Exploring the intergenerational trauma suffered by minorities and women

How many of our instinctive habits are results of our ancestors’ experiences of inequality and discrimination? 

For years, I have known what the concept of ‘intergenerational trauma’ was, but I’d always thought about it as something that affected other people — something I didn’t really need to think about much apart from just to be aware of. Other people I know may have conflicts with their parents or particular genetic traits that are a result of trauma suffered previously, but this doesn’t apply to me. Or so I thought. 

As I grew into adulthood and began to feel an even stronger passion for issues relating to equality to justice, I started thinking about the extent to which the treatment my ancestors received affects me now and the extent to which traits my parents have adopted — that I often disagree with or don’t understand — are a result of what they experienced and what their parents told them. 

I am a first-generation (culturally, more second-generation) immigrant and a minoritised ethnic woman. My parents are from very poor backgrounds, and I’d say I spent my early childhood in a low-income household even though I am now fairly privileged. 

Does the fact that much of my early childhood was spent discussing budgets and affordability as a matter of necessity explain why I am prone to buying things on an impulse if I have the money? Or is that just a personal flaw I would have had anyway?

I don’t know, but what I do know is that the racism and sense of otherness my parents experienced upon moving to the UK is likely why we had countless arguments about how I felt English or British even though my parents maintained no one would ever see me as anything other than foreign (or from my country of birth). It might be the reason I’ve ended up with a quite noticeably ‘typically English’ accent. It is definitely the reason I still have personal insecurities and worries about being good enough or fitting in. 

My parents’ experiences of society are part of why, with recent discussions about misogyny and violence against women, I recently suddenly remembered quite clearly examples of when male family friends would stay with us when I was a girl. They were perfectly nice, normal people, but my parents would tell me to make sure I locked my door at night because these were lone men, and you could never be too safe.

I’m sure I’m not the only woman who grew up being reminded not to walk home alone at dark if at all avoidable, not to have headphones in, not to get too drunk, among many precautions we’re conditioned to take for our own safety. Why? Because this is what our mothers learned to do to protect themselves and what our fathers learned needed to be instilled in their daughters. 

Passing on the lessons we have learned is admirable and more than valid, but, as a self-professed empowered woman, I want to make an active effort to evaluate the habits I have adopted and see which are the result of societal inequalities that need to be combatted. 

I can take precautions for my own safety, but I should not need to. Misogyny and violence against women need to be addressed adequately. 

Budgeting is a healthy habit to have, but I should be conscious of living as my current circumstances dictate and not in an instinctive reaction to my previous circumstances. 

My ‘Englishness’ can be a source of amusement for those close to me and something I can be proud of, but it should not overcompensate for my insecurities. Racism, discrimination, and xenophobia are serious problems in society that are seemingly spiralling out of control. 

Intergenerational trauma is partly the result of an inherent need for survival, but it is also exactly that: trauma. We must fight the causes of the trauma rather than expecting generation upon generation to simply adapt. 

Posted in Active citizenship, Advocacy, BAME, british, Campaigning, Citizenship, discrimination, Diversity, Ethnic Minorities, girls, Inclusion, mental health, Politics, Racism, Society, Violence, Violence Against Women, We At JAN Trust, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dealing with information overload

We have more access to information now than previous generations have ever had—with both historical and new information co-existing, it can be hard to process everything that we are seeing daily, especially when two pieces of information contradict each other.

This information can include new media, news articles, advertisements, new stimuli or environments, a change to physical senses, new facts, or emotion.

When the amount of information you receive is overwhelming, it can make you more anxious and unable to make decisions. This is called ‘information overload’. For those with neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD, ASD, and sensory processing disorders, the effects of information overload can be long-term, and detrimental to both personal development and mental health. 

I have had my fair share of dealing with information overload. As someone who is neurodivergent, I am much more sensitive towards receiving information or processing something than somebody without a mental illness or neurodevelopmental disorder. 

