By now I’m sure many people know from the media, that February 2018 marks 100 years since (some) women first won the electoral vote in the UK. As well as learning about the suffrage movement and its long trajectory to February 1918, this offers us a chance to reflect on how far we have come since then, as well as how much still needs to change for true equality to be realised.
As an organisation established to connect and empower migrant women though our conversation workshops, Xenia works primarily with women who have to fight harder and longer for basic rights to this day. In solidarity with these women, Xenia has pledged our support to the #AllWomenCount lobby on parliament, which demands safety, dignity and liberty for all women. The event will take place on International Women’s Day, 8th March, in which migrant and refugee women will share their stories in parliament.
#AllWomenCount reminds us, on the centenary year of women’s suffrage, not to forget those women whose voices too often go unheard. Many refugee and migrant women in the UK do not have the right to vote, and yet are affected by laws and policies decided in Westminster – including the fact that since 2010, there has been a 60% real terms cut to ESOL provision in the UK, which particularly affects migrant women with children in accessing ESOL classes. We have seen the effects of these cuts on Xenia participants’ lives; some are unable to access free ESOL classes near to where they live; a lack of ESOL qualifications makes it difficult for some to secure stable employment; and others have found themselves isolated and lonely without the ability to confidently speak to others in English. Whilst Xenia helps to address some of these issues by giving women the chance to practice their English and make friends at our sessions, they are only made to complement ESOL classes, and are not a substitute for formal lessons.
At Xenia, we encourage all our participants to use their voice and share their stories, which is why we have held sessions on themes such as Politics and Political Dissent and Making Our Voices Heard. English-speaking participants have helped those learning English write to their local MPs about issues that affect them as migrant women. As part of our pledge to make #AllWomenCount, we too have written to our local MPs, Diane Abbott and Meg Hillier, to invite them to come along to the event and sign the #AllWomenCount pledge.
We urge everyone who wants to empower and protect migrant women to sign the pledge and invite your local MP to attend the lobby on the 8th March. Whilst the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage brings an opportunity for celebration, as Audre Lorde once said “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
Find out more about the All Women Count campaign here