How the world can change

Sunday 6th December 2015

For Day 12 of our 16 Days of Activism blog series, Zlakha Ahmed, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid member organisation Apna Haq, shares what inspired her to start a specialist domestic abuse service for BME women.

“All of us have the ability and potential to help the world become a better place.

In 1994 I, a Pakistani Muslim woman, was privileged to set up Apna Haq, a black and ethnic minority (BME) organisation to support women and girls in Rotherham going through issues of domestic violence.

At this time, there were no specific services for BME women in Rotherham. It was acknowledged that BME women were not coming forward for support, but this was put down to domestic violence not being an issue!

I had by my side a Chinese woman of no faith, and an Indian woman of Hindu faith. Our backgrounds and our beliefs did not matter, what mattered was that we could see that BME women were not able to reach out and get the support they needed. We wanted to change this.

As we know, domestic abuse crosses all cultures religions and societies. At Apna Haq, which means “My Rights”, we believe in the self-worth of every woman. We understand her life histories in terms of the constraints a woman may face in light of her culture or her religion.

We are able to offer alternatives that enable women to make sense of their realities i.e. understand that the violence is stemming from abusive practises that do not have to be part of the culture or religion. We give each woman the tools to make sense of all of this and find her own position. Step by step, we help her to get stronger and stronger.

Over the past 21 years, we have helped over 2000 women and children to leave violent abusive families and safely set up homes. This in turn is changing perceptions within the local communities, from initially that a woman on her own cannot survive, to now seeing that a woman and her children are far stronger when removed from an abusive situation.

Many women have been so empowered by their experience at Apna Haq, that they have gone on to become volunteers and workers here too – sharing their knowledge and experience to help new service users.

We have grown from strength to strength by reaching out to women and girls, building on their experiences, and thus voicing and supporting them on related abuses such as: so called honour-based violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM), and more recently, child sexual exploitation and child abuse.

However, Apna Haq like many of its sister organisations is in danger of closure. At the end of July this year we received a devastating letter from Rotherham council informing us that our £145,000 contract for providing domestic violence support was to be ended, and that a mainstream service with no specialism in the needs of minority ethnic women would do the work instead (for a slightly lower price).

Apna Haq is an expert, life-saving service. It is run the best way a women’s service can be – by and for women who understand their community’s needs. We cannot allow specialist domestic abuse services like Apna Haq to close, as for many women they are the best chance of getting to safety and freedom.”

What can you do?

Since September 2014, Women’s Aid has been calling on the government to Save Our Services by committing to preserving the national network of specialist refuges and exploring a new model of national refuge funding and commissioning.

Since 2010, we have lost 17% of specialist refuges in England and third of all referrals to refuges are turned away, normally due to a lack of available space.

Our world-leading network of specialist refuges is at risk of being lost when still two women a week, on average, are killed in England and Wales by a partner or former partner.

Add your voice to our campaign

Support the Keep Apna Haq Open petition

Zlakha AhmedAbout the author

Zlakha Ahmed is Chief Executive of Women’s Aid member Apna Haq, which establishes support services for BME women facing domestic abuse issues.

For the past twenty years, she has worked with BME groups in a variety of community settings in the South Yorkshire region. Learn more about their work

About 16 Days

From 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day, Women’s Aid will release a blog a day, encouraging people to take action and use their influence to help raise the status of women to a level where violence against them is no longer tolerated. Read more blogs from the series

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