Women for Refugee Women Processions Living Artwork

How the suffragettes are inspiring refugee women

by Marchu Girma, Grassroots Director

Yesterday, thousands of people processed in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast to mark 100 years since some women won the vote. We joined the London procession with our hand-stitched banner calling for safety, dignity and liberty for all women.

 

Women for Refugee Women Processions Living Artwork

Photo: Sarah Graham

There has been much change for women over the past century, but still not every woman has a voice; refugee and migrant women are the most marginalised and disenfranchised women in our society.

Over the past few months I have been delivering workshops and speaking to refugee women about the suffragette movement in the UK. These workshops are filled with ‘ah ha’ moments when refugee women realise they are the modern-day suffragettes, struggling and fighting very similar issues as British women did a hundred years ago.

The hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood earlier this year is reminiscent of the suffragettes who took up hunger strike to protest their innocence, when they were locked up for campaigning for their rights. One suffragette is pictured with a banner that reads, “To ask freedom for women is not a crime, suffrage prisoners should not be treated as criminals.”

Women for Refugee Women Suffragettes Inspiring Refugee Women

Photo: Harris & Ewing, 1917

This criminalisation of women is a sentiment strongly felt by refugee women. If you change the above quote to reflect the experiences of refugee women it will read, “To ask asylum is not a crime, asylum-seeking women should not be treated as criminals”. Today, asylum-seeking women who have come to the UK seeking safety and sanctuary have committed no crime but are detained in Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre - indefinitely. They are locked up for administrative purposes.

85% of women we spoke to for our latest research said they were survivors of sexual or other gender-based violence. Refugee women are fleeing persecution by non-state actors, such as rape, domestic violence and female genital mutilation. One of the refugee women who is an ex-detainee said to me, “We may not have come fleeing a war-torn country, but we have come escaping a war on us.” And the struggle continues for many refugee and migrant women in the UK.

Refugee women come to the UK in the hope of rebuilding their lives and having a new start. They want to belong here and contribute meaningfully. This is made extremely difficult by punitive Home Office policies. Emmeline Pankhurst’s words chime with the refugee women I work alongside: “We are here, not because we are law-breakers; we are here in our efforts to become law-makers.”  Refugee women are here in the UK not to break laws, but they want to become law-abiding citizens. In their effort to achieve this, refugee women are challenging the government to look at how we are treating the most vulnerable in our society.

One woman who is currently seeking asylum told me that learning about the suffragettes has helped her to see her struggle in the long line of women’s struggles. She does not feel isolated anymore, as she has realised she is part of a continuum of women in this country fighting for their rights.

Refugee and migrant women are the modern day suffragettes, who are struggling forth and continuing the fight. However, their fights are on many fronts, an intersection of gender, race, sexuality and class. Our reports have shown the rife racism experienced by African women in detention, and the discrimination and disbelieve experienced by lesbian asylum seekers because of their sexuality during the interview process. These modern day suffragettes are not just demanding for gender rights, but the right to be treated humanely on all fronts.

Millicent Fawcett felt the way to achieve the vote for women, a century ago, was by working with MPs, “The [women’s movement] is like a glacier, slow moving but unstoppable. Marches, petitions to parliament, working with MPs, that is how we will achieve the vote.”

On Millicent Fawcett’s birthday, a hundred years from when some women got the vote, we are determined to stand for refugee and migrant women, because all women count.  If we stand together and make our voices heard our movement will be unstoppable.

Women for Refugee Women Suffragettes Inspiring Refugee Women


Women for Refugee Women News House of Lords Votes to End Detention of Pregnant Women

Ending detention: the vision of our Set Her Free campaign

Women for Refugee Women has a vision of a world in which women who cross borders are not only surviving, but are able to live full, peaceful and happy lives. We work in solidarity with women who have sought asylum or who have refugee status to try to ensure that their voices are heard and that their rights to safety, dignity and liberty are upheld.

As part of this vision we want to see an end to immigration detention. We have seen the harms that incarceration does firsthand and we find it shocking that women, particularly those who have already survived human rights abuses, are locked up in the UK for administrative convenience. This needs to end.

Women for Refugee Women worked with other organisations to try to end the detention of children from 2008 to 2010, because at that time the government was locking up around 1000 children a year for indefinite periods.  We remember sitting in the visitors’ room at Yarl’s Wood detention centre with mums who were locked up for months on end with the babies they were breastfeeding and with kids who should have been in school. We met 13 year olds who were self-harming in Yarl’s Wood and we met toddlers who would bang on the doors of the visitors room in efforts to escape.

