Violence is violence whatever the culture

The Southall Black Sisters, a feminist lobbying and advocacy group,
is 24 this month. Based in one of the poorest parts of London, its
influence has spread. Now, it is establishing a loose coalition of
ethnic minority women’s groups who share a determination to end the
abuse of human rights within their own communities.

In From Homebreakers to Jailbreakers, published this week,
the SBS team rightly criticises the way in which the establishment
often fails to protect women under the banner of racial tolerance
and a respect for cultural diversity – for instance, in the case of
forced arranged marriages (a crime in Norway).

The group has supported many women in the courts, achieving, the
first conviction for marital rape in the Asian community. It has
also alerted coroners to the violence within a marriage which force
many young Asian women to resort to suicide.

In the book, Muneeza Inam argues: “Business goals and a market
philosophy have got the voluntary sector in a
strangleholdÉEvery bit of help, advice or service is now
assessed by time and cost leading to the worship of targets and
performance indicators.”

The result is depoliticisation. Voluntary groups are no longer
catalysts. Employees treat the work as “just a job”. That matters
for the future of social change but it also has an immediate impact
on the individual. The SBS says that because of the “nine to five
culture”, trying to find a woman a refuge place at 4pm is
particularly difficult. “Activism is essential to bring alive the
values that [we] wish to create within the system,” insists Pragna

The book also raises concerns about the current passion for a
multi-agency approach to issues such as domestic violence. “In our
view,” writes Rahila Gupta, “precisely because the multi-agency
model gives centrality to liaison with so-called “community”
leaders, other more radical voices are delegitimised. One of our
strongest criticisms is that the police and the entire criminal
justice system, notwithstanding the multi-agency project, actually
disempower women in minority communities.”

The SBS message is simple: women’s autonomy and zero tolerance
towards violence must take precedence no matter how much that
confronts the customs and practices of ethnic minorities. 

From Homebreakers to Jailbreakers, edited by Rahila
Gupta, Southall Black Sisters, £14 95 paperback, £25
hardback, zed books

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