Monthly Archives: March 2011

Snip, snip, snip. That’s right, the coalition’s still cutting away at women’s rights…

Last week we wrote about cuts to ESOL classes.  This week the government announced that it would be getting rid of the Female Genital Mutilation Coordinator.  As of tomorrow – 1 April – the only post across all of Whitehall which is dedicated to tackling FGM in the UK will go.  Sounds like a bad April Fool’s joke, doesn’t it?  But it’s true. 

An estimated 24,000 girls in the UK are at risk of female genital mutilation and last month, the government launched new guidelines to protect them.   Speaking at the launch event Minister Lynne Featherstone said ‘I have seen first hand the effect this abhorrent crime can have on women and girls. This government is determined to put an end to it’.

Given the government’s latest move, we can’t help but question Lynne Featherstone’s commitment.  This latest cut will seriously undermine efforts to stop FGM in the UK.  Read more in yesterday’s Guardian article by Rachel Williams.

On a slightly more positive note, the government may be giving in to pressure to protect legal aid for migrant women who experience domestic violence while in the UK.  Under changes proposed by the Ministry of Justice, women who come to the UK on a spousal visa but then experience domestic violence and want to leave their relationship will no longer be able to get legal aid to help them apply for leave to remain in the UK in their own right.  Last month Rights Of Women led hundreds of women’s organisations including IKWRO in writing to the Ministry of Justice about this.

Speaking at the Lambeth Violence Against Women and Girls Conference today, Rhys Scudamore from the Home Office said that the Home Secretary ‘was aware of this issue and is fighting her corner’.  He seemed to be implying that there was a difference of opinion between the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office, with Theresa May determined to get her way.  It’s a space to watch.

You can stay on top of the developments and take action for legal aid by joining Justice for All.

Follow IKWRO on facebook and twitter.

FGM – government cuts reveal lack of commitment

PRESS RELEASE 28 March 2011
FGM – government cuts reveal lack of commitment
Government FGM Coordinator post to go weeks after government publishes FGM guidelines

Charities working to prevent female genital mutilation within the UK’s African and Middle Eastern communities today criticised the government’s decision to cut the only post across all of Whitehall which is dedicated to tackling FGM in the UK.

The cross government FGM Coordinator has played an important role in increasing government action on FGM in the UK. Last month the government released new guidelines, written by the Coordinator, which are designed to enable professionals such as police, social workers and GPs to protect girls and women at risk of FGM and to provide support to those who have undergone it.

Women’s organisations argue that the loss of the coordinator post will stunt efforts to stem the practice of FGM and reflects a wider lack of commitment to tackling it.

“The new guidelines were an important step forward but efforts are now needed to ensure that the guidelines are actually read and acted on. The government should also be working to change attitudes towards FGM within communities. Without a government lead who will drive efforts forward, it’s hard to see how this will happen.”
Diana Nammi, Director of the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation.

“The government has failed to commit in terms of targets, financial resources and a strong strategic direction on FGM. This is made worse by their failure to ensure effective coordination of the only government action on FGM which is the implementation of the multi-agency guidelines on FGM.”
Naana Otoo-Oyortey, Executive Director of FORWARD.

Notes to editors:
The Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO) provides advice and support to Middle Eastern women and girls living in the UK who are facing FGM as well as domestic violence, forced marriage and ‘honour’ based violence. As well as supporting women directly, we offer advice and training to professionals and campaign for better laws and policies to protect women and girls from violence.

FORWARD (Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development) is an African Diaspora charity dedicated to advancing and safeguarding the sexual and reproductive health and rights of African girls and women. FORWARD works in the UK, Europe and Africa to help change practices and policies that affect access, dignity and wellbeing. They tackle FGM, child marriage and related rights of girls and young women.

On 24 February 2011 the government released the first Multi agency guidelines to help frontline professionals identify and prevent FGM. The accompanying press release can be found here.

In the UK, it is estimated that up to 24,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of FGM. The FGM Act 2003 makes it illegal to practice FGM in the UK or to take girls who are British nationals or residents abroad. It also makes it illegal to aid, abet, counsel or procure the carrying out of FGM abroad and imposes a penalty of up to 14 years in prison.

Some useful information about FGM is available here.

Tell migrants to integrate while cutting English lessons: The coalition’s meanest policy yet?

On Monday the loveliest woman came to IKWRO’s office for our Nowruz party.  Let’s call her Shahla.  In between dolma and baklava, she taught me some Middle Eastern dance moves.  She also told me how she ended up in England. 

Shahla’s in her late 20s.  She was part of the pro-democracy movement in Iran and had to leave her home, her family and all her friends behind when the Iranian government issued a warrant for her arrest.  She came here last year. 

IKWRO helped Shahla to apply for asylum, and even though her application has been approved she still stays in touch.  Shahla only started learning English when she arrived here, but when she phones our office she’s always polite and friendly and tries her best to get it right.  She wants to make a home for herself here, get a job and stand on her own feet.  She knows that learning English is vital. 

On Monday Shahla told me all about a fantastic English teacher she has at college – a woman called Maureen who teaches them about popular culture and traditions in the UK as well as grammar and vocabulary.  Maureen works hard to get her students excited and Shahla’s face glowed when she talked about her.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her that her English class could soon be shut down.

The government is proposing to change the rules so that free English classes will only be available for those on job seekers allowance or income support.  IKWRO is very concerned by these changes.  Asylum seekers, who aren’t allowed to work or get income support, will be excluded.  So will women on spousal visas, and people who are working in low paid jobs where you don’t have to speak English, such as cleaning.  Shahla will still be eligible under the new rules, but the drastic reduction in student numbers could cause her class to shut down anyway.

Today is a national day of action to protect English classes for speakers of other languages (ESOL).  The Action for ESOL Campaign’s petition already has more than 12,000 signatures.  You can add your name here:

If you’d like to support the Action for Esol Campaign in other ways, visit their website:

IKWRO celebrates the Persian New Year

Yesterday afternoon IKWRO held a party to celebrate Nowruz (or Newroz in Kurdish) – the Persian New Year.

By 2 o’clock our office was full of women young and old who had come to eat, drink and dance together.  We served fruit and traditional Iranian pastries and played music all afternoon.  One woman brought a hot dish of lamb and dolma (vine leaves stuffed with rice).  Another brought all the components for Haft Sin, a traditional table setting (pictured above) which is used to celebrate the Persian New Year.

Haft Sîn includes seven specific items starting with the letter S: sabzeh (wheat, barley or lentil sprouts, symbolizing rebirth), samanu (a sweet pudding made from wheat germ symbolizing affluence), senjed (the dried fruit of the oleaster tree symbolizing love), sīr (garlic, symbolizing medicine), sīb (apples which symbolise beauty and health), sumac berries symbolizing sunrise and serkeh (vinegar which symbolises age and patience).

Normally women visit our office when they are going through trauma, but yesterday all of the women who came were smiling and happy – the way they should be.  They are all women whom IKWRO has worked with in the past – survivors of forced marriage, domestic violence, ‘honour’ based violence and other forms of abuse.  It was wonderful to look around the room and to see all of them proudly dressed in their best clothes, laughing, talking and sharing.  It reminds us of why we do this work, and inspires us to do even more for women this year.

IKWRO wishes a very happy new year to all of the women we’ve worked with over the years.  May 2011 bring you happiness, peace and prosperity.