Last week saw the release of the Government’s Together we can end violence against women and girls: a strategy, and also the lesser publicised – but no less important – Seeking Refuge? A handbook for asylum-seeking women, published by Rights of Women, a voluntary organisation working to empower women on their legal rights. Last night I attended the launch of the latter and heard from five inspirational women speakers, all there to celebrate the launch of the guide.
The Rights of Women guide has been designed for asylum seeking women and the organisations that support them, with the aim of clarifying the complex minefield that is immigration law and the asylum system. Having looked at the publication, it seems very clear and comprehensible, even to someone like me who is new to the sector.
Most importantly the guide makes constant and specific reference to the experiences of women asylum seekers. Given the name of the publication, it would be strange if this were not the case, but it struck me as significant since the Government’s strategy also launched this week only features asylum seeking women in half a page of the report.
We know that refugee women and asylum seekers are more affected by violence than any other women’s population, due to the nature of conflict in their own countries, and the range of vulnerable situations this leaves them in. At the Refugee Council, we were therefore pretty disappointed that the strategy has failed to address their needs and that it offers no practical solutions to improve access to appropriate health and support services for refugee and asylum seeking women who are fleeing violence in their home countries.
The lack of reference to asylum seeking women in the Government strategy turned out to be a steady and palpable undercurrent to the Rights of Women launch, with most of the speakers mentioning the contrast between the two publications more than once. I took away the feeling that, whilst the strategy has been welcomed, there is a consensus among those working in the refugee sector that the Government has missed the chance to safeguard the rights of all women in Britain to access appropriate and consistent protection from violence.