Disclaimer – I am aware that my positionality as a White British Female gives rise to an oppressive privilege and that this was reflected upon throughout this article
tw: domestic abuse
Over the past 30 years, gender-based violence is finally being increasingly recognised as an insidious societal problem within the UK. As a result, legislation regarding women’s safety is slowly but surely receiving greater analysis and adjustment, in a bid to criminalise gender-based violence and offer citizens better protection under the law. Gender-based violence is “violence directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women
disproportionately”. This is a societal problem that on average affects 2.4 million victims annually, two-thirds of whom are women.
The Domestic Abuse Bill (DAB) is a non-legislative document, introduced in 2019, as a response to the societal crime against women – setting out 123 commitments aimed at promoting awareness, supporting victims and their families, and transforming the judicial process to ensure perpetrators are brought to justice. However, as inclusive and progressive as this landmark legislation may appear at face value, it fails to protect some of society’s most vulnerable – migrant women.
Step Up Migrant Women Coalition, which is a Latin American campaign that supports migrant women, emphasises the inequalities in this legislation. They then submitted a report to the Government outlining three amendments that should be made to reduce the discriminatory nature of this piece of legislation:
Amendment 67 – proposed an end to data-haring for immigration control purposes, as a migrant woman’s status is often used as a weapon
Amendment 70 – requested an extension of the Domestic Violence rule and Destitute Domestic Violence Concession which would give Migrant Women an opportunity to regularise their immigration status. This would allow them to gain access to social capital for six months – giving them more time to seek refuge
Amendment 87 – allowing all women to access social capital and support in cases of gender-based violence – regardless of their immigration status
These three amendments listed above have been supported by many charities and NGOs such as Southall Black Sisters, End Violence Against Women, and Liberty – all of whom have also been submitting evidence proving the discriminatory nature of the legislation and supporting the act of change proposed by Step Up Migrant Women. The amendments suggested above, if passed, would help to reduce the social, political and economic inequalities faced by Migrant Women in the UK. Particularly, those suffering from gender-based violence.
So, what next?
On the 15th March 2021, the House of Lords discussed these proposed amendments, and chose to pass them, moving them to the house of Commons for discussion. However, it was at this stage that the Government denied all three.
Well, amendment 67 was denied on the premise that it would preempt the super-complaint review that had been previously submitted by Liberty and Southall Black Sisters. And amendment’s 70 and 87 were voted down as it would ‘involve a charge on public funds.’
So, what now?
The Government announced a ‘Support for Migrant Victims’ pilot scheme on April 14th, in which they allocated £1.5 million to investigate the demand. But this is not enough. Migrant Women face insurmountable barriers that are being ignored time and time again. They are being discriminated against and forced into precarious situations. For example, with the current funding available only 5.8% of refuge spaces in England from 2018 to 2019 were able to accept women with an NRPF status (No recourse to public funds). As well as this, Step Up Migrant Women found that 6 out of10 Migrant Women had their immigration status weaponised by their perpetrator. These women are not safe. These women are not protected.
The legislation in its current form enforces structural inequalities, by being inaccessible to some of the women who need it most. It isolates and marginalises Migrant Women victims of domestic abuse. A postcode or immigration status should not dictate how much support we provide people who are facing ‘life or death’ situations. These women are being forced to choose between homelessness, destitution or abuse.
The UK Government can lessen these barriers and provide Migrant Women with some security and safety. If these Amendments were passed, Migrant Women would be able to seek leave to remain within the UK and would therefore have a better opportunity to escape their perpetrator and rebuild their lives. It is vital that legislation is optimised to protect all women in the UK, regardless of whether they were born here or not.
Words: Harriet Baumber