By Anna, Women’s Advocacy and Influencing Officer
Last Thursday I found myself standing in a circle of some 20+ women from across the globe all shouting their favourite foods at me to the general hilarity of all. This was the start of a media workshop with WAST Manchester (Women Asylum Seekers Together), a self help group for, and led by, women seeking asylum. They draw support and strength from one another to help them cope with an asylum system that they describe as “dehumanising, disempowering and frightening”.
WAST Manchester invited us to visit them to deliver media training as they are campaigning for a system that is fairer for all refugee women and were keen to learn how to engage the media in their cause. As the project I’m currently running, Influencing Women, has very similar aims, it was inspiring for me to hear what they had to say on these issues and I was delighted to help build their confidence in speaking out about them.
In July they took to the streets and marched to the UKBA office in Liverpool to hand in a list of 12 demands including amongst others: an end to the detention and destitution of women seeking asylum, access to legal advice and representation, recognition of the importance of family support networks to their survival and travel expenses for destitute women who have to regularly report to UKBA (and are often forced to walk miles).
The workshop was a noisy affair. Being in that room buzzing with women’s voices and children playing at our feet it was easy to forget that some of these women are likely to be destitute, living hand to mouth and sleeping on friends’ sofas. But the precariousness of the women’s situation was brought home to me when I was told that Sofia, one of the leading members of the organisation, wouldn’t be joining us as she had been detained earlier in the day. Sofia fled Zimbabwe after her home was burnt to the ground and her husband was murdered. The women at WAST are desperately helping Sofia in her fight to stay in the UK. For more information, and to find out how you can help, see http://www.onenorthwest.org.uk/news.asp (and scroll down).
The next step of WAST’s campaign is to march in Manchester during the Conservative political party conference to let the Tories and the general public know about their demands for a better asylum system for women. Having met some of the women that make up WAST Manchester, and heard firsthand the passion and determination in their voices, I am confident their demands will not go unheard. We wish them the best of luck.