, victims of human trafficking have formed the new Taskforce on Victims of Human Trafficking in Immigration Detention.

The Taskforce will seek an end to the detention of victims of human trafficking under immigration powers and will advocate for vital changes to government policy and practice regarding this issue.

The Taskforce is comprised of expert organisations, working for, and with, victims of human trafficking in immigration detention. Members include: Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX), Anti Slavery International, Bail for Immigration Detainees, Ashiana Sheffield, Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees (AVID), Medical Justice, Duncan Lewis Public Law, Jesuit Refugee Service UK, Helen Bamber Foundation and Women for Refugee Women.

We believe the government has failed to adhere to its international obligations, and its own guidance with regard to victims of human trafficking.

Members believe that immigration detention should play no part in a progressive and fair immigration system. Until this is realised, the Home Office must immediately strengthen and implement its own guidance to ensure that no victim of human trafficking is ever detained. Instead, victims, and people who may be victims, should be provided with the support to which they are entitled under international and national frameworks in the community, including adequate material assistance, secure accommodation, psychological assistance and legal information and support. Such meaningful support is crucial to enable people who have not yet been identified as victims to disclose their trafficking, and for people already found to have been trafficked to recover, seek justice and rebuild their lives. Locking up people who have experienced exploitation is completely at odds with any meaningful national plan to address modern slavery.

Numerous government-commissioned or parliamentary reports and inquiries have already demonstrated that the Home Office is failing vulnerable people and prioritising its immigration function over their needs and rights. These include the 2016 Shaw Report, the 2018 progress report also undertaken by Stephen Shaw, and the 2019 reports by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and by the Home Affairs Select Committee.

Despite the findings of these various inquiries, and a commitment made to reduce the detention of vulnerable people, ample evidence demonstrates that victims of human trafficking are still being detained in immigration detention centres in the UK.

Most recently, Women for Refugee Women, a member organisation of this Taskforce, highlighted the plight of 14 Chinese women victims of trafficking who had been detained in Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre.

Today, this evidence is bolstered with the launch of a new report from the Labour Exploitation Advisory Group, which has found evidence of 143 victims of trafficking who have experienced immigration detention. Other organisations in this Taskforce, including the Jesuit Refugee Service and Detention Action, have also published reports or have evidence from casework of this same egregious issue.

These cases are not anomalous: the members of this Taskforce, and other organisations throughout the UK, are aware of, or have worked with, detained victims of trafficking of different nationalities and genders in several different detention centres.

The government has stated that it seeks not to detain victims of human trafficking and that it has policies and practices in place aimed at reducing the number of vulnerable people in detention. However, we consider that this is at odds with the reality, as evidenced by the experiences of victims in detention.

The Home Office should make an absolute and total commitment that no potential victim of trafficking will be detained in an immigration detention centre.

Additionally, the UK government must make meaningful changes to its detention policies and practices to ensure that people who may be victims are kept out of detention. This includes:

  • Introducing a more effective screening process prior to the decision to detain to ensure that potential victims of trafficking are identified at the earliest opportunity.
  • Introducing independent judicial oversight of the decision to detain, thereby removing the Home Office’s monopoly over detention decisions. The detention of victims of human trafficking demonstrates that current ‘detention gatekeeper’ processes are highly problematic and must be reviewed.
  • Funding independent support providers to have presence in all Immigration Removal Centres to act as a first point of contact to people who have experienced trauma, abuse and exploitation, and to act as independent first responders to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), ensuring potential victims are identified at the earliest opportunity and released into appropriate support.
  • Ensuring that criminal convictions arising directly and solely from victims’ exploitation are not used as reasons to detain or to continue detention.
  • Ensuring that anyone referred into the NRM from within detention is immediately released into appropriate and secure accommodation.

The Taskforce looks forward to engaging with the Home Office and government more broadly on this important issue and hopes, through its joint and powerful advocacy, to win vital changes and an end to the detention of victims of human trafficking in the UK.


In support of refugee women facing hateful narratives

by Marchu Girma, deputy director at Women for Refugee Women

Recently, I have found it hard to stop thinking about certain tweets by the American President Donald Trump. There is nothing new in the media circus Trump creates but this time, his ‘You can leave!’ and ‘Go back!’ comments directed at four Congresswomen, American citizens and women of colour, has felt more personal. It has made me think about the insidiousness of these statements. ‘Go back,’ or ‘Go home,’ suggests that the speaker believes that you don’t belong here, you are not valued here, you are no longer part of the community of human beings that make this society, you are the ‘other’ that needs to be pushed out. The ‘go home’ slogan dehumanises and disempowers.