In 2010 this practice was changed, and now the detention of children has fallen by around 96% - fewer than 100 kids are now locked up every year, and all for very short periods. This is still too many, but we are glad that when we go to Yarl’s Wood we do not any more find children suffering by being locked up for long periods. The process that has ensured that detention for children has fallen by 96% is called the Family Returns process, and we recognise that one positive aspect of its introduction has been this massive reduction in the detention of children. It is not, however, a good system in other areas, because it has been bolted on to an asylum system that fails people in so many other ways.

From 2014 Women for Refugee Women has focused on a campaign to end the immigration detention of women: Set Her Free. This campaign is led by women with experience of detention who work alongside us to help us to frame our proposals and our messages.

Since we launched the Set Her Free campaign, Women for Refugee Women has put forward a number of proposals for immediate reforms, including an end to the detention of pregnant women, an end to the detention of survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and an introduction of a 28-day time limit on all immigration detention. This alongside the work of others has led to some small changes such as the introduction of a new time limit on the detention of pregnant women in 2016, which has led to the numbers of pregnant women in detention falling by about half and their time in detention being greatly reduced.

We believe that there needs to be a more radical overhaul of the system, as such small reforms cannot get to grips with the magnitude of the problem. In our report The Way Ahead, published in March 2017, we set out a picture of an entirely community-based asylum system. This would involve ensuring that people’s cases are resolved while they are living in the community, with no need for detention.

In this report we looked at the Family Returns process and noted the positive aspect of its introduction, which is that it had massively reduced the incarceration of children. But we were clear that we were proposing an even more thoroughgoing overhaul of the system.

We discussed how this overhaul could include engagement with those seeking asylum from the start of their case, with support from a case worker who was independent from the immigration authorities. Such a system would also need to include access to good legal representation, proper welfare support and housing. In the report we looked at good practice elsewhere and the proposals of others such as the 2015 Parliamentary inquiry into detention, which called for a “wholesale change” in the current system, as well as the work of other NGOs including Detention Action, whose 2017 report Without Detention sets out ways that community-based approaches could be introduced in the UK context to end detention.

We would love to take part in robust discussion of such proposals with anyone who is also interested in changing the current asylum system. We recognise that the overhaul that we discuss in The Way Ahead may sound too radical for some and too timid for others. That’s why discussion is so important. We are just one set of voices among many who want to see change. We are shocked that instead of engaging in such discussion some individuals have instead decided to smear us and accuse us of collaborating with the Home Office. This is simply nonsense. We have never worked with or been funded by the Home Office.

We know that the current asylum system is cruel and chaotic. We know change is urgently overdue. We spend so much of our limited capacity as an organisation trying to support and work in solidarity with women who have experienced terrible decisions, destitution, detention and threats of deportation. We want to see a completely different world, one in which women’s rights to safety, dignity and liberty are respected and they can rebuild their lives as equals alongside those of us who are settled in the UK.  We believe that many others also share this vision and that by listening to one another and working together, we can move closer to such a world.


Women for Refugee Women All Women Count Lobby

'We are the modern day Suffragettes, carrying the fire and fury of wronged women. This is just the beginning'

Words by Aida Abbashar, photography by Ro Murphy.

This International Women’s Day, over 200 refugee and migrant women went to Parliament to demand their rights to safety, liberty and dignity. We listened to each other’s experiences, called on our MPs to act, and we celebrated the strength and bravery of refugee and migrant women.

Women for Refugee Women Safety Dignity Liberty

Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu chaired the event comprised of a full line-up of courageous women with refugee and migrant backgrounds who directly addressed MPs with their stories of traumatising months in Yarl’s Wood detention centre; becoming vulnerable to violence because of destitution; separation from their families and the human cost of hostile immigration policies. The room buzzed with energy as the voices of women who are too often silenced echoed around the halls of power.

Tracy N'Dovi of Survivors Speak OUT highlighted the significance of refugee and migrant women having the opportunity to speak out in Parliament: 'It takes a lot of strength to stand up as a refugee women and speak out. We are resilient. Please remember that our voices must be heard in Parliament.'

Liberty

‘We wish we could be celebrating with you on this day, but we are not free to do so.’ The women on hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood sent us a powerful statement to share at the lobby (published in full here).

