Hi folks,

Thanks for your interest in this blog by the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation.

We’ve recently moved our blog into our main website, www.ikwro.org.uk.  As well as regular news articles, our site has information about the services we offer to women and girls, our campaigns, training and fundraising work, and job and volunteering opportunities at IKWRO .  It also has a dedicated page for journalists, and links to all our previous coverage in the mainstream media.

Check out the new blog here, and find IKWRO on twitter and facebook.


Do you know someone who has made an outstanding contribution to the fight against honour based violence in the UK?

IKWRO is granting True Honour Awards to one individual and one organisation who have made an outstanding contribution to the fight against honour based violence in the UK. 

The winners will be decided by a panel of writers, academics and women’s rights activists, and will each receive a cash prize and a commemorative piece of crystal at a special ceremony in November.  We want to hear from you if you know someone who deserves a True Honour Award.

How to nominate someone

Write to us by Friday 30 September 2011 with the following information:

  • The name, organisation, email and phone number of the person or organisation you are nominating.
  • Details of how your nominee has contributed to the fight against honour based violence.
  • Why you think your nominee should receive a True Honour Award.
  • Your name, organisation, email and phone number.
  • How you know your nominee.

Send your nomination to campaigns.ikwro@gmail.com or to IKWRO, PO Box 65840, LONDON EC2P2FS.  Please make sure it reaches us by Friday 30 September 2011. 

If you want more info or ideas for who to nominate, check out our previous blog on the True Honour Awards

We can’t wait to receive your nominations!

Our blog has now moved onto our main website.  Check it out here


 

Do you know someone who has made an outstanding contribution to the fight against honour based violence in the UK?

IKWRO announced earlier this year that we will grant True Honour Awards to one individual and one organisation.  The winners will each receive a cash prize and a commemorative piece of crystal.

The awards ceremony will take place in November and we are currently calling for nominations.  We want to hear from you if you know of a person or an organisation who deserves a True Honour Award. 

How to nominate someone

To nominate someone, simply write to us with the following information (no more than two pages please):

  • Your name, organisation, email and phone number.
  • The name, organisation, email and phone number of the person or organisation you are nominating.
  • How you know your nominee.
  • Details of how your nominee has contributed to the fight against honour based violence.
  • Why you think your nominee should receive a True Honour Award.

Send your nomination to campaigns.ikwro@gmail.com or to IKWRO, PO Box 65840, LONDON EC2P 2FS.  Please make sure it reaches us by Monday 26 September 2011

Some ideas for who to nominate (just to get you thinking…)

  • Survivors of honour based violence who have used their experience to help others.
  • People who have spoken out against honour based violence in their community or workplace, in parliament, in the media or elsewhere.
  • Groups who help victims of honour based violence, for example through a helpline, support group or refuge.
  • People who have helped to bring perpetrators of honour based violence to justice, for example a police officer, a lawyer or a witness in a trial.
  • People who have found creative ways to raise awareness of honour based violence, for example by writing about it, making a film or producing an artwork.

Why are we granting True Honour Awards?

We want to raise awareness of the problem of honour based violence, and to recognise those who struggle to prevent it and protect those at risk.  There are an estimated 12 honour killings in the UK each year, and many more women face other forms of honour based violence, including beatings, imprisonment and forced marriage.

If you have any questions about the True Honour Award you can call IKWRO on 0207 920 6460 or email campaigns.ikwro@gmail.com.

Our blog has now moved into our main website.  Check it out here.


You may have seen our recent blog about government proposals to cut legal aid for women making applications under the ‘domestic violence rule’

Under this rule women who come to the UK on a spousal visa but then face domestic violence can leave their marriage and apply for permission to stay in the UK in their own right.  Applications under the rule are complex and have to be completed within strict time limits. IKWRO was worried that without legal aid many women would be unable to apply.  In March we voiced our concerns as part of a Ministry of Justice consultation on legal aid, along with dozens of other women’s organisations.  More recently we have been working with MPs such as Bridget Phillipson, who previously ran a women’s shelter, to raise the issue in parliament.

