Research into practice

Black women’s voluntary sector organisations have the ability to
release benefits to black families, black communities and to black
women themselves. Despite this they are not identified in local
authority policies as a distinct section of the sector. This was
one of the findings of a recent study by Sonia Davies and Veronica
Cooke at the University of Luton. This study could make an
important contribution to social care staff in the support and
recognition of black women’s groups.

Black women’s organisations in Britain straddle two marginalised
groups, and this study sought to give visibility and a voice to
this part of the voluntary sector at a time when government policy
is emphasising the need for partnership between the government and
the voluntary sector generally.

The study looked at a cross-section of organisations from 13 local
authority regions in England, Scotland and Wales. A comparative
analysis examined factors that determined needs, types and
structures or organisations. Also considered were the changing
relationships between government and the voluntary sector,
particularly the relationship between black women’s organisations
and the state.

The impetus for forming the groups was similar among ethnic groups
and focused on accessing resources, addressing inadequacies in
mainstream provision and developing culturally specific and
politically appropriate services. These reasons were juxtaposed, in
different ways, against the isolation, exclusion, confusion,
deprivation, oppression and sense of injustice experienced by black
women. The research found that black migrant and refugee women came
together in organisations in order to deal both with the issues
that migrated with them and those created by British society.

One of the study’s major findings related to funding. There were
considerable differences between the funding allocations to
different ethnic and religious groups, which resulted in
differences between the types of provision. The black women’s
organisations had to allocate a considerable proportion of their
time to fund-raising from various sources. There was also some
ambivalence shown towards funding partnerships. The research found
that few black women’s groups had benefited from regeneration
programmes. For example, only one had benefited from the Health
Action Zones initiative. Interviewees spoke of not having the
resources to contribute to the meetings for partnership programmes
and not being fully aware of them.

The research found a lack of clear policy from local authorities
relating to black women’s organisations, and confusion in
understanding them. It concluded that involving black women’s
organisations in policy and practice could require government to
review and clarify its analyses between race, nation, religion and
gender. Local government analyses of black women’s organisations
often missed the fact that these factors often intersect and cannot
be arbitrarily divided.

The research did find some examples of good practice. Joint
projects were enabling the principles, working practices, knowledge
and expertise of the organisations to operate within the
mainstream, providing a community base from which black women could
more easily access mainstream services. Similarly, examples were
found of secondment of local authority staff to work within black
women’s organisations. The researchers concluded that this not only
heightened interagency collaboration, but also benefited wider
policy and practice developments. These types of initiatives
considered at a local level could be of great benefit to the whole

– Sonia Davis and Veronica Cooke, Why do Black Women Organise?
A comparative analysis of black women’s organisations in Britain
and their relationship with the state
, Policy Studies
Institute, 2002, price £11.95.

Gaynor Wingham is director of the Professional Independents

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