Their words were supported by other first-hand accounts from survivors of detention, including Mariam Yusuf from WAST Manchester: 'I thought when I came to Britain I would be safe, and not locked up like a criminal.' Anju, from City of Sanctuary, read a poem about her time in Yarl’s Wood where she asked the audience, ‘Am I a criminal?’

Women for Refugee Women Modern Day Suffragettes

Talha from Coventry Asylum Seeker and Refugee Action Group explained, 'You have already suffered, and then they put you in detention.'

As Kate Green MP said, ‘It is shameful that vulnerable women who come here for safety end up in detention.’

Dignity

Through powerful speeches and performances, women described the difficulties they face in their daily life due to struggles to access healthcare, education, housing and employment. Zrinka Bralo, director of Migrants Organise, reminded us that the situation for migrants was much better when she came to the UK as a refugee from Bosnia, and that we can rebuild a fairer system in which migrant and refugee women have access to healthcare and housing. LGBT+ rights activist Shrouk El Attar, from STAR, spoke about the importance of education and her experience with the asylum process. She described the intrusive questioning of her sexuality during her asylum claim as a teenager, asking, ‘If this is too uncomfortable for adults to listen to in Parliament today, then why was it ever ok to ask a seventeen-year old?’

Women for Refugee Women Modern Day Suffragettes

Women for Refugee Women Modern Day Suffragettes

 

Agnes from Hope Projects in Birmingham said, 'We are all looking for safety, freedom, peaceful life, better life, protection, security.'  Refugee and migrant women need dignity.

Safety

Maya Ghazal, a Syrian refugee, spoke about the vital importance of family reunion for women seeking safety. There is an opportunity for members of Parliament to vote on an improved family reunion process on 16 March, so refugee women took the opportunity to call on their MPs to act and create safer routes for women to be reunited with their families.

Women for Refugee Women Modern Day Suffragettes

Women from Safety4Sisters, Southall Black Sisters and Latin American Women’s Rights Service called for safe reporting mechanisms for women with insecure immigration status who suffer abuse and violence. They described how they have been failed while looking for safety and justice: “The police told me - you are illegal so we can’t do anything for you. When you are in my situation you are invisible, you are nobody and have no rights,” said a speaker from Southall Black Sisters. 'A migrant woman like me needs to be believed by the police. My rights are above the passport I hold,' G from LAWRS, said, sometimes overcome with emotion as she remembered her own struggle for safety.

Although each speaker spoke about their individual experiences, common themes arose. It was evident that every speaker had been failed by the government in one way or another, had been denied access to liberty, safety and dignity at some point in their lives or have had their struggles sidelined. The strength and unity shown by the women at the lobby filled the day with energy and a sense of the urgency of change. Priscille from Women for Refugee Women said, ‘We are proud to be around women who keep fighting regardless of the situations they are facing.’

To be part of an event led entirely by refugee and migrant women was empowering for all the women there. “Before, I felt like I was in prison, and the women threw open the doors for me today,” said one woman from Southall Black Sisters.

The lobby ended with a performance from WAST Manchester and cries for Yarl’s Wood detention centre to be shut down. We chanted ‘All Women Count’ and our voices echoed through Parliament.

Women for Refugee Women Modern Day Suffragettes

The All Women Count lobby is a great example of collaboration between refugee and migrant women, and it was supported by over 40 partner organisations, from large organisations such as UNHCR and Liberty to smaller grassroots groups such as Hope Projects and Coventry Asylum Seeker and Refugee Action Group.

We were glad that a number of MPs attended and spoke, and also mentioned the lobby in the debate that was happening in the House of Commons at the same time, where Jess Phillips MP said: ‘We in this place need to recognise our commitment to ending the barriers faced by every woman in this country. We must never, ever forget that that includes refugee women, who face multiple disadvantage in our country.’

In the House of Lords, Baroness Healy said: ‘Today sees a lobby of Parliament by refugee and migrant women under the banner of All Women Count, which calls for safety, dignity and liberty for all women regardless of status in the UK. The Government currently locks up 1,600 asylum-seeking women every year… it is unfair to deprive a person of their liberty for administrative convenience; that detention is costly, ineffective and harmful, and that there are better alternatives.’

Women for Refugee Women Modern Day Suffragettes

Top row from left: Baroness Lister, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, Baroness Jones, Vicky Foxcroft MP, Kate Green MP. Middle row from left: Dawn Butler MP, Jess Phillips MP, Stella Creasy MP, Leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn with Marchu Girma. Bottom row from left: Virendra Shama MP, Stephen Timms MP, Liz Twist MP, Shadow Immigration Minister Afzal Khan with WAST Manchester, Louise Ellman MP.