Yesterday Jonathan Djanogly announced that the government had changed its position.  In response to a question asked by Conservative MP Ben Gummer, the Legal Aid Minister and Conservative MP said:

“After further consideration we accept that there is a real risk that, without legal aid, people will stay trapped in abusive relationships out of fear of jeopardising their immigration status. The type of trauma that they might have suffered will often make it difficult to cope with such applications. We also appreciate that people apply under great pressure of time, and access to a properly designated immigration adviser is a factor. We intend to table a Government amendment to bring such cases into scope at a later stage.”

This is an amazing campaign victory which will make an enormous difference to the women we work with.  The domestic violence rule is a vital lifeline for women who cannot return to their home countries, for example because they may face further violence there or because they would have to leave their children behind.  Now that we know women applying under the domestic violence rule will still get legal aid, all of us at IKWRO can breathe a big sigh of relief.

At the same time, this early victory doesn’t mean the end of campaigning on legal aid.  Problems remain in relation to family law and domestic violence, and the bill still excludes women who have been trafficked for sexual exploitation and other vulnerable women from accessing legal aid.  With colleagues at Rights of Women and other women’s organisations, we will continue campaigning on these issues so we can ensure that all women who have experienced violence have access to justice.

Our blog has now moved onto our main website.  Check it out here, and find IKWRO on twitter and facebook


Last week the UN agency for women launched its first report.  Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice takes a brave and broad look at women’s access to around the world, covering issues such as domestic violence, rape and discrimination. 

The report also charts some of the important reforms that recent years have brought, but highlights the need for further progress.  For example while 52 countries have made marital rape a crime during the last century, more than 2.6 billion women still live in countries without this legal protection.

The report makes 10 recommendations to improve women’s access to justice, including support for specialised women’s services and legal organisations, reforming laws that discriminate against women, training judges in women’s rights and monitoring judicial decisions. 

Here in the UK, In Pursuit of Justice comes at an appropriate time.  The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment Bill currently making its way through our parliament will limit access to justice for women who have faced domestic violence in several ways.

Firstly it will leave many women who have experienced domestic abuse unable to get legal aid for matters such as child custody or financial support.  This will mean that they will have to represent themselves, and could end up being cross examined by their abuser.  Inevitably it will mean that many women simply avoid the courts, to the detriment of them and their children.

Secondly, the Bill will also cut legal aid for women making applications under the ‘domestic violence rule’.  Under this rule women who come to the UK on a spousal visa but then face domestic violence can leave their marriage and apply for permission to stay in the UK in their own right.  Applications are complex and have to be completed within a very limited time frame. The woman also has to produce various pieces of evidence, all at a time when she is trying to get her life back together.

IKWRO usually links women with a legal aid solicitor to help them through the process.  If the reforms go ahead women will have to do the application on their own.  Strict controls on who can give immigration advice mean that organisations like IKWRO will not be able to advise these women without breaking the law.

IKWRO and many other women’s organisations took part in a recent Ministry of Justice consultation on the reform of legal aid but the Ministry of Justice has not listened.  We are campaigning for amendments to the bill before it is voted into law.  Last week we met with MP Bridget Phillipson to raise our concerns.  Bridget, who previously ran a women’s shelter, has promised to raise the issue in parliament.

We have also contacted conservative MPs who have shown commitment to fighting violence against women, including Eleanor Laing, Nicola Blackwood and Sarah Wollaston.  We are urging them to take action against these proposals and the impact they will have on access to justice for victims of domestic violence.

If you live in the UK you can support our campaign and protect access to justice for women who have faced domestic violence by emailing your MP.  See here for a template letter and simple instructions on how to contact your MP.

Please take two minutes to email your MP today.  Together we can stop these proposals.

