Speech to support Motion: Rights of Migrant Women (not called to speak) Labour Women’s Conference 24 February 2019

My name is Anya Cook, Newcastle North Constituency, University & College Union National Executive and mentor at Newcastle College where I facilitate drop-in sessions with ESOL students.

I support this motion.

I have worked with women of asylum status or with right to remain who have been trafficked for economic purpose, raped, are trying to leave abusive marriages, have experienced domestic violence.

These are women whose first language isn’t English, who are disempowered and left vulnerable by their lack of a voice.

Migrant women, when they disclose they are experiencing sexual harassment or domestic violence can experience further blocks from the system, from support services, from social services, education or the police, who might label, who might stigmatise and who might blame.

These blocks, not necessarily deliberate, are themselves, acts of violence.

And this creates fear – fear of coming forward, fear of disclosing and fear of asking for help.

So what can we do about this?

We need to challenge the patriarchy and we need to challenge patriarchal structures.

Patriarchy is about who holds the power, what they do with that power, who makes the decisions.

The feminist Bel Hooks says patriarchy isn’t gendered and we all know women, Margaret Thatcher, Theresa May – but we all know women in our circles who are not necessarily sympathetic to women or the issues they face.

Migrant women need access to services, they funding to live, to feed their children, access to adult education, to language classes, safe places to live.

BUT they also need what we ALL need.

Migrant women need to live within a system of integrated services, where people are trained and educated in cultural difference, in overcoming barriers to inclusion.

AND where the people holding the power, the people using that power and the people making decisions are more reflective of our communities.

So we also need positive action to diversify our workforce, from the ground up and from the top down.

This is where the trade unions come into play.

We can start tomorrow – we can ask our employers what they are going to do to increase diversity in our workplaces, and then apply pressure to make that change happen.

This would be a leap towards creating a more level society where our sisters in need, need not fear coming forward, knowing they will be listened to and supported.

*note not called to speak, speech not used

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