And as Stella Creasy MP said at the event, ‘We achieve more together than we do alone.’ And this collaborative effort to listen to and act on all women’s calls for rights must not end here. Marchu Girma gave a rallying call for All Women Count continue to empower women and effect change: ‘We are the modern day suffragettes, carrying the fire and fury of wronged women. This is just the beginning.’


 

To stay in touch with the All Women Count movement and partner organisations’ campaigns for justice please visit: www.allwomencount.co.uk or follow #AllWomenCount on social media


Women for Refugee Women News It's Time that Refugee Voices are Heard in Westminster

It’s time that refugee women’s voices are heard in Westminster

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.

You can find out who your MP is here and write to them using this letter template. Once you have written to them, please book your place to attend here.


Women for Refugee Women News Refugee Women Share Their Favourite Recipes

Refugee women share their favourite recipes

The refugee and asylum-seeking women in our Intermediate English class are developing their writing skills. This week they share their favourite recipes and cooking tips:

Elizabeth, Zambia

The food I like is a piece of fresh tilapia fish, spiced and a little salted then baked for 35 to 40 minutes at 250 degrees in the oven. I eat it with boiled green vegetables and corn sponge maize as a thick porridge. To make this I boil 4 cups of water and add 2 cups of corn maize then cook for 20 to 30 minutes to make it fine and soft. In the Zambia, it is called “Ubwali” or “Sima” - maize porridge. Very filling and tasty!

Etracy, Zimbabwe

I like green leaves with peanut butter because it makes you drink water all day long and is very filling.

I like roasted spicy pork chops because when you eat it, it is crunchy, hot and tasty and you drink lots of fluids which is good for your health.

I like mashed potatoes when you mix with butter and coconut milk, because it is very soft and tasty, and very filling too.

I like my traditional meal, sadza, which you prepare with maize powder. You boil water, add a bit of cold water in the pot. Mix with a small portion of maize powder. Mix with hot water, let it boil for five minutes. Add more maize powder and stir until it gets very thick. Let it simmer for five minutes. Serve with greens with peanut butter or meat. Very delicious!

I like roasted sweetcorn on the cob because it tastes very different: sweet and fresh. It reminds me of home.

Baby Girl, Nigeria

I like santana and egusi soup because it is sweet and reminds me of home.

I like fried rice with chicken, because it is delicious and full of vegetables – very rich.

I like plantain and owo because it is full of iron and we in Africa have the belief that when you eat plantain it makes you very strong.

I like Edikaikong soup because we use different vegetables and meat to cook it.

I like powdered yam and ogbono soup with salt fish and goat meat mixed together .

Hadija, Uganda

I like Matoke because it reminds me of home. Peel the matoke, boil it and when it’s cooked you mash it. I buy it from the African shops. It is a green banana. It doesn’t take long to cook, you can cook it in half an hour. Then mash it up and wrap it in foil with pepper and put it in the oven. Heat the oven on full blast. When you put the food in the oven, you reduce the temperature to 20%. Bake it for 30 minutes.

Consilia, South Africa

I like samp because it reminds me of my Grandmother Chakalaka. It’s my favourite dish because you can eat it with spicy meatballs and it is easy to prepare.

Chicken curry reminds me of my schoolmates.

Fatcakes and dumplings are very sweet for breakfast.

Hornella, Democratic Republic of Congo

I like beans because they are filling and they remind me of my country. But it is hard, because they are different from English beans. I buy them in Asda or Tesco. I can cook them the ways we cook in my country. I put water, salt, beans and some spices for more than 30 minutes to cook. After, I can mix with tomato sauce.

Eva, Kenya

I like salmon, it’s very tasty.

I like different cereals like chickpeas, beans and mung beans.

I like different types of vegetables.

I like to eat a variety of fruits.

I like to eat sweet potatoes and arrow roots.

Recipe for arrowroots and sweet potatoes:

Wash the sweet potato and arrow roots with the skin on or without depending on ones preference.

Place the sweet potatoes or arrow roots in a pot with water to boil.

Poke the arrowroots or sweet potatoes to see if it is cooked.

Drain the water, ready to eat. You can take with tea or without. 

