by Shakila Maan, Advocacy Manager
It was truly humbling to be awarded the Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize and to have been selected along with Houzan Mahmoud, a campaigner for Kurdish an Iraqi women’s rights as the winner in the individual category.
This year, the prize had a special focus on the work of Black and minority ethnic women and/or violence against Black and minority ethnic women.
The prize was set up to remember and commemorate the life of Emma Humphreys who had grown up in a brutal home environment and aged 16 was homeless, gang raped and pimped by Trevor Armitage, twice Emma’s age. In an act of self-defence, Emma killed Armitage and was sentenced to life at the age of 17. Justice for Women campaigned to have her released but tragically Emma died soon after her released.
I had the privilege of meeting Emma as a meeting that I was attending organised by Justice for Women.
I became a member of Southall Black Sisters in 1983 and on and off I have worked as a caseworker and now Advocacy Manager.
The Emma Humphreys award took into consideration my approach to casework where I always strive for good practice and emotional and legal advocacy in my work at SBS. The award also recognised my work as an artist including some of the iconic banners as well as contributing to numerous documentaries and films, and my continued work to use the arts as a vehicle to progress Black feminism.
I dedicated my award to all the survivors that I have worked with from and whom I have learnt so much. I think that long-term victims of violence and are the hardest to help but the most rewarding. I believe that this work is akin to Human Rights work. Southall Black Sisters, like many other specialists, BME domestic violence organisations are in a strange paradigm; facing cuts in funding and the rising racism and xenophobia has hit BME women’s organisation the hardest. The very nature of advocacy is being changed, and we have no control over it. On top of that, we have to wage war on domestic violence and Gender neutrality on a daily basis; courts, social services, police you name it, want to hear the voice of the perpetrator. I see survivor families’ fall further into poverty which will inevitably cause long-term damage. The food the women and children eat is of the lowest quality. The daily struggle for survivors is insurmountable.
Women who have no recourse to a public fund are being vilified on a daily basis; women and children with no recourse are turned away by local authorities. We resort to shouting matches with social workers. It’s clear to us that if you have no recourse, you are less of a human being that the woman who does. Regressive policies towards domestic violence mean that we do have our work cut out now that the government has demoted domestic violence.
Getting this award is a great incentive for me to continue with the work with BME women and develop challenges to laws and obstacles set up by authorities and the government.
I am equally pleased for Safety 4 Sisters to have won in the organisation category. Safety 4 Sisters are a new organisation based in Manchester and are at the front line and cutting edge of tackling domestic violence and racist policies that affect BME women and children who are experiencing immigration control issues and often horrific gender-based abuse. Sandhya Sharma, along with users of Safety 4 Sisters accepted the award. Sandhya spoke eloquently about racist and regressive immigration laws that are forcing women to remain in violent and life threating situations. The project gives women at the margins of society a safe space to meet and somewhere where their voices can be heard.
Other nominees in the individual category included Dr Hannana Siddiqui, Professor Aisha K Gill, Claire Heuchan, Nusrat Zamir, Sulema Jahangir and Zlakha Ahmed.
In the organisation category, Southall Black Sisters along with Safety 4 Sisters (winner) and IC Change were nominated. IC Change is a volunteer-led campaign for the UK Government to ratify the Istanbul Convention (IC) on violence against women to make it law in the UK – so that women and girls can live lives free from violence. SBS is working with IC Change to support their legal framework to tackle violence and against women and girls in the UK to bring change to the law governing violence against women.