A LARGE group of women from South Yorkshire came to London on Saturday 21st November to hand in a petition at Downing Street against the threatened closure of the Apna Haq women’s refuge, which specialises in helping women in the black and Asian communities in Rotherham.
Campaigners say that Apna Haq provides the only ethnic minority support group in Rotherham offering help against domestic violence and assisting the women in breaking free from abuse.
The town of Rotherham in Yorkshire is sadly now well known for one reason more than any other – the horrific child sexual exploitation that has taken place in the town over the last few years.
Many men have gone to prison with long sentences for rape and other crimes, and the council and police were slammed in several damning reports that exposed how they had turned a blind eye and done little to protect vulnerable girls from abuse.
These reports, including Alexis Jay’s report (August 2014) and a report by Ofsted, also found that many ethnic minority women and girls are subject to abuse in Rotherham, and that support for ethnic minority women in the town has been lacking. They noted “insufficient cultural understanding” about the obstacles preventing women from reporting abuse.
In 1994 a group of local ethnic minority women set up what started as a domestic violence support service and called it Apna Haq, which means “My Rights”. More than 2,000 women and children have been helped by Apna Haq to escape, overcome and survive domestic and sexual abuse, so-called “honour-related” abuse and forced marriage, and sexual exploitation and abuse.
Many women have been so empowered by their experience at Apna Haq that they have gone on to become volunteers and workers there too, sharing their knowledge and experience to help new service users.
Apna Haq is literally a life-saving service, and it is run the best way a women’s service can be – by and for women who understand their community’s reality and needs.
The women who run Apna Haq have deep personal understanding of the particular patterns of abuse, the excuses that are made for it and the barriers to escaping abuse in their community. They are the best at creating a holistic service that offers women and their children a lifeline when they need it. This kind of specialism cannot be bought on the “open market” and is not easily transferable.
Services like Apna Haq are known to provide the best long-term outcomes for women and their families. At the end of July this year Apna Haq received a devastating letter from Rotherham council informing them that their £145,000 contract for providing domestic violence support was to be ended and that a mainstream service with no specialism in the experiences and needs of minority ethnic women would do the work instead (for a slightly lower price).
The community of workers and volunteers around Apna Haq are horrified and genuinely fearful for the fate of women and girls seeking help in the near future – because they know that some of these women will not get the specialist support and understanding they need to guarantee their safety and survival.
“We cannot allow Apna Haq to close. It is expert,” the campaigners say. “It is life-saving. It is run by women who know the lives of the women who seek help there. It is essential. We cannot try to put right horrific abuse of girls from across the different communities in Rotherham and simultaneously create new barriers to women and children who need help.
“Join us and call on the lead Commissioner in Rotherham Sir Derek Myers, who now runs Rotherham borough council, to stand by Apna Haq to ensure that their future is secure.
“Nothing about us without us!”
Please sign the petition.