Abi, Nigeria

I like vegetable soup because it is very delicious. Vegetable soup is good for cleansing the digestive system. It is very nutritious. It can be eaten with varieties of solid food, like pounded yam. It can be prepared with lots of condiments to give a rich taste.


Women for Refugee Women News Celebrating Special Occasions Back Home

Celebrating special occasions back home

Intermediate English class writing exercise

Every Monday, around 100 refugee and asylum-seeking women come together at our drop-in centre at London to develop their skills in our English classes and to support one another.

We provide English classes at five different levels in order to help women to become more confident in conversations and with reading and writing. Arriving in a new country can be confusing, intimidating and isolating without language skills. We provide a space in which women from 32 different countries around the world can learn together and build new friendships with English as a common language.

The women in our Intermediate English class, taught by our brilliant volunteer Helen Brown, are currently developing their writing skills. This term we will be sharing their work in a series of short blogs.

This week, the women have been writing about how they would celebrate special occasions in their home countries:

Angele, Democratic Republic of Congo

In my country, on 8th March we celebrate International Women’s Day. On that day, women wear African clothes and there are a lot of organisations which organise meetings, conferences talking about emancipation and the role or importance of women in society, the church, the house etc

Diakiese, Democratic Republic of Congo

A Birthday Party

  1. Inviting people who you like
  2. Cooking for them and buying drinks
  3. Wearing new clothes, new shoes, be pretty…
  4. Eating, dancing and celebrating together
  5. Giving presents

Joy, Nigeria

  1. Mother’s Day: we give presents to our mothers and play music
  2. New Year’s Day: the Igbos cook special meals, play music and go out with friends to watch native dances
  3. Every 1st October, Nigeria celebrates Independence Day.
  4. Traditional marriage: The man will come to his in-law’s house to pay the bride price for his wife

Abi, Nigeria

In Nigeria, on wedding days, both families are excited and happy.

  1. In the morning, all invited guests and families attend the solemnisation [marriage ceremony]
  2. After the solemnisation, the couple have a photo session with all present
  3. A reception is being organised to entertain all the guests
  4. The couple will thereafter go for their honeymoon at their chosen resort

 

Photo by Shyamantha Asokan


Women for Refugee Women News Remembering Refugee Women When Rallying Behind Timesup

Remembering refugee women when rallying behind #TimesUp

by Marchu Girma, Grassroots Director

Last term, 30-35 refugee women in our network attended a 12-week workshop on intersectional feminism run by Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu. There were dynamic, vigorous and inspiring discussions among women about what feminism means to them. A great range of different views were exchanged, reflecting the diversity of the women who are from various countries, backgrounds and have different life experiences.

When sexual exploitation of Hollywood stars became a huge story in the media inspiring thousands of women to take courage and say #MeToo on social media, it also inspired refugee women in our feminism discussions to say #MeToo. Common experiences of sexual abuse, harassment, trafficking and being preyed upon were candidly discussed.

Most of all, many of the women were stunned to discover their experiences of not being believed by authorities were shared amongst all women, including Hollywood stars. Many refugee women who disclose to the Home Office their experiences of gender-based violence, including rape and sexual harassment in their home countries, are not believed. Their stories are dismissed and they are asked to provide proof of abuse, where the threshold for belief is overwhelmingly high. Many women have asked me over the years, ‘How can we provide proof of being raped by soldiers or abused by family members?’

Their proof is their bodies and their stories.

The Home Office’s refusal to believe refugee women when they tell their stories has detrimental effects on women’s mental and physical wellbeing. It also leaves women destitute with no support, relying on handouts from friends and charities, or in some cases, homeless out on the cold streets. Such situations expose women to further exploitation, sexual harassment and rape.

Whilst sharing stories in the class, Precious*, a refugee woman from DRC, told the group:

"I was staying in a spare room of a lovely couple who had been married for over 30 years. Every night the husband came to knock on my door. I was so scared; I jammed the table against the door. After a few days of this happening I left the house, even though I had nowhere to go."

The #MeToo campaign inspired Precious to report the incident. She felt empowered for taking action and for speaking her truth. Many refugee women are ready to share their stories and speak their truth. We now need to give them platforms to speak out and to say, ‘We see you, we hear you, we believe you.’

That is why I will be speaking at the Women’s March Time's Up rally outside Downing Street with a refugee woman on 21st January.

We are also organising the #AllWomenCount parliamentary lobby on 8th March, led by refugee women. Come and join us!


