Over the past two decades at JAN Trust we have seen how profoundly disempowering gender-based and honor-based violence can be for victims. It undermines women’s basic personal and physical autonomy, and can begin a long process of increasing social exclusion, with many victims taken out of education, and isolated from formal and informal sources of support. The more women are disenfranchised without the skills to engage with UK institutions and political processes, the more vulnerable they become. There exists a symbiotic relationship between victims’ social isolation and their exposure to abuse.
Without English language skills and knowledge of the UK system, women have no stake in the political processes and decisions that affect their lives. Likewise, without employable skills their capacity to build an independent life away from perpetuators of abuse is diminished. At JAN Trust, we have seen just how empowering education can be for traditionally marginalised ethnic minority women. Our educational services are designed to provide women with greater independence, and an improved ability to access support services, and participate in society. Every day we see more and more women gain the confidence to participate in social processes. It has helped them find the internal and external resources to escape violence and abuse, and rebuild their lives afterwards – advancing their right to security and autonomy.
Muna arrived in the UK in 1995 and is originally from Somalia. She fled to the UK as a refugee and suffered substantial trauma through her experience. Muna married in the UK and soon after her marriage started to suffer domestic abuse and violence from her husband. She had no family to confide in and did not want to speak out to friends about her abusive experience as she felt ‘ashamed’. She also felt that her friends and family would persuade her to continue with her marriage as it would bring shame onto the community. Muna was aware of JAN Trust’s support for women suffering domestic violence and decided one day she wanted to speak out to a neutral party and so visited the organisation. When Muna arrived at JAN Trust she was depressed, unhappy, lacked confidence and social skills. Two years on, with the support of JAN Trust, Muna has left her severely abusive relationship, gained new skills and is a much more confident woman, allowing her to take control over her life. She is currently working as a care worker.
Greater education and economic independence clearly empowers women to assert their stake in society. It also advances their ability to participate in local decision-making processes. Earlier this year, the women in our centre were able to meet with their local MP and Minister, Lynne Featherstone, as part of our work to raise civic engagement. Lynne Featherstone described our diverse service users “like a mini United Nations, with women from all over the world – Vietnam, Iran and Poland, to name a few!”.
In 2012, we provided our users and local disabled community members with the capacity to successfully lobby for disabled parking bays. Additionally, after the proposed construction of a mobile phone mast outside the centre, our users campaigned hard to protect the communities’ health and well being and successfully prevented the mast being built. The confidence this instilled in the women we work with is immeasurable, and it has highlighted the need to expand our capacity building work into regions where the gap between vulnerable women and local government is even greater. Giving local marginalized women a chance to have their voices heard, will contribute to the fight against gendered violence on a transnational scale. For more information on our work please visit www.jantrust.org
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