In particular, Trump’s words were targeted at Ilhan Omar, who went to America as a 12-year-old refugee. I relate to Ilhan Omar, because I came to the UK when I was 11 years old. I grew up in London and I remember hearing bullies on the streets who chanted ‘go home’ to me. I can only imagine how the feeling of powerlessness and not belonging is magnified when it is not a bully at a bus stop who is shouting those words, but the president of ‘the free world’. Yet at least Ilhan and I now have the protection of our citizenship, and no matter the shouts of ‘go home’ on the streets, in newspapers or by Trump we still have legal status in our respective countries of refuge. We know that we can stay.

However, for those who don’t have such status the ‘go home’ slogan is even more frightening. It was ironic to see Theresa May pointing the finger at Donald Trump and telling him he was wrong when in the UK in 2013, she was the Home Secretary when ‘go home’ buses roamed the streets of London threatening those who are ‘illegal immigrants to go home or face arrest’.

In fact May was the architect of UK-grown ‘go home’ policies, known as the ‘hostile environment’. The ‘hostile environment’ is a set of policies and practices that make it near impossible for those who have been refused asylum to remain in the UK, even though it has been proven again and again that the Home Office is very likely to refuse women who claim asylum and such decisions are often overturned on appeal. These women’s lives are crippled by such draconian policies of destitution, detention (or the threat of detention), the threat of deportation, not being able to work, not having any support, not having a home and not being entitled to healthcare which can lead to mental health issues as well as further gender-based violence in the UK.  The hostile environment has made it acceptable to treat those who are most vulnerable in our society inhumanly.

At the latest Trump rally people were freely chanting, ‘send her back’, in a way that was scarily reminiscent of the worst horrors of 20th century history. This is why we need to be even more firm in our stance and push back against the wave of hate that feels as if it is coming our way. We have to stand for Ilhan, we have to stand for the rights of those who are excluded and marginalised from our society, and shout louder “Refugees Welcome”.


Women for Refugee Women Donate

Women for Refugee Women seeks a new Chair of Trustees

Location: Occasional travel to Women for Refugee Women’s office near Old Street, or other meeting places in central London

Salary: The role of Chair is not accompanied by any financial remuneration, although expenses for travel and childcare may be claimed

Hours: At least 1 day per month. These hours will be particularly focused on the quarterly 2.5 hour board meetings, and also other committees or meetings with the director and other senior staff.

About the charity

Women for Refugee Women is a small, dynamic charity which supports and empowers refugee and asylum-seeking women. It has an excellent track record of creating change and following the receipt of a legacy the charity is entering a period of growth. Based in central London, the charity currently has a staff team of 8 (5.5 full time equivalent) and a 12-strong board of trustees. Its current chair of trustees is looking to step down after five successful years, so WRW is looking for a chair with a real commitment to the charity’s values and a good grasp of charity governance to steer it through the next few years.

About the role

WRW is seeking to appoint a Chair to lead the Board of Trustees and ensure that the board fulfils its responsibilities and that the organisation can realise its mission.

The role will involve:

  • Working alongside the vice chair of the board (to be appointed from among existing trustees) to ensure that all the governance duties of the board are discharged responsibly
  • Working in partnership with the director and other staff, ensuring that they are supported to put into practice the mission of the organisation and achieve the strategic plan
  • Optimising the relationship between the Board of Trustees and staff
  • Facilitating the Board of Trustees in stimulating well-rounded discussions and considered decision-making
  • Being a strong spokesperson for the charity both internally and externally

The Person

WRW is looking for a strategically-minded individual with a strong commitment to WRW’s values, an understanding of the governance of charities, and a collaborative leadership style.

Essential skills, knowledge and experience include:

  • A clear and demonstrable commitment to social justice, race equality and feminism
  • Experience in senior roles in organisations, including experience of effective chairing and understanding of how to facilitate debate
  • Sound knowledge of charity governance with a clear understanding of the duties and responsibilities of trustees and the legal environment in which charities operate
  • Highly developed interpersonal and communication skills
  • The ability to understand perspectives of others, to act collaboratively and diplomatically, and to secure collective decision-making
  • The ability to understand complex strategic issues, without losing sight of a vision of positive change
  • High standards of personal integrity with sound, independent judgement
  • Understanding of the situation of refugee and asylum seeking women and where change is needed

Women for Refugee Women would particularly welcome applications and expressions of interest from individuals with experience of migration or seeking asylum.

How to apply

To apply for the role, please send an email to Women for Refugee Women’s director, Natasha Walter, natasha@refugeewomen.co.uk, with your CV and a cover letter stating why you think you are right for this role.

Please feel free to send expressions of interest before the application if you would like to discuss the role further before applying. The deadline for applications is 20 September 2019.