*We have changed Precious' name to protect her identity


Women for Refugee Women News Our Year in Photos

Our year in photos

At Women for Refugee Women, we've had a busy year empowering refugee and asylum-seeking women and making sure that their voices are heard in the media and by policy makers.

Here's a whirlwind tour of just some of what we've been up to:

January

Women for Refugee Women Our Year In Photos
The women in our drama group showed just how much they have developed their confidence and creativity, performing their own poetry to over 80,000 people at the Women's March on London in Trafalger Square.

March

Women for Refugee Women Our Year In Photos
We launched new research on alternatives to detention, 'The Way Ahead', outlining how the UK's Home Office could move towards a fairer asylum system that doesn't lock women up. We highlighted further evidence that detention is traumatic, expensive and inefficient. (Photo: Briony Campbell)

Women for Refugee Women Our Year In Photos
We organised the National Refugee Women's Conference which was attended by over 100 refugee women and over 100 supporters, including Noma Dumezweni, Richard Fuller MP and Kate Green MP. (Photo: Briony Campbell)

April

Women for Refugee Women Our Year In Photos

Our Grassroots Director, Marchu Girma, visited Hamburg to attend the Democracy Camp 2017. She wrote this great blog about her experience and her visit to Migrantpolitan, a small art space and café run by refugees, where she met with Syrian refugees.

May

Women for Refugee Women Our Year In Photos

Refugee and asylum-seeking women in our network attended the 'Surround Yarl's Wood' demonstration.

Women for Refugee Women Our Year In Photos

Esther said, "I protested today to fight for the freedom of women who are detained, to fight for their rights, to fight for hope. I don’t want detention to exist because I have experience of it. Detention must stop. When the women inside Yarl’s Wood hear the protesters outside they feel happy because they hear someone fighting for them."

June

We spoke at five events during refugee week, as well as hosting our own...

Women for Refugee Women Our Year In Photos
At our Women's Great Get Together, we remembered Jo Cox's message that 'we have more in common than that which divides us' and had a tea party for refugee women and other local women to come together, sing, dance and strike up new conversations. Our local Women's Institute, the Borough Belles, ran a craft activity for everyone. (Photo: Aliya Mirza)

Women for Refugee Women Our Year In Photos

The women in our drama group participated in the Hear Her Singing project with artist Charwei Tsai. The project involved an exchange of song between the women in our network and those detained in Yarl's Wood. The results were shared in video installations around the Southbank Centre, which kicked off with The Big Sing, a community singing event led by our drama group. (Photo: Tsering Tashi Gyalthang)

Women for Refugee Women Our Year In Photos
Eight women went on a retreat to Micklepage House in West Sussex, to relax, re-energise and work on new poetry and art projects. They produced these stunning screen-prints with the help of Social Fabric.

July

Women for Refugee Women Our Year In Photos

We collaborated with The Breakfast Club in Hoxton to provide textiles workshops for refugee and asylum-seeking women. We ran another of these course in November.

Women for Refugee Women Our Year In Photos
As our summer term drew to a close, we had a lot of fun at our end of term party for 130 refugee and asylum-seeking women. Our drama group also visited the National Theatre and tested out the costumes (pictured)!

August

Women for Refugee Women Our Year In Photos

August gave us a moment to regroup and prepare for a very busy Autumn. But we didn't want the women we work with to feel isolated during this period, especially those with kids on their summer holidays, so we organised a trip for mums and their children to visit the Horniman Museum. We especially loved the Robot Zoo!

September

Women for Refugee Women Our Year In Photos
Our Women Asylum Seekers Together (WAST) group returned after the summer. Each week we give a warm welcome to around 100 refugee and asylum-seeking women who come together for English lessons, yoga, a warm lunch and advice. (Photo: Shyamantha Asokan)

October

Women for Refugee Women Our Year In Photos
Women in our drama group contributed their hopes and dreams to the Wall of Dreams project, with poets Morten Søndergaard, Kayo Chingonyi and Jasmine Cooray. Their dreams were projected across the Royal Festival Hall every evening for two weeks.

Women for Refugee Women Our Year In Photos
Ten women completed our 'Telling your story with a purpose' training course with Ginger Public Speaking, in which they learnt how to share their experiences in a meaningful and empowering way.

November

Women for Refugee Women Our Year In Photos

We published 'We are still here', research that found that the Home Office is still detaining vulnerable survivors of sexual violence in breach of their own policy. The story was picked up by the BBC, Sky News, The Guardian, The Independent and others. Some of the women who contributed to this research also spoke out in Parliament at an event organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees.

