As Women’s History Month 2018 comes to an end I’m left with a feeling that I didn’t have this time last year…What will be our legacy? How will we be remembered by future generations in the Women’s History Months to come?
I’m wondering if we’ll be remembered as the generation of ‘feminists’ who believe that womanhood is synonymous with a person’s genitalia. I’m thinking about yet another high profile rape case with a not guilty verdict this time involving the Ulster Rugby Team players. I’m thinking #IBelieveHer so why doesn’t everyone? I’m thinking about the number of rapes committed verses the number reported to the police verses our countries disgustingly low conviction rate of 7.5%.
I’m thinking about a country that is at war with fat people but not with poverty and its crippling effects of which there are many but not least period poverty. I’m thinking about #blacklivesmatter and how the life expectancy of a trans woman of colour is 35 years old. Will we be remembered for the media blackout surrounding the murder of Naomi Hersi? Or how she was disrespectfully misgendered in the small amount of media coverage that was actually reported? I’m thinking about how there has STILL been no justice for the Grenfell resdients with nearly 100 households still in temporary or emergency housing all these months later. And before Women’s History Month 2018 ends, I’m asking you, WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT YARL’S WOOD?
In 2015, there was an average of more than one suicide attempt every day by detainees in immigration removal centres across the UK. It took Dianne Abbott over a year to gain access from the Home Office into Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal centre after repeated requests to visit some of the most vulnerable women in their care. In February 2018 after prolonged, deplorable and inhumane conditions 120 women began an indefinite hunger strike at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre not only in protest to the unlawful detention of vulnerable women and lack of care from the government but also of their continued detention with no release date.
The government’s persistence in its refusal to acknowledge rape as a means of torture combined with Yarl’s Woods continued breach of its own policy that states that “at risk” or vulnerable people shouldn’t be detained contributes to one of its most deplorable facts - 85% of women detained since 2016 are survivors of rape and other gender-based violence including sex trafficking, forced marriage and female genital mutilation.
And what was the Home Office’s response to these vulnerable women on hunger strike for their basic human rights? They wrote them a letter stating;
It’s time we collectively take responsibility and do something to effect real change. You might not be able to follow every single one of these steps but you will be able to do at least one or two. These women are asking us to use our privilege, amplify their voices and do the following steps. They are asking us to hold ourselves, our country and our government accountable for their treatment. Now is the time for action before it’s too late and this becomes our generations legacy.
What you can do to help:
1. Sign the petition – Show your solidarity with the strikers and force the government to grant their demands.
2. Write to your MP outlining strikers demands, show your support and ask them to address the Yarl's Wood hunger strike in parliament. I know this sounds daunting but it couldn’t be easier. Follow this link to head to the Write To Them website. Input your postcode to send a direct email to your MP, MEP and MSP.
Unsure what to say? No problem! Click here and use this template. All you have to do is input your MP’s name at the beginning of the letter and input your name and address at the end. Easy.
(Full discloser here: I have written to several MP’s, MEP’s and MSP’s and the responses have been painfully disappointing so far but I’m not giving up! I’ll be writing to every single one again to demand action and if you need help and support with this please let me know.)
3. Donate anything you can to SOAS Detainee Support by clicking this link. This organisation attempts to 'break the isolation of immigration and detention and supports people to take control of their cases and resist their imprisonment and deportation'.
4. Make noise. Protest. Tell your family, friends and colleagues to follow these steps. Pass on this information, post signs in solidarity, re-post with the hashtag #HUNGERFORFREEDOM.
Noise making online is a valid and important part of activism but it means nothing unless we are centring the voices of the oppressed and putting their requests at the forefront of our activism. So, follow as many of these steps as you can and pass it on.
The full list of demands from the hunger strikers:
1. Shorter bail request periods
Legally it should 3-5 days, however it can take anywhere up to 21 days, or even a month before you get a bail hearing date
2. Amnesty for those who have lived in the UK 10 years and above
3. End indefinite detention
Detention periods shouldn’t be longer than 28 days
4. End Charter flights
Charter flights are inhumane because there are no prior notifications, or only an oral notification with no warning. They give no time to make arrangements with family.
5. No more re-detention
Re-dention should not be allowed – if you have been detained once, you should not be re-detained if you are complying with the laws they have applied. This is a contradiction, you are being punished for complying with the law; it ruins the whole purpose of expecting compliance
6. End systematic torture
Systematic torture takes place in detention – at any point an officer could turn up and take your room mate; you’re constantly on edge, not knowing what will happen next. Those who are suicidal now have their privacy taken away because they are being watched – you don’t know if an officer is coming to check on you or coming to take you away. Our rooms are searched at random and without warning; they just search first and explain later
7. Stop separating families
Separating families is inhumane – people in here are married or have British partners and have children outside, and they are denied their right to private life and right to privacy; their Article 8 rights
8. No detention of people who came to the UK as children
Young adults who came to the country as minors should not be detained, deported or punished for their parents’ immigration histories
9. The beds need to be changed
Some of us have been here for a year on the same bed; they’re the most uncomfortable beds
10. LGBT+ persons’ sexuality be believed
It should be understood that explaining your sexuality is difficult
11. Fit emergency alarms in every room in the detention centre
Only some rooms have them, and there have been a lot of cases of people being very ill in places where they can’t call for help
12. Give us access to proper healthcare
13. Give us proper food to look after our diets
14. Release people with outstanding applications
15. We want to speak to Alistair Burt MP for the constituency
In a further list of demands they also state:
'We want an end to the Home Office’s of employing detainees to do menial work for £1 per hour, it prays on the vulnerable and forces them to participate in their own detention.'