Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460
TUESDAY 25 MARCH 2008
Q460 Chairman: Of course, the one
in Southall is under threat itself, for example.
Ms Mouj: Southall Black Sisters,
yes, indeed. We are looking at situations where gender and race
equality impact assessments have not been carried out properly.
Until we use the mechanisms that we have in existence, I think,
essentially, we will keep pulling back on services that are absolutely
crucial for black women. We also need to look at some outreach
services; we need to look at resettlement services. Essentially,
if we are really going to work around domestic violence in an
effective way we need to work on the issue that prevention is
much better than cure, obviously. We want to not just be impacting
upon crisis levels; we want to be able to have youth provision.
Chairman: Thank you, that is extremely
helpful. Gwyn Prosser.
Q461 Gwyn Prosser: Imkaan have been
critical of the Supporting People fund and the way it affects
your services. Can you tell us, from your point of view, what
effect this has had, in particular upon BME women's refuges?
Ms Roy: I can take that question.
Supporting People seems somewhat an ironic name now, given that
what we have seen, from our perspective, is a policy that has
had quite a detrimental impact on the refuge services that we
work with. Unfortunately, Supporting People, as a policy, has
led to local authorities having incremental budget cuts which,
in turn, has led to refuges having to experience funding cuts
and, as a consequence, lose key services; services that are key
to supporting women and children who experience domestic violencefor
instance, services for children, outreach work, advocacy and counselling
services. These are services that are very difficult to fundraise
for and have never been recognised as part of Supporting People's
strategies. Over the last year or two, I would say, we have witnessed
commissioners who are keener to commission services from, we would
say, larger organisationsin a sense, creating this culture
of super-providers. This is very problematic because these organisations
are ones that do not necessarily have any expertise around delivering
services for women and children and they certainly, often, do
not have any expertise around the needs of black women and children
experiencing violence. We have got Supporting People officers
that are questioning refuge staff, saying: "Why, in this
day and age, do you need a specialist service? Why not merge with
a generic service?" There are commissioners that do not understand
the value of women-only spaces and the contribution that the women's
sector has made for a number of years towards providing effective
preventative work and doing crisis-based work, and what is quite
unusual is that you have got specialist black agencies who are
now being questioned on the basis that they are not, in fact,
generic enoughmainstream enoughwhich contradicts
the reason why they exist in the first place.
Q462 Gwyn Prosser: That is an interesting
reply. The Minister has written to us explicitly saying that it
is not the Government's wish to close down on to single, large
providers, and they talk about providing diversity and choice
at the local level. Are you saying that that is absolutely contrary
to what has been your experience?
Ms Roy: Yes, both policies are
operating in a way that is, effectively, widening out smaller,
grass-roots organisations that have been effectively working in
this field for a long time. The short answer is no, they are not
applying principles of diversity. On one hand, Supporting People
is cutting the services on the basis of cost and what they perceive
to be value for money, and, on the other hand, you have local
authorities that clearly do not understand diversity and what
it means to provide the services that you need on the ground for
diverse communities. For example, we are working with a group
in Nottingham, at the moment, around their Supporting People funding
and the officer said to them categorically: "We don't need
services for South Asian women any more; these communities have
moved on. Surely we need to support new migrant communities".
We are not disagreeing that you need to provide services for new
migrant communities, but decisions are being made about community
need on the basis of perceived need as opposed to actual need.
Q463 Gwyn Prosser: Lastly, what should
we recommend in our report in order to protect BME and specialist
Ms Roy: We have got quite a few
recommendations. One would be around having an integrated violence
against women strategy. That is very much needed because what
is happening is that there are one-off action plans being developed
around isolated issues and that is where you are having poor practice
on the ground and a lack of resource in terms of frontline services.
So we also think there needs to be some kind of campaign to re-interpret
and re-frame issues of honour, forced marriage and domestic violence
within the broader framework of violence against women and women
from black communities. We think there should be ring-fenced funding
for women's services and for black services. We think that local
authorities need minimum standards and guidance because they are
clearly not interpreting
Q464 Chairman: Have you put these
representations to the Government? Have you written to them about
Ms Roy: We have passed an early
day motion and part of the early day motion is that we have been
Q465 Chairman: What do you meanyou
have passed an early day motion?
Ms Roy: As in we have asked for
an early day motion to be tabled. I am sorrywrong term.
Q466 Chairman: Have you written to
the Minister to suggest that what he is doing is wrong?