Women for Refugee Women Our Year In Photos
We also hosted another National Refugee Women's Conference with Women Asylum Seekers Together (WAST) Manchester. 250 refugee women and supporters attended to share experiences of destitution and detention, and to plan action against them. Regional women's groups shared moving performences, including WAST Manchester, our drama group, Hope Projects from Birmingham and CARAG from Coventry. (Photo: Elainea Emmott)

Women for Refugee Women Our Year In Photos

We organised a special screening of Suffragette with the Welcome Cinema. Marchu Girma, Monica and Priscille spoke on a panel with the film's director, Sarah Gavron, about refugee women's struggles to have their voices heard today. (Photo: Maria Brosnan)

December

Women for Refugee Women Our Year In Photos

Our year rounded off on a high at our Christmas Party for 130 women. We gave out awards for outstanding contributions over the year, danced, shared food and each woman went home with a huge bag of gorgeous beauty products donated by our wonderful supporters!


 

We want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has supported us this year and enabled all of this to happen.

If you would like to help us keep this up next year, you can donate at www.tinyurl.com/givetoWRW 


Women for Refugee Women News Welcome to London

Welcome to London: a walking tour of the city for refugee women

By Rosa Dennis, volunteer teacher for our Intermediate English class

I decided to volunteer for Women for Refugee Women as I wanted to do something proactive and meaningful to help welcome people who come to the UK in search of safety. In the summer of 2017 I trained as an English teacher, and after coming across Women for Refugee Women I wanted to put the skills I had learnt in my course into practise.

I gained more from the Women Asylum Seekers Together (WAST) group, who meet every Monday, than I ever could have imagined. The warmth and care of these women who had come to the UK looking for a safe place is overwhelming. I’m inspired by the women's determination to improve their English skills and to learn more about the history and culture of the UK.  Even after all the horrendous stories I hear about the asylum process, they are still fighting to rebuild their lives and will never give up.

Women for Refugee Women Welcome to London

During my first lesson with the women, we looked at the vocabulary used in traditional tours of London. We discussed words such as ‘footsteps’ and ‘upmarket’ as we looked at some of the older areas of the city. Some of the women commented that they had never been to central London and didn’t know the historic buildings. I chirped in that my dad was a tour guide and found that the women were keen to explore and learn about London in this way. So I made it my mission to organise a tour for them before the end of term!

I spoke to my dad and we devised a route. Starting at Tower Hill, crossing Tower Bridge to see the panoramic view of London’s skyscrapers, followed by a cup of tea at City Hall and then continuing along the south bank of the river Thames to the Millennium Bridge and St. Paul's Cathedral. We thought this would show London at its best, the juxtaposition of old and new.

Women for Refugee Women Welcome to London

My dad loves talking to people, but even-more-so when they listen to him! The ladies were hooked by his stories of London’s past, including the Catholics and Protestants that were executed at the tower, the gunpowder plot that we studied in class and England’s barbaric colonial history.

It was a cold crisp day but six women braved the elements to learn more about London and to have a wonderful experience. The feedback I got was positive and hopefully we can do another one in the summer when it is not so cold!

Thank you to Hugh Dennis and everyone at Women for Refugee Women for all the wonderful work they are doing. This experience has opened my eyes to the struggles people face every day, and to the warmth and resilience of humanity.

Women for Refugee Women Welcome to London


Women for Refugee Women News Storytelling With A Purpose

Storytelling with a purpose: a course to empower and inspire refugee women

Ten courageous and talented refugee and asylum-seeking women in our network took part in Telling your story with a purpose, a public speaking and storytelling course delivered by Ginger. Course facilitators, Rona and Jojo, share their reflections on the programme.

Words from Rona Steinberg

One of the many things I love about being a public speaking coach and trainer for Ginger is that I get to meet the most remarkable people. This has never been truer than over the past couple of months, as Jojo Thomas and I delivered a series of workshops to a group of women refugees from the incredible charity, Women for Refugee Women.

I first met the organisation’s Director, Natasha Walter, a few years ago at a TedX Covent Garden event where I was one of the coaches. I was impressed then by Natasha’s commitment to helping women refugees who, having faced unimaginable challenges in their home country, arrive here only to encounter still more difficulties and hardship. When I met Marchu Girma, the organisation’s grassroots coordinator, earlier this year at a charity lunch, it seemed inevitable that we should work together.

