Closing the gates on Black women in Britain

The Southall Black Sisters is threatened with closure by Ealing Council’s unwillingness to continue their funding. After nearly 30 years of working with women in the Black community, particularly on all forms of violence against women, Ealing Council has now decided that there is no longer a need for “specialist services for Black and Ethnic minority women”. Their decision is further evidence of the trend across Britain to end funding of Black and ethnic minority organisations under the false belief that institutional racism is now a thing of the past.

The local authority’s decision is based on the view that there is no need for specialist services for black and minority women and those services to abused women in the borough need to be streamlined. This view fails to take account of the unequal social, economic and cultural context which makes it difficult, if not impossible, for black and minority women to access outside help or seek information about their rights. In effect the council proposes to take away essential life saving services provided by SBS. Ealing council suggests that we either extend our service to cover the needs of all women in the borough or that we set up a consortium of groups to provide such a service for the same sum of money……..

In a recent meeting the “Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee (BAMER) Domestic Violence refuges, outreach and advice services” made the following observation:

We are now seeing an increasing number of specialist services who are being given no option but to merge with generic bodies and as a consequence services specific to the needs of BAMER women and children are being reduced. Ironically, community organisations which serve established community needs are being destroyed in the name of ‘community cohesion’. At the same time ‘mainstreaming’ – the new buzz word – means that specialist areas are being lost and agencies without skilled staff or expertise are being given the impossible task of meeting the very different needs of a large number of diverse groups. The effects of SP-style ‘mainstreaming’ means that many of the surviving BAMER women’s organisations are no longer able (because of funding cuts) to provide support to women facing domestic violence who also have mental health or substance misuse needs. They are being expected to pass these women’s cases to other organisations who are neither able to cater for BAMER women nor understand specialist domestic violence issues.

The Southall Black Sisters are a core part of the herstory of Black women in London and Britain and one of the few organisations started in the 80s which is still actively working with Black (Asian and African-Caribbean) women today. There is a silence around these Black herstories. What little focus there is on Black and Asian history in Britain tends to be the distant past. We also need to return to our recent past because it seems to me that the political and human rights gains made by Black people in the 1980s are slowly being eroded.

The SBS and BAMER are asking supporters to write in protest to local MPs (across the country) and Ealing Council (jason.stacey@ealing.gov.uk).

“…blank pages in history should not be allowed. Everything should be told…” Jabulani Nxumalo