Our blog has now moved onto our main website.  Check it out here, and find IKWRO on twitter and facebook


Under what’s called the ‘domestic violence rule’ women who come to the UK on a spousal visa but then face domestic violence can leave their marriage and apply for permission to stay in the UK in their own right. 

Applications under the domestic violence rule are complex and IKWRO usually hooks women up with a legal aid solicitor to help them through the process.  Sadly we may not be able to do this for much longer.

In March we wrote about government proposals which would stop these women from getting legal aid.  At that time, many women’s organisations including IKWRO contacted the Ministry of Justice to ask them to reconsider their plans.

Unfortunately they didn’t.  The proposals remain in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment Bill, which was released in parliament last Tuesday, 21 June.  You can help us to stop this bill by contacting your MP now.

Applying for leave to remain in the UK under the domestic violence rule is a complicated process.  The woman has to complete an 18 page form and provide several pieces of evidence.  She will often be financially destitute, and may not know her rights under UK law.  If English isn’t her first language, gathering the evidence , completing the form or representing herself will be particularly difficult.  Cutting her access to legal aid is the worst thing that could happen.

The bill is already in parliament but you can still help to stop it from going ahead.  Rights of Women have written a template letter which you can copy and paste into an email to send to your MP.  The action will take you two minutes.  Here’s how to do it:

1. Go to www.writetothem.com

2. Type your postcode into the box that appears and click “go”

3. You will be taken to a page which lists all of your elected representatives.  Look at the column which is headed “Select your member of parliament” and click on the name of your MP.

4. You will now be taken to a page where you can enter your name, address, and a message to your MP.  You can write your own letter or copy and paste the text below into the large white text box on the screen. Remember to sign off in your own name, and to insert the name of your organisation (if you have one) where you are prompted to.

5. When you have done all of the above, click on “preview your message” and if you are happy with it, click “send message”.

Template letter for MPs:

Dear [insert the name of your MP here],

I am writing to you to express very urgent concerns about the impact that the Government proposals for the reform of legal aid in England and Wales would have on the safety and well-being of women who are at risk of and have experienced gender-based violence and abuse. I am particularly concerned about the proposals on private family law and immigration.

As you will know, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill is moving very quickly through Parliament. It had its second reading on 29 June and is soon moving to committee stage. I urge you to take action against the proposals which will have a negative impact on women and are entirely inconsistent with Government commitments on violence against women and girls.

The Government has announced that legal aid will be retained for private family law matters where domestic violence is an issue, in recognition of the need to ensure that victims of domestic violence are protected. But this is simply not the case. The majority of women who have experienced domestic violence will remain ineligible for legal aid because the evidence that they will be required to present is far too restrictive.

To ensure that all women affected by domestic violence are protected, it is essential that the evidential criteria used reflect the experiences of women and the reality of domestic violence. This must include evidence from specialist domestic violence organisations, health services and social services.  It is also essential that the proposed 12-month time limit is not applied to the evidential criteria. The time limit would mean that a woman who has had a domestic violence injunction in place could not use the injunction as evidence of violence if it expired more than 12 months ago. This simply does not reflect the reality of domestic violence and the high prevalence of post-separation violence.

Furthermore, whilst it is proposed that legal aid will be retained for applications for domestic violence orders (occupation or non-molestation orders) and forced marriage protection orders, it does not appear to be retained for those against whom a protection order is sought. We are concerned that the anticipated surge in litigants in person as a result of the proposals will result in an increase in the number of women being cross-examined by a perpetrator in detail about the physical or sexual violence she has experienced. I believe that legal aid should be available for those against whom a domestic violence injunction is sought, at least for court hearings, to ensure that women are not re-victimised in this way.

I also urge you to question the impact that the proposals to remove immigration from the scope of legal aid will have on women who are vulnerable to gender-based violence and abuse. I have particular concerns about the impact on applicants for indefinite leave to remain under the domestic violence rule, asylum support, family reunification and individuals who have been trafficked into theUnited Kingdom.

