In light of recent instances of violence against women and girls (VAWG) making the news in the UK, this guest blog shares the thoughts of Nimat Jaffer, VAWG Programme Manager at The London Community Foundation (LCF). It details her findings on the rising demand for services post-pandemic, how different communities are affected, the increase in complexity of cases and the sustainability of this for organisations in the charity sector.
Withholding food. Stalking. Forced marriage. Child marriage. Female genital mutilation. Domestic servitude. Sexual exploitation. Controlling behaviour. Rape. Human trafficking. Manipulation. Debt bondage. Intimidation. Physical violence. Forced labour. Breast ironing. Murder. The list of violence against women and girls (VAWG) continues and is exhaustive.
What’s also exhaustive are the grassroots organisations that are working hard to tackle these human rights violations and support survivors within London’s civil society.
Mayor’s Office of Policing and Crime VAWG Grassroots Fund
Research carried out before the pandemic, including that commissioned by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), found that demand for specialist support increased in terms of both volume and complexity of need. It was also found that Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) services face even more barriers to accessing funding. For example, BME services are often small and specialist. Tendering processes are usually designed for larger organisations, and the specialism of small organisations often does not fit with funders who want to have a broad reach.
In response to this, as well as part of MOPAC’s wider VAWG strategy, a £3m VAWG Grassroots Fund was set up to support the reduction in these violent crimes, prevention initiatives and victim recovery. The London Community Foundation (LCF) is managing the programme in partnership with The Social Innovation Partnership (TSIP) and on behalf of MOPAC.
41 organisations have been awarded funds for their VAWG projects over a two year period and, in their first six months of delivery, LCF has found that approximately half the funded organisations have reported an increase in demand for their services following the easing of the lockdowns. This has also often been coupled with an increase in complexity. Additionally, a handful have experienced a decrease in capacity, or the organisations have highlighted issues such as staff burnout or staff being redirected from other tasks to support client-facing services to cope with the demand.
What does this mean in practice?
The increase in domestic violence, sex work, harmful practices (such as female genital mutilation and breast ironing), modern slavery, and human trafficking has been highlighted throughout the pandemic, so it’s unsurprising that with the easing of lockdown many once-hidden victims and survivors are seeking support.
An organisation supporting the needs of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community report a busy helpline where complex enquiries / cases can take up to 15 hours to work through. Meanwhile, a forced genital mutilation specialist charity has added more sessions to their planned programme as a response to an increase in referrals from the BME community.
At least 25% of the funded cohort of the VAWG Grassroots Fund have been compelled into providing additional services in the form of:
- Creating a triage system for waiting lists.
- Extending counselling services and touch points.
- Carrying out additional programmes / workshops.
- Having increased contact with the client.
- Spending more time on individual cases.
And each case is unique to the cultural sensitivities and barriers of each community. In many cultures, being shamed and stigmatised for standing against abuse can isolate an individual from their community. An organisation supporting Kurdish and Turkish women has seen an increase in more isolation cases, which requires frequent contact to reduce anxiousness. Meanwhile, a South Asian organisation has seen an increase in ex-clients returning to the service.
The needs are also evolving. An organisation providing advocacy, advice, and counselling services to the LGBT+ community found that all service users in one support group shared a perpetrator, which has been a fragile situation for staff to manage.
The Kanlungan Filipino Consortium has learnt that some cultural groups within their community have expressed that they would not talk outside of their family circle, much less to anyone outside their cultural group. This has meant they have needed to adapt their services to signposting, but even that comes with challenges such as training their coordinators to refer to services that can meet individual needs. This organisation has also seen an increased need for safe accommodation, where most of a case worker’s time can be spent on securing housing.
Is this sustainable?
There is no doubt that these organisations are fiercely committed to the prevention of VAWG and, while this dedication is admirable, the well-being of their teams is a real concern. Directors, managerial staff, supervisors, and volunteers have all been utilised to manage the demand in front-line services. As mentioned above, this can take them away from their day-to-day work, which affects the sustainability of their organisations. In addition, there is the added pressure of staff being impacted by Covid-19 infections, bereavement, adapting the delivery of services in a new way, and working from home.
As a result, several organisations have made well-being a key element of staff and volunteer support, to avoid burnout. Unfortunately, this remains a challenge and the impacts are surfacing for some. Beyond The Streets, supports women selling sex on the street in East London. They shared with us how the pandemic has impacted their staffing:
‘Initially homeworking enabled us to continue providing support, however, maintaining contact via the phone with women with high levels of vulnerability was difficult and it soon became clear that the merging of home and work, when supporting women experiencing trauma, was having a negative effect on our staff. As soon as initial restrictions began to ease in summer 2020, we reintroduced face-to-face support with safety measures in place. As contact with women improved, our Women’s Support Workers found that women were needing support over a longer period and for a wider range of issues than before. To meet this increased demand, we secured funding through the MOPAC Grassroots VAWG fund to employ an additional Women’s Support Worker. We also secured funding to enable our Women’s Support Workers to access a series of resiliency coaching sessions on top of their monthly external supervision. Despite the additional support systems we’ve put in place, we’ve sadly said goodbye to members of the team over this year. Our Women’s Support Worker roles are demanding at the best of times. The additional pressure the pandemic has created for staff and the women they support has been a hard burden to carry.’
Why it’s important to fund these organisations
Learning from what the fund has delivered so far tells us that the type of violence that a woman or girl experiences comes with its own intersectionality, often connected to poverty, conflict, tradition and so called ‘honour’. VAWG is most often perpetrated by men, however, not exclusively.
When we add this to dynamics related to race, culture, community, religion, and language barriers, the challenges become layered for both the organisation and the service users. These challenges are further impacted by the pressures on statutory services, the media’s influence, and legislative changes. All these factors affect the recovery of an individual and create a complexity that is often hard to capture, but this is also what makes these organisations the specialists that they are. It is through targeted funding that these organisations can take on this complexity and also better equip themselves to meet the pressures the pandemic has put on them.
We at The London Community Foundation are very pleased to be supporting such organisations on behalf of MOPAC, through the VAWG Grassroots Fund. The programme provides not only a grant, but also a learning programme that is accessible to all our funded partners.