Gita Patel’s Speech

Thank you London Feminist Network for organising this great event every year for the last five and for giving Imkaan a platform again as you did in 2006 when Jocelyn spoke about women who have ‘no recourse to public funds’.

You made a huge difference to the no recourse campaign and we are witnessing the first hopeful stirrings that this issue is finally being picked up and getting the kind of national attention it deserves.

So I’m back tonight on behalf of Imkaan to tell you all about another campaign. This is about a threat that is so dangerous that in the last 5 years we, you, me all of us have lost 50% of our specialist domestic violence provision for Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee. And it is a campaign to save what is left of the small fruit of nearly 40 years of campaigning and lobbying, blood, sweat and tears.

So, I’d if you are up for it, I’d like to tell you a tale, a fairytale about brave Warrior Women, an evil Sheriff, some Goodly Townspeople, the King of the Land and of course, you.

Once upon a time in a land far, far away, well, except that actually it is still happening right here, right now….anyway, in the bad, old days, there was an evil dis-ease that ran rife throughout the land and it’s name was domestic violence. You won’t this disease in any of the learned medicine men’s books. Despite this, they have dissected it into lots of smaller illnesses known as sexual violence, forced marriage, honour violence. Until not so long ago all these things were still known as different parts of one of society’s most vile, pernicious and dangerous dis- eases.

Back then, no one much talked about this disease and it still exists today. In fact, if you look at the person to your right and then to your left, one of you has, is or will be affected by it. It’s mostly passed on by men and most of its victim’s are women and children. The symptoms are terrible, physical injuries, psychological trauma, pennilessness through financial abuse, rape, blackmail, broken bones, homelessness and above all, SILENCE.

The women and children affected by this disease were left by the roadside, reliant on the mercy of strangers and begging for help. The fittest survived, the others developed secondary symptoms like self-harm, eating disorders, mental illness or even committed suicide.

Hard to believe but some of these women were even more vulnerable than the rest, they didn’t speak the same language as the Goodly Towns People, they ate different food that was hard to find, they had a different spirituality, they had been used to living life in a collective way, a way of life that was different and not understood by others.

In addition to the impact of the disease, these women and children were treated with suspicion by the Goodly Towns People, some of whom said, ‘they’ve only come here to steal our bread’ and others who said, ‘we don’t understand what they are saying’. Some went further and hurled abuse adding for good measure, ‘and go back to where you came from’, poking fun at their misery. Yet others pretended to understand these women and children in order to appear more open minded and cultured than their peers but then they forgot to check with the women and children that what they said on their behalf was true and accurate.

ENOUGH!! Said these broken women, well, wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you get to the point where your rage kicks in and you say, ‘Enough, no more abuse, no more disease, I have a right to be well, to be happy, to be listened to, to be understood, I have a right to have someone stand in my shoes and see things from my perspective, and especially so when I am afflicted by a disease that is hurting me.;

A few of these broken women managed to escape from what they saw as a hostile town and banded together in the forest to support each other to survive and to have sisterly companionship in order to treat each other and find ways of becoming well again.

By continuing to beg and borrow and occasionally convince one of the Goodly Townsfolk to help, they managed to open Hamlets of Specialist Refuge along the edge of the forest. Some of the names of these places of refuge have been lost to time but a few remain;

there’s Saheli which means Friend
and Panahghar for Our House,
and Roshni who is full of light
Shakti who provides strength
there’s peaceful Shanti
Apna Haq whose always talking about Our Right
Hemat for Courage
and Asha who stands for hope and many, many others, too.

Aren’t they beautiful names?

In the forest, the broken women transformed into Warrior Women, the most proud, creative, resourceful, determined, committed, inspirational Warrior Women I have ever had the privilege and honour to know and work with.

Through the Hamlets and beyond, the Warrior Women helped those women and children that were especially marginalised by both the disease and by the Goodly Townsfolk. Like Robin Hood they spent their lives, some of them still do, tending to those preyed on by domestic violence and spreading information as they became more knowledgeable and skilled on the job.

You see, the marginalised women and children tended to have more severe symptoms of the sickness because they had not been treated sooner, because they had not been treated by someone who really understood what they were going through. Some of them had fallen into a coma and needed intensive care. Quickly, word of mouth spread around the around the Land and hurt women and children turned up at the doors of the Hamlets of specialist refuge. They were so full and busy that they had to turn women away. One by one, Our Right, Courage, Strength, Hope, Peace, Light and all Friends pulled these women and children back into consciousness.

