On International Women’s Day, we need to protect the services that support our most vulnerable women

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Liverpool-based charity Merseyside Refugee & Asylum Seekers Pre & Post Natal Support Group (MRANG) works with female asylum seekers and refugees to improve their quality of life.

Our Policy and National Programmes Manager Caroline Howe says we need to celebrate the advances of women but also support those helping women still left behind.

When working in a sector focused on finding solutions to social problems and helping those most in need, International Women’s Day offers a chance to pause and celebrate the achievements and advances of women.

There’s a lot to celebrate. In the last year we’ve seen women take centre stage in driving gender equality. Donald Trump’s inauguration prompted women across the world to come together in one of the largest single-day protests in history, while the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have seen women around the world speak out and call for an end to sexual assault and harassment in unprecedented numbers.

In the UK, we’re marking 100 years since the first women got the vote. We have a female Prime Minister and more women sitting in parliament;  a clear sign that progress is being made. And today, we’re delighted to see that the government has announced its Domestic Abuse Bill consultation, which recognises the prevalence of domestic abuse and the need to do more to tackle it.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be actively feeding into the government consultation and encouraging and supporting those we fund to the same. We know we need a strong legal framework but we also need action to ensure the right quality services are there for women whenever and wherever they need it. For this to be a reality, we’ve long argued that government needs to reform commissioning and take action to help reduce abuse at source by doing more to challenge and change perpetrators.

Helping the women left behind

One in four women experience domestic abuse or violence in their lifetime, while young people aged 16-25 the most at risk. Two women a week are murdered by their partners with countless more fearing for their lives.”

So while we can celebrate the advances, we must acknowledge that many women are still at a disadvantage; overlooked and unable to get their voices heard. Across the UK, women are often the most vulnerable in society with one in four  experiencing domestic abuse in their lifetime, while young people aged 16-25 the most at risk. Two women a week are murdered by their partners with countless more fearing for their lives. Others find themselves victims of trafficking or forced into sex work with no clear way out.

As a funder of small and local charities, Lloyds Bank Foundation knows the difference they make to peoples lives, offering help and guidance to those in need. And yet many women still struggle to access support, which is why women’s organisations are so important. They provide a safe-space and specialist support to help to rebuild their lives.

women’s organisations are so important. They provide a safe-space and specialist support to help to rebuild their lives.”

At the Foundation we currently support nearly 150 charities working on women’s issues with grants worth £8.5 million. This includes over £6 million funding projects directly addressing domestic and sexual abuse and £2.5 million of grants tackling women’s issues in employment, the criminal justice system, homelessness, mental health, exploitation and refugees.

Despite their importance all too often it is women’s services that are the first to suffer as funding cuts bite.”

These include organisations like Brighton Women’s Centre which provides a weekly-drop in service supporting women who are homeless or at risk of ending up on the street, as well as their regular counselling and therapy sessions. Most homeless services attract, and are tailored to their, predominantly male users, which can be a barrier for women who have experienced abuse seeking the support from them they need. Given that women who sleep rough die on average at just 43 years old, it’s clear that support like this, the only one of its kind in Sussex, is so important.

Another example is Shama Women’s Centre which has provided a place for women of different cultures and backgrounds to find support and be part of a community for over 30 years. With our support they run a much needed project to help more women from minority communities into jobs. The programme provides training to support women who have difficulty finding work, particularly those from disadvantaged areas and who also face cultural and language barriers helping them gain confidence and independence.

Supporting women’s services

Despite their importance all too often it is women’s services that are the first to suffer as funding cuts bite. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, local authorities across England have cut their spending on domestic violence refuges by nearly a quarter since 2010. Those dealing providing specialist care, support for BAME women and those with complex needs are often first to go. Research by Women’s Aid found 17% of these specialist women’s refuges were forced to close between 2010 and 2014.

That’s why we’ve invested over £3m to help support the domestic abuse sector: from funding innovation and new approaches through our Transform programme to supporting women’s organisations to challenge commissioning practices and helping small charities to successfully secure funding to deliver specialist services. These programmes are designed to help these women’s organisations to thrive, not simply just survive.

As funders, we need to recognise the importance these organisations make both to the women that use them but also to the wider communities they work in. We need to make sure they have the funds, resources and support to continue to deliver the much-needed services they provide and be able to raise their voices and speak up for those they work with.

International Women’s Day is a day to recognise the achievements of women and celebrate the progress we’ve made. It’s also a day to think about those women and organisations in our communities working with vulnerable women in ever more difficult circumstances. It is a chance to speak out in support of their work and to give them the recognition and backing they need to help those women still left behind.

Join in the conversation on Twitter at #IWD2018 and share what you’re doing to #PressforProgress.

 

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