This new series of content is aiming to bring the sector closer together and help make more connections.
We are delighted to introduce Meena Kumari, founder and director of H.O.P.E training and consultancy
What is your ‘day job’ and how Hope training fits around that?
Over the years I have worked for charities whose social cause was important to me. I have a keen interest in social housing and always try to develop my professional practice within this sector. HOPE was developed organically in 2008 and I'm specialising in delivering training and consultancy around domestic abuse, sexual violence/abuse and safeguarding. My day job is within safeguarding and I am able to support my work with HOPE alongside this. I also make time for myself and my family; this is really important to me, as burn-out and vicarious trauma can be a factor in the type of work we do.
You have recently been organising meetings focussed on domestic abuse within BAME communities during the Covid-19 pandemic. Service providers, academics, policy makers, commissioners, MP’s and many others take part. What are you hoping to achieve by bringing the expertise and influence of these people together?
These meetings were developed when grass-root organisations, survivors, activists and even some policy-makers asked me if I knew of any forum where they could discuss the barriers, issues and fears experienced by black and minorities communities during covid-19 around domestic abuse. The meeting is simply a platform; the real voices are those that come on the call: they talk about their experiences, how they want to shift the narrative and the government to listen to grassroots organisations supporting victims.
Some of the victims we heard about fled the abuse at 2am in the morning, or have no food, or want to support their children, but struggle with the dynamics of family courts.
I feel I haven’t really done anything other than purchase a ZOOM account! The survivors and activists on the call are the ones who keep the meetings going. We have to talk about how we can keep Black and Minority Ethnic victims safe; even before the outbreak of COVID-19, women's access to specialist refuge provision in the UK was severely limited. These victims and survivors spend much longer in insecure, temporary accommodation than other groups. Organisations supporting them have been struggling to sustain funding and consolidate services, due to increased hostility towards migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Many women from these communities have been forced to go home or face arrest. The community also feel badly let down by the delay in the domestic violence bill and are worried that it does not address the concerns and vulnerabilities of migrant women.
Have you noticed any changes as a result of these meetings?
The meetings have been running since the 16th April. Nevertheless, black and minorities frontline services/ activists have been speaking about lack of ring-fenced funding, no recourse to public funds, Female Genital Mutilation, immigration issues, the lack of a public forum for black women experiencing domestic abuse, forced marriages, 'honour-based' abuse, the lack of data from black and minority children/youth who are witnessing domestic abuse etc. We have had some of the members go away and collaborate with each other or even start those discussions. I have also found out about some very interesting work, such as by Craig Pinkney, Professor Aisha Gill, Imkaan, HARM Network and CharitySoWhite . Resources produced by these individuals or organisations, have been distributed and shared and their content discussed so we can influence future policy. It is so key having black-led research in the mainstream!
How are specialist domestic and sexual abuse services for BAME communities affected by Covid-19?
The situation is only growing worse. There has been a tripling in reported cases of violence against women and girls. Various women's projects have recorded an increasing number of femicides but it’s unclear how many of those are from Black and Minority Ethnic refugee communities. The closures of schools, daycare centres, and the lack of refuge accommodation provided for BAME women has resulted in many victims returning to violent partners. There are also challenges in terms of access to legal support due to the pandemic. We need to make sure that funding is ring-fenced not only for the short term but also for the long term in terms of meeting the needs of those who are surviving and living with violence in our communities.
We have already seen that government are releasing emergency funding which is a huge relief to services, but we need to see that it reaches frontline services. Also, we need to be aware that a lot of these services did not have the most advanced technology systems set up prior to Covid-19; they were suddenly told to ensure all employees could work from home with all the right equipment! This has been a huge challenge and we need to congratulate these organisations as they have continued to support those in real high-risk situations.
If you had a magic wand, how would you change things?
Everyone has the responsibility to inform and talk about domestic abuse. Covid-19 has taught us that domestic abuse is being talked about in the public domain, but some of the key images/ messages need to include black/ minorities communities. Unfortunately, the media neglects the intersectional forms of violence that take place. People in minority communities and women in our communities are struggling to access services and support in rural areas. There's real woeful neglect of the intersectional challenges around the exploitation and abuse of vulnerable adults and children and especially young girls, in terms of how they are being coerced into pernicious, dangerous situations, such as gang violence. There is no recognition of the impact the pandemic is having on those who are locked into these spaces and are being furthered abused. So if I had a magic wand, I would want these issues to be discussed more!
Your training consultancy is called H.O.P.E. What is your personal hope and what message would you like to give to the 1,400 subscribers of Respect's e-newsletter?
H.O.P.E Stands for helping other people everyday. This is something that I have tried to do since I set this up in 2008. Within the current climate I cannot emphasise enough that the domestic abuse survivors I speak to, the activists, the grass-root organisations, are all holding on to some hope - and it is all of our responsibility to support, guide, influence and challenge the notion of 'why doesn’t the victim leave' and start asking 'why doesn’t the perpetrator stop?'