This week on the 25th is the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls Day. We caught up with Kurdish and Middle Eastern Women Organisation (KMEWO), and organisation in Islington who provide practical and emotional support to BAME women who have experienced violence.
KMEWO has been led by and for BAME women for the past 21 years. They provide women and girl survivors of Domestic Violence (DV), Harmful Practices (HP), including Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Forced Marriage and “Honour” Based Violence (HBV) with specialist services and crisis intervention. Like many other small charities their focus, since the beginning of the pandemic, has shifted. KMEWO changed their focus to much-needed counselling for their clients. They have seen a 600% increase in demand for their services since the beginning of the pandemic, and this is outweighing their capacity. However, they’ve been lucky enough to receive some life changing funding and this funding has meant they are able to support over 40 women now in comparison to just 8 pre-pandemic. We know as a coalition, that small charities are more powerful when they work together. KMEWO is no exception, and Sawsan Salim, director at KMEWO says “networking not only in Islington but creating close partnerships across boroughs has changed our work considerably.” They are now working on and leading on 5 different projects with partners. One new project supports Afghan women, which is in direct response to the current crisis in Afghanistan.
COVID-19 has highlighted what technology cannot replace, the importance and nuance of human interaction. For organisations like KMEWO, providing emotional support is a challenge because technology doesn’t allow emotions to easily be detected. Over 120 tablets and 12 laptops were issued to women and girls across London, as most didn’t even have a smartphone. Time and resources are used to teach the women how to use the devices and then technology dismantle the ability to connect, which has proven to be a challenge for KMEWO. These constraints are also difficult for staff too. Sawsan says “The staff are drained. They signed up to the part time and now they’re full time. They’re homes are not the ideal environments for this kind of work either.” Although Sawsan ensures staff receive bi-weekly clinical support, the nature of the job working with women with no recourse to public funds, living in extreme poverty and experience of violence, is a taxing job for anyone.
Although COVID-19 has exhausted small organisations, KMEWO is an example of the agility to provide practical and emotional solutions, to help change women and girl lives. And although communication and digital exclusion have created barriers, the commitment and expertise of the women who work there, have gone above and beyond to knock these down.