By Meena Kumari and Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs OBE
We cannot describe the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Act as “landmark” or “once in a generation” if it leaves behind some of the most marginalised and vulnerable women in society.
We believe this is the moment to rally around the organisations that have long been striving to ensure equal protection and support for migrant women and help amplify their demands.
After four years, the Bill is finally expected to become law by the end of April. Before that happens, however, we know that there is one more crucial step in the process. This will take place on the 15th April when the Bill heads back to the Commons for a final debate.
It is here that the Government will respond to amendments that every victim-survivor of domestic abuse can access safety – without discrimination. Voted for by Peers in the House of Lords with cross-party support, these amendments aim to prevent the state from sharing survivors’ data with immigration enforcement and extend the existing destitution domestic violence concession to all migrant women, as stipulated within the Istanbul Convention.
Waiting to see the outcomes of the Support for Migrant Victims (SMV) pilot scheme currently being pushed by the Government will only work to delay access to migrant survivors’ safety. Furthermore, organisations such as Southall Black Sisters and Latin American Women’s Rights Service have warned that, from what little is known of the pilot, it is completely inadequate.
We wholeheartedly welcomed the government’s decision to include economic abuse in the statutory definition of the Domestic Abuse Bill. Yet the very act to exclude those most in need of access to welfare benefits undermines the promise of the Bill to recognise and protect against economic abuse. From this perspective, the Bill will have been compromised from the very start.
Not only do migrant survivors face perpetrators using their immigration status as a means of control and abuse, but they also experience a state-sanctioned form of economic abuse as the state also uses their immigration status to prohibit access to economic safety. We know overwhelmingly that migrant women are denied access to refuge, housing and to welfare, women are sent from pillar to post, searching for help for them and their children, forced between returning to an abuser or sleeping on the streets.
For far too long we have witnessed how a racist and hostile environment has worked to alienate and deprive those who are deemed not to have the right paperwork. And the impact on migrant survivors of abuse is catastrophic.
And so, as these two moments collide, the end of a third national lockdown and the arrival of the Domestic Abuse Act, there should be a renewed focus on safety, funding and support for domestic abuse survivors. Yet this must be all domestic abuse survivors. As a sector and as a society, we must insist upon it.
The government must listen to the demands of the ‘Step Up Migrant Women’ campaign and others in the sector and support these amendments. If this government is serious about ending violence against women and girls, survivors of abuse cannot continue to be the collateral of immigration politics. The Domestic Abuse Bill must provide safety for all women.
Meena Kumari is the founder and director of H.O.P.E Training and Consultancy. Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs is the founder and CEO of Surviving Economic Abuse.
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