Opinion: Tackling violence against women

The conference motion “Tackling Violence Against Women” rightly highlighted the fact that only 10% of local authorities offer dedicated services for Black and Ethnic Minority Women many of whom are subjected to specific forms of violence such as female mutilation and forced marriage.

In areas like Rochdale with a large Pakistani/Kashmiri and Bangladeshi community, the need for such services and support is very real. This is particularly the case when the arranged marriage involves someone from the Indian sub-continent and the marriage breaks down within two years.

Under our current immigration system these women (and some men) are subject to the NRPF rule (No Recourse to Public Funds rule) that often leaves them destitute and on the street. Rejected by their husband’s family and unable to return home because of the shame attached to a failed marriage, their future is bleak.

A few years ago a trainee social worker carried out a survey for me and found 17 NRPF women sleeping rough in Rochdale.

The Southall Black Sisters for many years campaigned for the removal of this rule which left woman’s charities struggling to provide support with no public funding. In 2009, following a massive campaign, the last government introduced the Sojourner Project which provides up to 40 days funding for NRPF women subject to domestic violence. This period provides a breathing space allows the women to receive help and counselling and for an application for permanent residence to be made.

The project was extended on July 16th this year by the Home Secretary who announced that funding would continue until next April and a permanent solution found.

However with local council’s cutting back on mainstream grants to charities including women’s groups will the scheme have people on the ground? This was brought home to me a couple of weeks ago when I attended my local ward forum and asked the Community Police officer about cuts to the police budget.

One of the cuts being put forward by Greater Manchester Police is to make several “Community Relations Officers” redundant. These are civilian posts and during my time as MP I worked very closely with the officer serving the Rochdale Constituency. When a girl who is the victim of a forced marriage seeks help Jan is the officer who deals with the matter, providing support for the girl and resisting the often intense pressure from the family to reveal where she is.

If GMP goes ahead with this cut then according to the officer these issues will be dealt with by beat officers with no training or understanding of the issues involved.

This is almost as bad as the other thing I head last week that the current Labour MP handling a similar issue had asked the local (male) Asian Councillor to deal with the matter!

There is already widespread concern that the cuts are affecting women and children disproportionately and these police cuts will only make matters worse.

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11 Comments

  • Thank you James and Lea! In the light of both the Prime Ministers speech on Immigration on Monday and the High Court Ruling today on the application of the over 21 rule we do need a proper discussion of how we deal with forced marriages. Making a forced marriage a criminal offence will do nothing to help the victmn – introducing the 40 days support as part of the Sojourner Project was a positive step as it gives women a clear break during which she can be supported. Getting your father or mother arrested will not help the situation. Extending to five years the time to get permanent leave to remain will not help either. The fact that victmns have been subjected to the NRPF rule has only made matters worse.
    The Supreme Courts ruling on the 21 year rule means we need to have a proper discussion about how we stop forced marriages from happening and may not be a bad thing.

  • Khaldha Manzoor 14th Oct '11 - 5:22pm

    Paul i have know Jan for over 21 years and she has the experiste,experince,knowledge of Asain women and they trust her. She is a major support to us workers, who work to support Asain women and Young girls fleeing domestic violence and forced marraige. Asain myself with 32 years of experince of supportting the women fleeing Domestic Violence Jan is an asset to us, she knows the safety issues for both workers and vitims within the BME communities. I am so worried when she is gone the beat officers will not have a clue talking from experince when Jan has not been round and is on assignment. Alexandrea Topping article No Help at hand is true account of what happens every day in our society. You are right paul making a forced marriage a criminal offence will do nothing to help the victmn but only make it worse for them.Lea you are right not to let go of the people with inside knowledge and experince. With Jan going it will be added pressure for us workers with out her support.

  • It is foolhardy in the extreme making Community Relations Officers redundant when these people are the ones who know the job inside out and the ones who are known and trusted by many. Expecting beat officers to cope with issues they have little or no experience of can only serve to make matters worse. Domestic violence, regardless of colour, culture or religious beliefs is just not acceptable and anyone with a modicum of common sense must realize that getting rid of someone with years of knowledge and experience dealing with these issues can only lead to disaster for all the unfortunate victims.
    A re-think is desperately needed.

