Supporting Moroccan and Arabic-speaking women

Supporting Moroccan and Arabic-speaking women

When the official lockdown began in March 2020, the End Violence Against Women Coalition predicted: “The Covid-19 pandemic, and the emergency measures that must be taken to control it, will lead to an increase in all forms violence against women and girls, including domestic and sexual violence.”

Women and staff at the Al-Hasaniya Moroccan Women’s CentreDownload image
"Funding models for non-statutory domestic abuse services should be restructured to allow for greater autonomy." - Saeida Rouass, Fellow

When the official lockdown began in March 2020, the End Violence Against Women Coalition predicted: “The Covid-19 pandemic, and the emergency measures that must be taken to control it, will lead to an increase in all forms violence against women and girls, including domestic and sexual violence.”

The data quickly supported those predictions. On 6 April 2020, the domestic abuse charity Refuge reported a 25% increase in calls to its national helpline since lockdown began, and a 150% increase in hits to its national domestic abuse website. The women's organisation Imkaan described the situation as a “dual pandemic”, and highlighted that Black and minoritised women have faced additional barriers and increased vulnerabilities as a result of pre-existing racialised and structural inequities.

Staff and trustees of Al-Hasaniya Moroccan Women’s Centre, a specialist women’s charity serving Moroccan and Arabic speaking women in west London, has been at the frontline of the “dual pandemic”, and has been acutely aware of the increased risks that women face. As a Trustee of Al-Hasaniya, I was able to secure a Covid-19 Action Fund grant from the Churchill Fellowship to investigate the impacts of the pandemic and lockdown on this charity’s services.

Fatima Mourad, Chair and Trustee of Al-Hasaniya, said: “As a minority within a minority, we knew from the outset that our community and client group would be especially affected. Lack of language fluency, cultural taboos, lack of information and the multiple flows of false information all added to the confusion, fear and utter vulnerability so many felt.”

Al-Hasaniya runs the Angelou Partnership Domestic Violence Project, which in the year before lockdown (2019) had contact with 2,300 women. That number was surpassed in just the first three months of lockdown: between April and June 2020, the charity had contact with more women seeking domestic abuse support than it had in the whole of 2019. From March 2020 to March 2021, 5,400 women made contact through the domestic violence project, a staggering increase of 135%. In fact, as the charity adapted and moved its services online or to the doorstep, and despite reduced staff capacity, projects across the board showed an increase in demand as indicated in this chart.

A pie chart demonstrating the increase in individuals making contact with Al-Hasaniya projectsDownload image

Women using Al-Hasaniya services often have complex needs. Staff report that lockdown has exacerbated the complexity of those needs. Staff received reports of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown measures being weaponised against women by abusers, and of misinformation and false information about the virus creating confusion and greater fears of abuse to themselves and their children. Women also reported increased anxiety over their children falling behind educationally, due to lack of or limited access to technology, computer illiteracy and language barriers preventing quality learning support at home. They report, too, impacts on mental health and fears around accessing services because of immigration status.

Al-Hasaniya has adopted innovative approaches to ensure women and all charity users have easy and safe access to services. These have included securing 90 nights of free emergency accommodation from a hotel chain for women seeking immediate refuge from abuse; doorstep visits to those experiencing loneliness and isolation; and online wellbeing groups. But some women have fallen through the gaps, and the long-term impacts remain largely unknown.

An Al-Hasaniya domestic abuse service user said: “With no rights in the country, violence from my husband and pressure from my family to stay with him, the only way out for me was to end it all. Talking to Zainab at Al-Hasaniya gave me hope and an alternative.”

To ensure that organisations like Al-Hasaniya can continue to offer crucial services sustainably beyond lockdown, a number of recommendations can be made:

  • Funding models for non-statutory domestic abuse services should be restructured to allow for greater autonomy over the use of those funds. Traditional funding models of limited access to unrestricted funding, and project funding geared towards certain outcomes, leave such charities not able to cover all costs of service provision. For example, funding models may determine the catchment area that those funds should cover (in the case of Al-Hasaniya, the tri-boroughs of Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster). Yet women often contact the charity from outside the catchment area, because they may hear it offers specialist services to Moroccan and Arabic speaking women. With a No Woman Turned Away policy, Al-Hasaniya often has to find ways to support all women who make contact, but without any funding to do so.
  • Al-Hasaniya provides life-saving and life-changing services that alleviate pressure on statutory services, yet does not have equal access to decision-making at a local and national level. Instead, Al-Hasaniya uses campaigning and advocacy in order to shape policies that directly impact the women it supports. Going forward, local and national decision-making processes must be more inclusive of charities that provide immediate and long-term support to all women.
  • Al-Hasaniya is positioned to identify the long-term impacts of the pandemic and lockdown, such as greater community mental health needs, and should be supported to develop innovative ways of responding. Such charities should be supported to strengthen and harness their innovative capacity, demonstrated by their responses to the pandemic and lockdown.

The pandemic has had multiple and complex impacts on organisations like Al-Hasaniya with long-term effects still largely unknown. The charity’s resilience has been tested since lockdown and though it has adapted quickly and innovatively to continue to provide safe services, the pandemic has shown how critical such front line charities are. Long-term recovery for such charities must include identifying ways of strengthening their resilience as organisations.

Disclaimer

The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.

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