Human Rights,  Religion,  Secularism,  The Left

Fund Antifundie Sisters

From the Southall Black Sisters

Demonstration 17th and 18th July 2008 from 9.30am onwards at the High Court on the Strand

Many of you are already aware that SBS has been locked in struggle against Ealing Council with regard to its decision to withdraw funding for our domestic violence services for black and minority women. On 17th and 18th July 2008, the High Court will hear a challenge brought by our users against Ealing Council for its failure to have proper regard to existing equality legislation, especially the Race Relations Act, in reaching its decision on our funding. The Council will seek to justify its decision on the grounds that a generic domestic violence service will be better placed to meet requirements of the equality legislation and the so called ‘cohesion’ agenda.

Equality, Cohesion and the Right to Self Organisation
This is no longer simply about the funding of SBS. The case represents a key moment for the third sector. In one of the first challenges of its kind, the Council will be required to account for the way in which the confused and contradictory ‘cohesion’ agenda is being cynically used to cut essential life saving services to black and minority women in particular. Specialist services likes ours are needed, not only for reasons to do with language difficulties and culture pressures, but also because we have considerable experience in providing advice and advocacy in complex circumstances where legal aid is no longer easily available and where immigration and asylum difficulties make some women much more vulnerable than others. In addition, we will seek to challenge the Council for its failure to take account of how and why groups like SBS, were set up in the first place: to challenge racism and gender inequality as well as religious, caste and ethnic divisions within our communities.

The Council has made much of the need to reflect the racial diversity of Ealing (meaning the white majority population) in the interests of ‘cohesion’. In the process it seeks to argue that the very existence of specialist groups like SBS is unlawful under the Race Relations Act! Ealing Council has also withdrawn funding for key refugee and race equality projects in Ealing. This approach is not unique to Ealing. Evidence from around the UK suggests that organisations in the firing line tend to be the more progressive black and minority and feminist projects. At the same time, reactionary, sometimes fundamentalist religious organisations are being given financial support to provide ‘welfare services’, even at the risk of undermining the human rights of the most vulnerable in our communities. The subcontracting of third sector services is also contributing to the decimation of groups like SBS. What this demonstrates is a political attack on the notion of positive action and on the right to self organisation underpinned by secular, anti-racist and progressive values.

Our Tradition: Struggle not Submission
These are immensely worrying developments for all those concerned about the threat to progressive notions of equality and justice. We therefore urge you to join our demonstration on the 17th and 18th July at the High Court on the Strand. Nearest Tube Holborn (Circle & Piccadilly Line) or Temple (District & Circle Line). Please bring musical instruments, whistles and banners.

For further details contact SBS
Phone: 0208 571 9595       
Email: Southallblacksisters at btconnect dot com

It is a disgrace that this non-sectarian, secular organisation run by black and minority women for black and minority women is facing this funding crisis, particularly because of a misguided policy that sees more outsourcing of social services to religious charities. These religious charities often do not share the same commmitment to serving women and LGBT people, and are often patriarchal and indeed complicit in the cultural oppression of women.

Alas, over at Socialist (Dis)Unity, the descussion has kicked off after the first commenter zeroed in on this statement:

At the same time, reactionary, sometimes fundamentalist religious organisations are being given financial support to provide ‘welfare services’, even at the risk of undermining the human rights of the most vulnerable in our communities.

So the debate in now all about whether the Sisters – who have years of front-line experience as self-organised women, and who know exactly what issues they and other women in their community face – are “Islamophobic”.

Socialist Unity blog head-honcho Andy Newman pontificates thus: “But for SBS to be criticising other funded organisations in this way doesn’t help their own case, or any one else’s.”

Why is a Socialist defending the state-funding of reactionary, patriarchal religious groups who use their charitable platform to enforce and perpetuate regressive and conservative social norms antithetical to the interests of women?

Sadly, by now, that’s a rhetorical question.