Information overload can increase my anxiety—often, I have not finished processing a piece of information before a new one rapidly comes in, leaving me feeling as though I am slow, behind, or ‘missing out’ in some sense.

Information overload can happen in seemingly mundane places. One of the first places I was able to recognise information overload was in a supermarket. The artificial lights, large discount adverts, and trolley noises made me feel overwhelmed. For a long time, I was unable to go into the supermarket unless it was empty.

For a lot of people, information overload is most common at work. With the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been harder for people to adjust to 5 working days in an office, especially for those who have spent 18 months working from home. The new, consistent stimuli and large workloads have left people overwhelmed, even if they felt comfortable in the same office before.

For some people, this consistent feeling of being overwhelmed deteriorates their mental and emotional health. For people with ADHD, information overload can disrupt their emotional regulation. This can cause them to feel disoriented, both physically and mentally. For people with autism, information overload can lead to meltdowns.

As we continue to gain more access to information, this overload can have disastrous long-term effects without intervention. Denying neurodivergent people safe spaces is cruel and can cause long-term distress on top of the neurodevelopmental conditions that people face.

Unfortunately, the recent COVID-19 pandemic highlights how BAME people have been overwhelmingly disrupted by physical environments. The intersection of the pandemic and protests against police brutality in June 2020 highlights the information overload presented to BAME groups—information that has emotional significance even without an overload. 

For BAME adults, mental health issues have been reported more frequently as a result of this overload. For neurodivergent BAME adults, the feeling of sensory or information overload must feel constant amongst political and medical unrest.

Although I am White and cannot fully understand the experiences of neurodivergent BAME people, I can offer recommendations for dealing with overloads. Whether it is sensory or information overload, in both cases the best way to deal with an overload is minimising stimuli.

This can occur through greater accessibility of items such as noise-cancelling headphones and weighted blankets, which reduce distress surrounding noise and touch overloads respectively. Having work environments which are quieter, less busy, and contain more natural light can also reduce distress for both neurotypical and neurodivergent people. When this is not possible, having items and toys which stimulate people are key towards distracting people in stressful environments.

Compassion is also key. Being able to identify your triggers, which information is overwhelming, and when to remove stimuli is important towards adapting your environments. Ensuring your environment is not overwhelming is important and allows you to be more compassionate towards yourself. It also allows you to help others when they are feeling overwhelmed.

It is not an easy process, and  it has only been recently that I discovered I am neurodivergent. I still have boundaries to establish for my own sensory processing needs, but being open about when I am overwhelmed opens a new dialogue for others. And hopefully, everyone walks away from that dialogue a little kinder—both to other people and themselves.

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FGM: mutilating the lives of girls

It’s hard to deny that COVID has changed the world. Upon the onset of the pandemic, our world completely flipped, and many of us were happy that we no longer had to wake up early to head to school or work. However, the disruption of education has had negative consequences for many young girls around the world.  Two million girls, who would otherwise be safe from genital mutilation, are believed to be at risk over the next decade as a direct result of the virus.

Female genital mutilation involves the partial or complete removal of the external genitalia. It is a prevalent ritual linked to gender inequality and the acceptance of violence against women in society. Considered a “coming of age” ritual, it is sometimes wrongly associated with religious beliefs, despite no religious scripture mandating the ritual. In fact, it is a highly dangerous act, that has countless of negative health consequences — both physical and psychological. Girls experience pain and bleeding as a result of the procedure, and because of the traumatic nature of the procedure — girls are forcibly held down by multiple people with mouths covered to muffle screams — it leads to mistrust of caregivers and health professionals, feelings of anxiety and depression and PTSD, thereby mutilating their lives. The procedure also has many long-lasting implications including chronic pain, chronic pelvic infections, genital ulcers, infection of the reproductive system, and decreased sexual enjoyment.  A study carried out by the WHO, covering six African countries, showed that women who had their genitals mutilated had increased risks during childbirth and an additional one to two babies per 100 delivered stillborn. 