Ms Roy: We have spoken to Linda
Riordan, who has tabled the early day motion for us, so she is
aware of some of the demands that we have put forward. So it is
part of an ongoing campaign, really.
Ms Mouj: Certainly we will take
that on board and do that formally.
Chairman: I am not suggesting you should;
it is a matter for you to decide.
Q467 Margaret Moran: We have heard
evidence in either direction regarding the criminalisation of
forced marriage. Do you agree with that?
Ms Mouj: No, we do not agree with
that. Our member organisations who we deal with on a very daily
basis, basically, do not agree with that either. They deal with
forced marriages day-in, day-out, and they regard criminalisation
as a step that would, essentially, weaken, not strengthen, women's
position. More than that, evidently, experience tells us not to
look to institutions of criminal law to improve the life of a
black woman who is victimised by gender-based violence, including
forced marriage. Like in any culture where there is a power imbalance,
it is by strengthening women that you will try and realign that
balance, and by a sole focus on law against violence against women
you will not address violence and abuse. Also, we must recognise
that the provision for taking out injunctions already exists under
the Family Law Act, so it is critical that we basically look to,
as we have been doing, incorporating legislation around forced
marriage within the legislation as opposed to looking at something
altogether different, essentially. Also, criticallyand
I know that you have heard this previouslyonly 24% of incidents
of violence against women are reported to the police, and this
number is significantly lower when we are talking about black
women. So there is a whole issue around, in the process of leaving
a situation of violence or forced marriage, how will the additional
burden of making a decision about taking legal action in the form
of an injunction take place? That will be a critical issue.
Chairman: That is very helpful. Mr Davies
has a very quick supplementary.
Q468 David Davies: Surely, if a man
commits an act of violence against a womanwhether it is
forced marriage, beating her up after a night out at the pub or
anything elseyou would agree that the law should be invoked.
Ms Mouj: Absolutely, absolutely.
Q469 David Davies: So why not strengthen
the rights of women by making forced marriage illegal? Violence
against women is quite rightly illegal; why not forced marriage?
Ms Mouj: I think, absolutely,
the perpetrators of any act of violence should be
Q470 David Davies: And forced marriage
is an act of violence, is it not?
Ms Mouj: Forced marriage certainly
could be an act of violence.
Q471 Chairman: So why not criminalise
Ms Mouj: It could be an act of
bullying. What I am suggesting is that rather than have a stand-alone
case around forced marriage one should incorporate that into the
existing legislation around the Family Law Act, because one of
the things that we will do by the current approach to criminalising
forced marriage is that, essentially, it will form a racist part
of the legislation
Q472 David Davies: Why?
Ms Mouj:because of the
way that works, specifically targeting particular communities
and not looking broadly at the issues
Q473 David Davies: Forced marriage
occurs in all sorts of communitiesChristian communities.
Ms Mouj: Indeed, in every community,
Q474 David Davies: So why would it
Ms Mouj: I think the current way
that it stands is that we need to incorporate forced marriage
into the Family Law Act and look very broadly at the impact of
Q475 David Davies: So make it illegal
but do so by the Family Law Act.
Ms Mouj: Yes.
Q476 David Davies: To make it illegal.
Ms Roy: There is an imbalance
Chairman: If we could take a little bit
of control of this session, could you just answer the last question
Mr Davies asked you? What was the last question?
David Davies: Should it be made illegal
by the Family Law Act.
Q477 Chairman: Just yes or no.
Ms Mouj: Yes, forced marriage
should be incorporated, as it has been doing.
Q478 Margaret Moran: I want to clarify:
as I understand it you are saying there should not be a specific
crime, in the same way there is not a specific crime of domestic
Ms Mouj: Exactly.
Ms Roy: Indeed.
Q479 Margaret Moran: Could you outline
for us what you think the implications might be if it were to
be identified as a specific criminal offence in itself?
Ms Roy: I think it is in danger
of alienating communities that are already feeling quite alienated.
As Anjum said earlier, only 24% of women are actually reporting
to the police. That is not to say that we do not want to encourage
more women to report to the police, but what is happening is that
you are focusing very much on the criminalising aspect of it without
giving due regard for the mechanisms that you need in place to
help women to make those decisions. The other thing is, for example,
the forced marriage posters. I know there has been some debate
(if I can illustrate by an example) about whether schools should
put up specific forced marriage posters.