After nearly 30 years, news of this enterprise reached the King of the Land, his name was Government and in public he said, yes, I’m very impressed with this good work, well done, well done, yes, yes, we must do something to stop the disease. So ‘Scribe!’, he called out, ‘Let it be known that the King decrees that from now on, whoever it can be proved passed on this disease shall be punished with a warning, community service or imprisonment’. The King then gave the Sheriff of the Good Town (his name by the way is Local Authority) a pot of 100 gold coins and said, ‘I expect you to eradicate this disease, this scourge of domestic violence from the land. Otherwise my peers will say I am incapable of rule and I will not be made a fool of.’

With a whole town to run, the Sheriff was a busy man and quite honestly was annoyed by the fuss that these Hamlets were making at the edge of the Town. At least when all the women were killing themselves and dying by the side of the road, the problem appeared under control but now, well, now they were helping each other survive and talking, yes, telling other people what was going on. The whole thing was a mess, it made the Town look bad, and now the King was watching, too.

A plan was hatched. The Hamlets would be held to ransom. (Feel free to Boo here). In return for gold coins, each one must change. Roshni must lose some of her light, Strength must be weakened, Saheli be separated from her friends. Now as well as looking after the women and children, the Warrior Women were demanded by the Sheriff and his deputies in the Supporting People Team to produce regular and detailed accounts of how the gold coins had been used and, ‘Be warned! Gold coins will be withdrawn if the paperwork is not provided!

The Philanthropists in the Town turned their attention away from the Hamlets towards other good causes, after all the Hamlets were receiving gold coins from the king now. This made the Hamlets even more dependent on the King’s gold.;

At the same time, the Sherriff had decided that it would make life much easier to have all the diseased women and children in one place. ‘I know,’ he said, ‘Put them all in the biggest Inn that can be found in the Town. I’ll give it all the gold coins and then I won’t have the headache of overseeing lots of little Hamlets.’ Good plan, he thought, rubbing his hands together.

The Inn which was named Housing Association would provide somewhere to sleep at a much cheaper price than all those little annoying Hamlets of Refuge. The Inn didn’t really understand the disease or the most marginalised women and children in the same way as the Warrior women, but then neither did the King or the Sheriff so the Inn is getting the majority of the gold coins, anyway.

You know how this works though, don’t you? Have you ever bought something on the cheap thinking you’ve got a bargain only to find that it breaks down more quickly or doesn’t work as well? Well, that’s what the Inn is doing. On the other hand, have you ever waited for that one thing you always wanted to come on sale? And then, it’s lasted for more years than you can remember? Now that’s when you know you’ve got a bargain. Value for Money. It’s not something cheap is it? It’s something decent for a fair price, right? Well, that’s what you get with the Hamlets of Refuge.

In the meantime, Roshni has not seen any daylight as she spends most of her day sitting in front of a desk, typing out figures and statistics for the Sheriff and for the King just so that she trade it for another precious gold coin that will keep the Hamlet open. Sometimes, though the gold doesn’t come through and she has to argue and fight for it, anyway.

Courage has become fearful of what will happen in March 2009 when the ring fence on Supporting People funding will be lifted and the Hamlets will have to compete against the Inn for the gold. They know of the Sheriff’s plans.

Strength is now overwhelmed by how much she has to carry, both in terms of the constant unmet need of women and children afflicted by the disease and the heavy administration which takes her away from them. She feels like just one more thing will break her back.

Our Right has a hoarse, sore throat from constantly having to explain and justify the need for specialist BAMER refuge services and simply shakes her head that after 30 years, people still don’t understand.

Unheard of, even Peace has just plain lost her temper that people can’t see what is so obvious and listen to what is important.

Everyone’s turned to Hope but these days she just looks back at them all, shrugs her shoulders and says, ‘Well, I don’t know guys. We’ve been through a lot and we are good fighters, we are knowledgeable and skilled and our Hamlets are needed but there are greater forces at work who aren’t listening and I really don’t know if we are going to survive this one.’

Good Towns People, the Warrior Women really wanted to be here tonight to tell you their story in person but they are working evenings and weekends to try and keep the Hamlets open for marginalised, Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee women and children. The Warrior Women have been entrusted with their secrets for the last 35 years and so they have developed a cure. 

Now I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit of a sucker for happy ending, do you like happy endings? Well, how this story ends is really up to you.

Hope, Peace, Light and all the others asked me to tell you their story today and to let you know that they are back full circle to 30 years ago, back on the side of the road begging for your help and your mercy. They need you, they need you to petition the Government King and let him know that you know what the Local Authority Sheriff is up to. We have to save Light, Peace, Strength and Hope, Courage, Our Rights because without them, the most vulnerable women in Britain today will have no where to go and no one to help them.

Please sign the petition on Imkaan’s website and lobby your local MP to sign EDM693 and support our Early Day Motion campaign to save the specialist Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee, domestic violence sector. 

22 November 2008