Some ask whether female genital mutilation is comparable to male circumcision. Medicalising FGM does not make the procedure safer because it still involves the removal and damaging of healthy tissue and the interference of the natural functions of the female body. While there is no health-related need for the removal of the foreskin of the penis, it is still a minor intervention which does not interfere at all with any of the body’s functions. Beyond this, while one can argue that both procedures are rooted in cultural reasons, female circumcision is rooted in cultural beliefs about women needing to be sexually repressed and controlled with some supporting it as a means of eliminating ‘sexual promiscuity of girls’, as female genital mutilation makes sex painful. 

FGM is “inherently sexist and discriminatory and is an expression of male power and domination” while male circumcision has nothing to do with power and men still enjoy sex afterwards. Indeed, the WHO has recommended circumcision in countries with high endemic HIV rates as it has been found to reduce female to male HIV transmission. These differences, however, do not eliminate the need for there to be more regulation regarding male circumcision. 

There is a movement for the criminalisation of male circumcisions, with many saying if FGM is banned in western countries, so should male circumcision. However, this is not a competition. Even if one thinks male circumcision is more harmful than FGM, it does not nullify the argument that FGM is still a barbaric practice that must be eliminated. With parents seeing school closures as an opportunity to cut their daughters and then marry them off, there is an even more pressing need for increased support for the eradication of FGM. Schools have provided the girls security and safety from being victim to this damaging ritual. Because there was confusion and uncertainty about when the schools would open again — if ever — they have put their kids through female genital mutilation before they are married off. For many families, marrying off their daughters has been a means to improve their financial instability that has been worsened as a result of the pandemic. However, by doing so, they are mutilating their daughters’ lives. Not only does FGM by itself increase the risk of health problems, but with the combination of child marriage, which the majority of the time is forced, it causes sexual and emotional dysfunction in the marriage and trauma that will last a lifetime. 

The increasing prevalence of FGM is of worry. FGM violates many of the rights that children hold under the Convention on the Rights of the Child including the right to not be discriminate against, to be protected from all forms of violence and maltreatment, and the right to the highest attainable standard of health. JAN Trust is a strong advocate for this cause, having launched the campaign ‘Against FGM’, which consists of workshops in schools, colleges, statutory agencies and community groups, to help students, teachers, and frontline practitioners detect cases of FGM and know how to support victims with sensitivity.

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No diversity leads to patriarchal research: why diversity is so necessary for universities to be able to thrive

Diversity is a beautiful thing: every single person has a different perspective due to their unique background as they are of a different race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and age to the next person. Without diversity, our world and lives would be dull. Diversity must be celebrated in all facets of life: at schools and universities, in the workplace, in media and television, in sport, and in the government. Unfortunately, racist and prejudicial beliefs dominate society and faculty at higher institutions, which tend to be overwhelmingly White, with the highest positions predominately filled by men.

In 2020, less than 1% of the professors employed at UK universities were Black and only a few universities employed more than two Black professors. On the other hand, 85% identified as White. Even more shockingly, only 25 Black women were employed as professors at UK universities and no Black staff were employed in the most senior levels of leadership roles in 2018-2019.

Does it make a difference if the faculty does not accurately represent the actual demographics of the population of the country? Absolutely.

Representation is necessary for a discipline to develop and strengthen. Early pioneers of evolutionary biology were men and almost all studies of primate behaviour were conducted by men who supported Darwin’s theories of evolutionary biology: men competed for access to passive females and the dominant male primate had access to or would be chosen by all the females. It was never considered that females played a more active role in mating. However, when female biologists such as Sarah Hardy conducted field studies, they found that female primates in fact did compete for rank and resources and sometimes solicited with multiple males at the same time. As Sarah Hardy wrote, “When a female lemur or bonobo dominated a male, or a female langur left her group to solicit strange males, a woman field worker might be more likely to follow, watch, and wonder than to dismiss such behavior as a fluke”. Living in a patriarchal society, the primatologists’ adopted selective memory, only paying attention or remembering observations that favoured their view of a patriarchal society, ignoring observations that challenged it. However, through diversity and representation, a century of scientific assumptions was undermined, eroding the bias and developing the discipline.

