‘We know that we are strong, but when will the politicians, the ones who make the laws, when will they listen to us?’
That was what one refugee woman said to me last year, and it chimed with what I had been thinking for a long time. At Women for Refugee Women we work really hard to ensure that refugee women have the confidence to speak out.
For instance, last year I organised a course on women’s rights and political organising that was a fantastic success. 15 refugee women from varied backgrounds and nationalities – including a woman who had been trafficked into forced prostitution from Ghana, a young woman who had recently crossed into the UK after spending time in the Calais Jungle, and a woman who had been homeless in this country for 10 years – learned about campaigning and the importance of speaking out about their own experiences.
We also organised two Refugee Women’s Conferences in London and Manchester, at which hundreds of refugee women from all over the UK came together sharing their stories and making demands for change.
It is very moving to see these women find the confidence to tell their own stories. But now we need to make sure that people are listening. When the #MeToo movement started, it was really exciting to see so many women speaking out about the abuse they had experienced. But when we have discussed the MeToo movement in our network, we hear refugee women talk about experiences that are still hidden: about sexual violence from smugglers and traffickers; about harassment by employers who know that women with insecure immigration status will never go to the police; about abuse by men who are offering a roof over their heads. We need to make sure that these stories as well as those of more privileged women are heard – and we need to make sure that hearing these stories leads to action.
That’s why this refugee and migrant women’s lobby of Parliament is so vital. This is the centenary year of the first time that some women in the UK were able to vote. What we have to recognise now is that there are still so many women who are struggling even for the most basic rights – to safety, to dignity and to liberty.
Right now, too many refugee women are not safe. They face violence as they cross borders, and even when they reach a country like the UK they are often still vulnerable and unable to access the support and justice that they need. Too many refugee women lack even basic dignity; left homeless and without support, many women in our network are reliant on charity for a bed to sleep or a packet of sanitary pads. And too many are denied liberty; the UK government locks up around 4000 migrant and asylum seeking women every year. We are asking politicians to join us on 8 March and listen to these women.
This lobby is made up of a coalition of over 20 amazing organisations working with refugee and migrant women. Over the next 8 weeks, other organisations will be writing here about their campaigns and how you can support them.
Right now, if you want to get involved, download the template letter and get talking to your local MP. Ask to meet him or her at the lobby itself, at 1.30pm in Westminster Committee Room 10 on 8 March, in order to hear your concerns. If they can’t get to the lobby, ask them to email us a picture of them holding our pledge to firstname.lastname@example.org
As Audre Lorde said, ‘I am not free while any woman is unfree.’ We can’t have a women’s movement that is just for a few women – this needs to be about every woman. Because #AllWomenCount.