FRF’s work with Tower Hamlets’ Council on the UN’s 16 Days of Activism against VAWG – Written by Marisa Mark (UCLA Sophomore, 2017), Intern at FRF

FRF has been supporting victims of VAWG (Violence Against Women and Girls) since 2015 in London and the Midlands. One of our main service delivery centers is based in Tower Hamlets (LBTH) where we are active in the Council‘s VAWG Forum and have assisted over 350 women cope with the recover from the affects of VAWG and DV. We work on schemes designed to help prevent abuse, reduce victim stigmatization and raise awareness; including TV shows on the digital channel TV1 and workshops delivered to Community and Faith Leaders. According to recent statistics, “Tower Hamlets is known for having one of the highest rates of reported domestic abuse across London and has the third highest number of recorded sexual offences in London.” (LBTH Council, 2016)

In 2016 we asked the head Imaam, Sheikh Abdul Qaiyum, of the East London Mosque to deliver a strong anti-DV message during Jummah (Friday Prayers) on 25 November – White Ribbon Day, an international campaign led by men to end violence against women, it began following the brutal mass shooting of 14 female students at the University of Montreal in 1989. The campaign is active in over 60 countries and promotes gender equality, focusing on the significance of boys and men in working against violence against women the Imaam used this perspective powerfully for his sermon. White Ribbon Day marks the first of the UN’s 16 days of activism against gender-based violence which runs from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and White Ribbon Day, to 10th December, Human Rights Day. Over these 16 days, communities across the world work as a team to spread awareness about the connection between violence against women and human rights.

We invited LBTH Council to attend on the 25 November to gather of support for their ‘Domestic Abuse No Excuse; campaign’ after the sermon. The pledges are to:

· Never commit, condone or remain silent about VAWG and domestic abuse

· Teach my children and family about healthy, non violent relationships

· Reach out to those in the community who are experiencing abuse

· Think about ways I can support my community to promote respect to all

Alongside the LBTH Council’s DV and Hate Crime Teams we invited local DV support services to hold information stalls with FRF workers on both the male and female sides of the Mosque. The congregation was over 5000 people that day and many pledges against DV were gathered.

This year, in the run up to the UN’s 16 days of activism, FRF partnered with the Maryam Centre and LBTH Council to deliver a Women’s only Self Defense course in the Maryam Centre (female only building of the East London Mosque) as part of a longer term project. The courses are open to any woman whether they had experienced VAWG or not and are designed to improve awareness on personal safety both at home and on the streets. As well as learning to protect against physical attacks students are also introduced to fear management and confidence building techniques. The classes also raise awareness on DV and other VAWG strands, students are given information on local support services where they can access confidential help including FRF’s Women’s project.

The response to the flyers that were put up in local community spaces was overwhelming, the 18 places on the November course were quickly filled and we have a waiting list for the next classes which are due to begin in February 2018.

Given the recent Hate Crimes and acid attacks that have taken place throughout London we invited a Police Officer from Islington Constabulary, Sakira Suzia (pictured on the far left) to come to the self defence class on the 27th November to give an informative talk on the prevalence of these crimes, reducing the anxiety caused by some media coverage. Sakira also gave a practical explanation on how to deal with and protect against potential vicitmisation. Shalina Akhtar (Project Officer from LBTH Council, pictured centre) also attended the class on the same day to collect pledges against DV ensuring that the students would act against gender-based violence. The class was extremely successful in promoting positive change against violence against women, Shalina said “The self defense session is brilliant and I truly believe all the women will benefit from such a great initiative.” The students gave very positive feedback, one saying ‘The classes have made me feel confident and empowered’. We will be running these sessions every few months until the summer of 2019 and hope to be able to extend this great program.