For example, I am very concerned that the Government proposes to remove legal aid for applications under paragraph 289A (the domestic violence rule) of the Immigration Rules. This rule offers a critical safety net to protect women from violence by enabling them to leave abusive relationships and regularise their status in the United Kingdom (UK). It was introduced to make sure that women who entered theUKon spousal visas and have been permitted to remain for two years before qualifying for permanent settlement are not trapped in abusive relationships because of concerns over their immigration status. The Government has asserted that these applications are generally straightforward, although it concedes that applicants may benefit from practical help and assistance. Yet the SET(DV) application form which must be completed by applicants under this rule is 18 pages long and must be accompanied by a number of different forms of evidence and a letter from the applicant. Critically, there is no alternative to legal advice in immigration cases such as this; it is a criminal offence for anyone to give immigration advice or services in the UK unless they are qualified to do so.

I urge you to raise these concerns with Government, and question how the proposals for legal aid fit with the Government’s commitments on violence against women and girls.

Yours sincerely,

[insert your name here]

Our blog has now moved onto our main website.  Check it out here, and find IKWRO on twitter and facebook


Despite the fact that by law Sharia Councils are not supposed to adjudicate on family or criminal matters, IKWRO staff know of several women who have been pressured to resolve issues such as marriage breakdown, child custody and domestic violence in informal faith-based ‘courts’ in the UK.  One woman who wanted a divorce from her abusive husband was told she should make her marriage work.  Another was sent home because judges said they would not deal with her while she was menstruating. 

Given stories like this, IKWRO celebrated last week when a new bill was launched in parliament which would limit the remit of Sharia Law in Britain and introduce measures to prevent Muslim Arbitration Tribunals from discriminating against women.

The Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill, introduced by Baroness Cox from the House of Lords, includes several important proposals:

Firstly, it clarifies that family law and criminal law cases must not be decided by arbitration tribunals.  In law, Muslim Arbitration Tribunals and the Jewish equivalent Beth Din can make decisions in cases involving financial and property issues which, under the 1996 Arbitration Act, are enforceable by UK courts.  However, some Muslim tribunals have been practising other areas of law, including divorce, child custody and domestic violence.   The Bill makes it a criminal offence for bodies other than UK courts to claim a remit in these areas, punishable by up to five years in prison.

The Bill will also bring arbitration tribunals under existing rules on sex discrimination, and will outlaw discriminatory practices, such as giving women’s testimony half the weight of men’s and according men greater inheritance and property rights than women.  It will also make it easier for the courts to overturn rulings and agreements which have breached equality legislation or have been reached through duress or intimidation.  The proposals also make clear that women who have experienced domestic violence are witnesses to an offence and therefore should be expressly protected from witness intimidation.

These are really important steps which will help to protect women’s rights, particularly in situations where they have ended their marriages due to domestic violence.  The changes will also help to guarantee equality before the law, and to ensure that basic human rights as recognised in the Human Rights Act and equality legislation are accorded to all.

So what now?

This is a Private Member’s Bill which means it’s been initiated by an individual member of parliament rather than by the government.  IKWRO really wants to see this important bill become an act of parliament, and this is more likely to happen if the Prime Minister gets on board. 

Back in February, David Cameron criticised “state multiculturalism” and advocated a “muscular liberalism” which would do more to promote equality.  Over the coming months, IKWRO will be putting pressure on the Prime Minister to move from words to action, by backing the Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill and making sure it becomes law.

We’ll also be working to get MPs to support the bill, starting by asking them to attend a parliamentary debate on this issue, which is being organised by the One Law for All campaign on June 28.  Find out  more on One Law for All’s website and keep checking our blog for the latest updates.

Our blog has now moved onto our main website.  Check it out here, and find IKWRO on twitter and facebook




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