  • William Quinlan 17th Oct '11 - 10:11pm

    It’s unadulterated political doctrine when we read police Spiel about neighbourhood police teams being the Cure All that community needs and wants. ‘You’ve to dig the well before drinking the water’ is what dynamic experience and authentic expertise come from. Having seen myself the graft and care of Rochdale police Community Relations Officer, it’s shame on Greater Manchester Police for its cultural ignorance.
    Operational support officers like Jan who effectively work in our community don’t wear uniforms and feed the Greater Manchester Police press Mantra about visible policing, because they need to work subtly to prevent and tackle. We don’t want them in uniforms bringing public and clannish att’n on our most vunerable. Leave our competent Indians alone and sack more Chiefs instead would be one answer. Newspapers inform that police constables are protected from redundancy and even from misconduct dismissal because they’re Crown Servants. It’s enough to put one off the monarchy when the police stay ruled and divided by an antiquated feudal system.
    Paul, on 12th October the Supreme Court upheld an Appeal Court ruling that the ‘No under 21’s was yet another breach of the EU Convention of Human Rights. This interpretation does not apply in other European countries or even in the Strasburg Court. A proper discussion about unelected judges now ruling the UK political system might be another good move.

  • Yasmin Shah 18th Oct '11 - 2:01pm

    James the beat officers can always ask trained domestic abuse officers in greater manchester police to try to deal with these complicated situations but there are not very many of those officers available either if you ask. With cuts in services ‘On The Ground’ there are going to be more unknown victims. Asian women and girls need protection against types of domestic violence, just like all do in the community, and if this needs specialisms learnt over years then it is eveyone’s responsibility to support James’s reference to keeping Bread and Butter resources.
    Khalda Manzoor your bravery and hard work are well known and respected. Thank you for being a Voice for the many who dont know what is going on..

  • angry woman 18th Oct '11 - 5:13pm

    As someone who neighboured a sad situation of this kind of violence towards a woman in Rochdale, I’m horrified to read that the police are sacking our borough’s Community Relations Officer. Not only was she a tireless asset in stopping the distress and cruelty, but Jan gave a confidential safety net of support that took in my own family upset. Professional and caring doesn’t start to describe the needs she met across the most awkward of times and weeks of pressures. Let’s give women facing violence what they are entitled to and stop asset stripping our services of the human, and in Jan’s case unassuming, hands on workers. 2nd horror is reading Paul’s bit about a male Asian Councillor being referred to in Rochdale. I didn’t vote for a Councillor to get involved in my family business and find it scary that anyone wouldnt know this is dangerous. I know that two Councillors round here are part of my tribe and would not dare go strong against izzat. They would loose nominations as well. 3rd horror is Rochdale police and this Big Society volunteers. They have town hall meetings and most of them from community are Asian men. This Big Society recruit by Greater Manchester Police in Rochdale is against our human rights. If I need the police I do not want these Asian Uncles and brothers knowing any of my business.

  • The crux of this issue is power relations. The running of Rochdale police is once again be seen as rooted in a patriarchal value system and culture of gender inequality. The comment that it has its own socially constructed majority Asian male volunteer sector highlights a discriminatory lack of progress in the borough that reinforces gender inequality. . Do we have any safe places here for women to challenge in public life, never mind in their private lives? The need here for women-centered civil society partnerships is paramount to advocate and influence without any fear of reprisals.

    There are tensions between assertions of cultural relativism and women’s human rights and the politicisation of culture in religious “fundamentalisms” poses some serious challenges. The local authority has responsibility to maintain a multi sector and sustained approach, adequately supported and facilitated by strong institutional mechanisms and by adequate financing. Police cuts mean loss of VAM specialism and the local authority needs to act now by ringfencing its own BME women’s association.

  • Double typo slip Dave.! VAM.

  • Dave Cunningham 22nd Oct '11 - 2:19pm

    Despite the typo slip of VAM in place of VAW Ms Shah, that’s strong contribution to opinion but delegations are doomed to obscurity. The constabulary, local authorities and politicians have pre set plans with services condemned to cuts and Caps. The patriarchal Cap is the crushing one cap fits all. Be disillusioned; public sounding out is symbolic exercise merely for the records. Ernst and Young provide management policies. Public sector federations are paying out fortunes to consultancy firms.

    Economic prescriptions of control are run by men as laid bare by snaps of British leaders, constabulary chiefs, bankers and EU heads. Angela Merkel breaks image in the troubled Eurozone. Memories of Barbara Castle fighting George Brown over pensions until she died, anti-apartheid campaigner and former Tiller Girl Betty Boothroyd as Parliamentary Speaker are faded and I question whether mainstream political parties in point of fact have grown any fearless politicians and activists to truly lead on these issues of honour based violence and harm.

    Humayra Abedin’s 2008 story was a compelling wake up call but short lived against news of the war in Iraq, the recession, Obama’s election etc.

    The principal of substantive equality espoused by CEDAW gives the lead for proactive action in Rochdale constituency

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