This statement concerns recent developments at Women’s Aid, England which have culminated in the departure of the organisation’s CEO, Katie Ghose.
We have been deeply disappointed to learn that Ms Ghose had spoken effusively at the UKIP party conference in 2015 in her role as the CEO of the Electoral Reform Society (ERS). We were also alarmed to learn that an ERS fringe event at the same conference had featured an individual who a few months prior, had been widely condemned for publishing an article which was described by the Council of Europe as containing ‘hate speech’.
While Imkaan has not, to date, engaged with this issue on social media, or made a public statement, we understand the outrage that individual women feel and we respect their right to call publicly for accountability from Women's Aid. From the outset, Imkaan raised the matter directly with the organisation’s trustees, and we worked hard to manage this carefully, giving Women’s Aid an opportunity to address this situation using its own processes. We wish to openly acknowledge that countless hours of Black women’s labour have been expended in attempting to manage this situation. We have worked alongside other Black women in the sector to balance our own concerns with a degree of 'containment', in order to limit damage to the sector and to member services. We have taken pains to avoid public ‘calling out’, despite our own disappointment and outrage. We have maintained a solidarity with Women’s Aid while demanding accountability. This has not been easy.
Imkaan is a Black feminist organisation, operating from a strong anti-racist position. Our values call on us to hold the line against all forms of oppression including racism, xenophobia, transphobia, homophobia, classism, ageism and ableism. While we will not always get it ‘right’, this approach is at the heart of how we work, because our organisational values are formed collaboratively by staff who have a meaningful relationship with and commitment to ending violence against women and girls, including through disrupting structures of harm and inequality.
Views expressed by an individual who has referred to people who migrate to Europe as ‘cockroaches’, and a party which may have gained a certain respectability through engagement in political processes, but has nevertheless built much of its momentum through narratives of hate, are abhorrent. Racist and xenophobic rhetoric and campaign policies are also a dangerous mandate for the dehumanisation and violent treatment of our Black and minoritised communities. Any facilitation, endorsement or enthusiastic praise of such individuals and organisation is highly problematic and represents an approach that we believe to be in direct opposition to the values that our sector should uphold.
As social justice work has become more corporatised, there is an increasing emphasis on being ‘strategic’, with values taking a backseat. But this is not simply about ideology vs. strategic pragmatism. The increased acceptability of hate speech in our political processes has fostered a wider culture of impunity for the individuals and institutions that perpetrate violence against us. We are the ones who are being subjected to racist verbal and physical assaults. We are the ones who are being told to ‘go home’. Thus while many of us may seek common ground across a number of lines, we cannot do so with those that normalise hate.
We also believe that while these recent developments must give us pause for thought and action, it is important to acknowledge that this incident is not standalone or isolated. The women’s movement in this country has always struggled with these issues. At Imkaan, we see the manifestations of this in how specialist BME organisations are marginalised at local and regional levels by their white counterparts. This particular moment in time simply reminds us of the danger of not centring grassroots, intersectional feminist values in any work to end violence against women and girls. It is a painful truth that as the women’s sector has grown and become more and more formalised, it has developed in a way which reflects broader society, rather than disrupting some of the core elements of structural inequality. This means that racism and xenophobia, for example, have been woven into some of parts of the work, albeit in more nuanced ways. It is, therefore, necessary that we continue to learn, challenge, and grow together; moving through the discomfort of this truth to find meaningful ways of working.
As we reflect on these issues, we know that it is true that we all make mistakes and we all transgress. The ultimate test is whether we truly understand the harm that we have caused and whether we are willing to be accountable to, not necessarily those that can shout the loudest, but to those that are least heard.
These developments have emerged in a period where our focus and energies must be firmly committed to our work. African-American author and educator Professor Toni Morrison reminds us that “The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work”. At Imkaan, we understand with deep intimacy the strengths and fragilities of our sector and as such we are dedicated to moving forward with our work. We will do so in continued cooperation and solidarity with our sister organisations, but we necessarily remain rooted in our Black feminist practice. Our collective liberation and indeed our very lives depend on this.