Home secretary vows to protect domestic violence legislation from impact of Brexit
Ever since the vote to leave the EU on the 23rd June 2016, UK citizens have been living under a cloud of uncertainty. Even those who voted for ‘Brexit’ don’t know actually what that means, and what it will cost us individually or as a nation.
For organisations and campaigners working with victims of domestic violence and abuse, forced marriages and FGM, these are indeed uncertain and unsettling times. Austerity measures and severe budget cuts at local authority level have resulted in organisations losing staff and having to shut down specific programmes to support victims.
So a visit by Home Secretary Amber Rudd to meet with the very organisations that work with survivors of domestic violence (DV), abuse including honour-based violence (HBV) on the ground was very much long overdue.
The meeting took place at the Karma Nirvana helpline headquarters in Leeds, where Ms Rudd met some of the Ambassadors from Karma Nirvana latest initiative, the Survivor Ambassador Programme (SAP). SAP aims to provide a framework of support to survivors of HBV who are more vulnerable to feelings of ‘isolation, loneliness and depression’. Mrs Rudd spent the following hour or so listening to one heart-breaking story after the other. A Survivor spoke of how she was forced to run away after being threatened by her uncle for allegedly bringing shame on the family. Another Ambassador spoke of his heartbreak after his boyfriend killed himself soon after coming out to his Muslim family.
Perhaps the most poignant story came from a brother whose sister had been brutally murdered by her husband soon after their marriage. He was campaigning for justice for his sister but also wanted to hold to account her in-laws, who he said had been aware of their son’s history of violence and abuse against women but still convinced his sister to marry their son.
These are just a few examples of survivors that Karma Nirvana has worked with and supported over the past 24 years since it was set up by campaigner Jasvinder Sanghera CBE, herself a survivor of honour-based violence and abuse.
While fighting against forced marriages, Karma Nirvana came up with a novel and unusual method of helping those being taken abroad against their wishes- hiding a metal spoon in their underwear. The spoon would set off the airport metal detectors, leading to the individual being taken away and questioned in private, at which point they could raise the alarm of their potential kidnapping. The campaign has been a huge success, and Mrs Rudd happily handed out small, spoon-shaped pins to all of us present. Indeed, she proudly supported hers all the way throughout the meeting.
The fight against domestic violence and abuse has been long fought without a real end in sight. The Office for National Statistics confirmed that between 2015 and 2016, 77 women were killed by their partners or ex-partners.
One of the biggest fears that campaigners feel is that any ground gained can be easily lost when the post-Brexit UK lawmakers sit down and decide which of the EU laws are kept and which are discarded. When asked about the impact of Brexit on laws protecting women from domestic violence, Ms Rudd assured Asian Mums Network she was “determined to make sure it will have no impact at all.”
Further, Ms Rudd confirmed that consultations on the Government’s new legislation protecting women, the Domestic Violence Bill, are now underway and that everything was being done to ratify the Istanbul Convention.
The next 18 months or so will be interesting to see if promises made to victims of domestic violence are kept. In any case, it seems that Home Secretary has made it very clear that any legislation protecting and helping survivors is “very close to (her) heart”. She is keen and prepared to sit down and engage with grassroots organisations and survivors to ensure silenced voices are being heard at the highest levels in the Home Office and beyond. Campaigners may find that we finally have a Home Secretary with a willingness to listen and act.
Author: Aisha Ali-Khan (Political Commentator. Human Rights Activist.)