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

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.


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.


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.


"From one hell to another": The detention of Chinese women who have been trafficked to the UK

Video by Fran Freeman

Today, Women for Refugee Women releases new research finding that the Home Office is harming vulnerable Chinese women who have been trafficked to the UK by routinely locking them up for long periods of time in detention.

Over the last year, we have worked alongside Duncan Lewis Solicitors to support many Chinese women who have been trafficked into sexual exploitation or forced labour and then locked up in Yarl's Wood detention centre by the Home Office.

The Home Office is flouting its own guidance that states that survivors of trafficking should not normally be detained and that they should be housed in safe accommodation and given emotional and practical support while their case is being considered.

Chinese women currently make up the largest group by nationality of women in Yarl’s Wood detention centre. Looking at the case files of 14 Chinese women detained in the last year, the report shows:

  1. The Home Office is detaining women who are encountered in exploitative situations – including women who are picked up in brothels and massage parlours – and ignoring the clear indicators that they are trafficked.
  2. The Home Office is flouting its own guidance in order to refuse trafficking cases, and not supporting women whom they have recognised as survivors of trafficking.
  3. These women are being kept in detention for very long periods – every one of the 14 cases considered was detained for more than a month – even when their mental health is clearly deteriorating.
It is time for real change, and to end the practice of immigration detention.

Chinese woman in Yarl’s Wood detention centre:

The gang leaders forced me to do things that I didn’t want to do, things that made me feel ashamed. They made me have sex with men who would come to the house where I was imprisoned. If I tried to refuse they would beat me and starve me. I would often go for three days with no food or water. Then one day men in uniforms came to the house. I was terrified and tried to hide but they found me. They dragged me out and took me to the police station. Later, I was put in another van. It drove for a long time through the night and ended up at Yarl’s Wood. I was taken from one hell to another.

Natasha Walter, director of Women for Refugee Women:

In all my time working with refugee and asylum-seeking women I have never heard stories more harrowing than those we are hearing from Chinese trafficked women in detention. These women have suffered extreme abuse and exploitation and do not receive the support and protection that is promised in policies. Instead, they are locked up and threatened with deportation. This situation must change now.

Shalini Patel, Duncan Lewis solicitors:

There is clear incompetence and sheer disregard for the safety of these women who have already been subjected to such horrendous sexual abuse and exploitation. These women are by no means fit for detention but despite this fact they are detained for months at a time with no adequate support.

Jess Phillips MP:

Hearing about Chinese women who are forced to have sex with more than ten men every day and beaten into submission is terrible. It is even more shocking to realise that when these women come to the attention of the Home Office, they are often being locked up in Yarl’s Wood detention centre rather than getting the support they need. It is time to stand up for the most vulnerable women in our society. The Home Office must carry out its own policies on trafficked women and ensure that they are protected.

Amy Chisholm, Clinical Psychologist at Helen Bamber Foundation:

In my role as a Clinical Psychologist I have worked with many highly vulnerable Chinese women who have been detained in Immigration Removal Centres. For these women it is clear that the experience of detention has exacerbated their already poor mental health. This exacerbation can occur via the intense anxiety created by fear of being returned at any moment to a place they believe they will again be harmed or killed. It can also occur via the environment reminding them of their previous experiences of abuse.


We are recruiting a Grassroots Coordinator

Women for Refugee Women (WRW) is looking for a dynamic and committed Grassroots Co-ordinator to carry through our activities in London for refugee and asylum-seeking women.

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

The Grassroots Coordinator role will involve managing a busy drop-in centre providing English classes and lunch to over 100 women once a week, as well as organising and supporting other activities including drama workshops, cultural outings and advice sessions.

You will need to be calm and well organised, and committed to ensuring that WRW can provide a welcoming environment and can support refugee women to rebuild their lives and confidence.

You will be based in our London office, working Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.

We are looking for someone with experience of working with refugees or other vulnerable groups, and a strong commitment to race and gender equality.

 

Main purpose of role: To co-ordinate the grassroots activities of Women for Refugee Women in London, including carrying out the administrative duties associated with a range of activities and ensuring that asylum-seeking women are supported and empowered in these activities.

Location: Old Street, London

Accountable to: Deputy Director

Hours: 4 days per week

Salary: £27,000 pro rata plus pension contribution

Length of contract: Permanent

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

 

How to apply:

Please download and read the Grassroots Co-ordinator Application Pack.

To apply, please write to admin@refugeewomen.co.uk by 11pm on 28 July 2019 with a CV and a covering letter explaining your experience, why you want to work with WRW, and how you meet the person specification.

Interviews will be held on 12 August 2019 in central London, and only shortlisted candidates will be contacted.