“One woman, one body, one song, one love” hundreds of women and girls had sung together on the afternoon of 5 March 2022 in London. Gathered by the Million Women Rise (MWR) Movement, they marched from Charing Cross Police Station to New Scotland Yard calling for the end of male violence against women and girls (VAWG) in all its forms.
The march is performed by MWR since 2007 on a Saturday close to International Women’s Day, 8 March. The women, girls, and children only event, is fuelled by women’s rights organizations based in the UK.
Immigrant women living in the country have brought their agenda to the MWR. “We are very happy to join the British feminist movement with our Latin American roots”, Melissa Munz, from Colombia, says. “We have here black women, ingenious women, young women. All women are agents of change. Everyone here has a message, has a contribution to the British society”, she cherishes.
“That is why we are here today, gathering: for making sure everybody knows our rights matter, that women’s rights are human’s rights”, Maria Alvarez Gomez, from Bolivia, tells. She incites: “If we do not have our voices heard, who is going to fight up for us?”
The UK Government as a perpetrator
“El Estado opresor es un macho violador! (An oppressive State is a male perpetrator!)”, shouted Latin-American women participating in the march.
One of the immigrant women’s issues this year is the fight against the current terms of the Nationality and Borders Bill proposed by the UK Government. Many of the proposals within the bill could cause deep harm to migrant victims of serious crime, including, of course, VAWG.
“The government is trying to push through legislation that will make it even harder for women fleeing violence to find safety in the UK”, states Women for Refugee Women.
Besides, “if passed, it will create significant obstacles and harms to people seeking asylum in the UK’s asylum system”, advises Amnesty International UK.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) raised concerns that the bill “would penalise most refugees seeking asylum in the country, creating an asylum model that undermines established international refugee protection rules and practices”.
The Immigration Enforcement Migrant Victims Protocol proposed by the Government aims to establish rules for data sharing between the police and the Home Office.
According to a statement released by Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS) and Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX), this approach will not inspire let alone enhance victims’ confidence in reporting a crime. “This will harm victims and the public interest, as crimes are not reported and investigated, leaving perpetrators free to continue abusing other victims”, the organisations warn.
Research conducted by LAWRS found that 50% of migrant victims of VAWG with insecure immigration status do not report abuse to the police for fear of disbelief, destitution, detention, and deportation.
Perpetrators often exploit women’s insecure status, telling them that if they approach the police they will not be supported and will instead be placed at risk of detention or removal because of their legal status, LAWRS and FLEX denounce.
These organisations supported two amendments to the bill which would ensure that migrant victims of crime can report safely without fear of negative consequences due to their immigration status. Both were rejected by the Government.
This bill is now in its final stages in Parliament, completing its committee stage in the House of Commons on 4 November. People can still send messages to their MPs calling for the change of its terms.
“VAWG is widespread in our society, yet none of our political leaders is willing to truly take this on. Structural and everyday racism mean Black women and children are not believed or protected when we need help. How many more women and girls have to be harmed, raped and murdered before it is recognised as the crisis that it is?”, MWR founding co-ordinator, Sabrina Qureshi, asked in her rally speech.
“We have an immigration system and a police force that are not only structurally flawed they also aid and abet perpetrators of violence by discrediting individual survivors”, she outrages. “Enough is enough! We have had enough!”, is her watchword.
Brazilian Fernanda Porto has lived in the UK for four years. She chose the country after travelling several times for tourism. “I am very happy about being here, I love this city. At the same time, it is hard, we face tons of challenges as immigrants”, she tells. “Despite that, I also have had the opportunity of meeting different women from everywhere, like today in this march, and their stories have been a very rich experience for me,” she tells.
“In our belief, the future is female, but the present is also female, and we will have a feminist society. We all must take the streets and fight for our rights”, Melissa calls.
For Maria, “things have changed but we still have a long way to go. We need to have our voices heard. Women should be free as equal as men, we need equality, we need equity, we should be treated with respect”.