Before long Jojo and I were sitting down to design a programme that would enable our participants to share their stories, not just with passion and fluency, but, crucially, with a sense of purpose and mission. This particular group had been chosen to join the programme because of how far they had already come in their own journeys, and also because it was felt they had the kind of leadership qualities required to influence and persuade.

It was great working with Jojo on designing something we thought would be well received, but it was only when we arrived at the organisation’s headquarters for our first session that we realised what an incredible experience we were going to have. For the truth is that, despite all the terrible hardships that these courageous, feisty, funny, brilliant women have gone through (and are still going through), each one of them has retained their sense of fun, determination to make the most of their time with us, and, most importantly their hopes for their futures.

As the weeks progressed and their stories started to unfold, we were continually humbled by the women’s courage and forbearance – they spoke of being abandoned as young children, experiencing violence, trafficking, running for their lives, leaving their young children behind as they attempted to create a future here for their families, sleeping on park benches and on cold floors of railway stations. Here in the UK they have experienced racism, rejection, exploitation, heartbreak and loneliness.

Their tears flowed as did ours and yet … and yet; not once did I feel that they saw themselves as victims. One minute they’d be speaking of terrible atrocities, and the next they’d be laughing, breaking in to beautiful song, or throwing themselves in to the next exercise. We soon learnt that it was pointless to ask (as is usual in public training sessions), whether they were nervous – they didn’t seem to understand the concept, so eager were they for the chance to learn how to communicate their stories more skilfully.

They saw this programme as an opportunity and they were determined to make the most of it. One day I remarked on one of our participant’s beautiful notetaking and she turned to me and said, “I want to be the best public speaker I can be.” I will never forget those words, spoken so solemnly and with such heart and determination.

I learned so much in that room; about the human spirit, about how when everything seems hopeless you can still find hope; about faith and the power of prayer when there really seems there’s nothing and no one left to help you. I learnt about resilience, about the power of women to rise up and determine their own fate against the most terrible of odds. I also heard how grateful they all are to Women for Refugee Women, which has befriended them, and seeks to empower and support them. It has just been the most beautiful, moving and heart-warming experience. At the end of the programme, as we hugged and said our goodbyes, they asked if we would return to be with them again. And of course, we will.

Words from Jojo Thomas

Rona and I prepared very carefully for our series of workshops with Women for Refugee Women. We felt instinctively that it was essential to provide as much clarity and value as we could in a very short space of time, and we thought long and hard about presenting a series of exercises and ideas that felt logical and powerful. We also braced ourselves for a lot of emotion, anticipating that many of the stories that would be revealed over the course of the programme would be harrowing, shocking, and deeply personal.

The one thing we didn’t prepare ourselves for was just how much fun we were going to have. In every possible way, this series of workshops was easy and energising. Women for Refugee Women, represented by the fabulous Marchu and Monica - who both participated with gusto and courage – made us so welcome, providing a safe and comfortable space in which we could play and explore.

As Rona has already said, one of the first things we usually encounter with budding speakers is nerves. There’s often a reticence in people to stand up and show their true selves. Not so here! These amazing women don’t have the time or energy to be nervous; they are too busy battling to carve lives of meaning and purpose and joy out of great struggle.

It was a humbling and inspiring lesson to me to see them show up, week after week, with neither self-pity nor self-consciousness. Their ferocity, sass, wit, humour, intelligence, and sheer grace made Rona and I smile, laugh, cry and, on many occasions, look to each other with a silent “wow”.

I’ll never forget an exercise we did right at the beginning of the course, where we asked the women to think about the ‘why’ of storytelling. What was their purpose, their big dream for their stories? These are the words they shared with us:

  • Empowerment
  • Courage
  • Impact
  • Awareness
  • Change
  • Care
  • Acceptance
  • Hope
  • Don’t give up!
  • Not alone!
  • Improve
  • Persevere
  • Care
  • Truth

Of all the moving moments we shared during our sessions together, this is probably the one I will remember the most; The way in which they just got it, on a profound, heartfelt level. Helping to give these women a voice was a privilege and a pleasure from start to finish. I can’t wait to see what they will go on to do in the future, and I can’t wait to come back and work with them again.


 

We'd love to be able to run this course again for more women who have come to the UK to seek safety, to support them to feel empowered to speak out effectively. If you can help, please donate at: www.tinyurl.com/givetoWRW