Olivette Otele was appointed as history professor at Bath Spa University as the UK’s first Black professor of history as she had to overcome the belief that Black people cannot study colonialism without bias. Otele said she has faced people’s opinion that “as a black person… [she]… would be too partial to look at evidence”. While a Black historian may be tempted to only use facts that present their viewpoint, the truth is that there is some bias present in everyhistorian’s work, regardless of background. Lack of representation will simply favour only the biased viewpoint of represented groups. This jeopardises the development of the discipline, as students who represent the future of the discipline are taught the same perspective and will then be wired to analysing the knowledge in the same way.

Beyond the quality of research produced and bias in teaching, diversity is necessary for creating a more inclusive culture that caters to students of all backgrounds. Low levels of diversity have an impact on BAME students’ sense of belonging within the institution and their perceptions on the possibility of pursuing an academic career . It is important for students to have mentors they can look up to and ask for advice, and it can be more beneficial if the mentor is of a similar background as they can understand struggles better. Without mentors and staff from similar backgrounds, students can be reluctant to ask for help and gain support.

Academia prides itself on its creativity and constant innovation but without diverse individuals, this creativity and innovation is hindered. 

Something similar to The Rooney Rule — a rule regulating hiring practices established in the NFL — could be implemented. The rule mandates that at least one minority candidate must be interviewed for all head coaching spots, allowing more diverse candidates to be interviewed and therefore potentially hired. Additionally, organisations should require employees to take mandatory workshops and training to eradicate bias and racist attitudes. 

JAN Trust offers award winning workshops that can help make the workplace friendlier and more inclusive. We also deliver workshops covering CV writing, interview techniques, confidence building, amongst other things, for minority ethnic individuals. If you are interested in any of our work, please contact us through our website or at info@jantrust.org.

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How it feels to be in between ‘straight’ and ‘plus’ size in a fast-fashion world

Fast fashion has become a hot topic of conversation, with numerous online discourses. These discourses surround the ethics of buying cheaper, poorly made clothes compared to buying expensive, sustainable clothing. Discourse also extends to the argument that buying any new clothing is unsustainable, with the focus being on buying second-hand.

I have been trying my own hand at consciously shopping, buying second-hand clothing. I have spent numerous hours browsing Depop, searching for clothes from students looking to sell older clothes rather than big-name brands. I have grown to love meandering around charity shops, picking up gems of clothing amidst cheap books and trinkets. It’s been eye-opening. It’s also been unexpectedly emotional.

It’s a subject that I never thought would be sensitive to me. However, as I’ve dug deeper into my own feelings on the subject, I have thought more about the distinct groups of ‘straight’ and ‘plus’ size clothing. I have thought of the options both of those groups have when it comes to clothing beyond fast-fashion, and what the options for those ‘in-between’ straight and plus size groups have to shop sustainably. It’s allowed me to carve a firmer identity—who am I, which category does my body belong to?

Straight sizes are frequently represented, regardless of the ethics of clothing sellers. They are the sizes always available in branded shops, the ones with cheaper items on second-hand sites, their bodies represented in thrift shops. People who fit into ‘straight size’, which is considered to be sUK size 10 and under, are often the ones pushing for sustainable, second-hand clothing. They remain unaware that, despite the growing acceptance of plus sizes in shops, there are few options for larger sizes to shop ethically.

Even though the average woman is a UK size 16, the size that plus size lines often start at, a size 12 is considered a ‘plus’ size to the fashion industry. The idea of what makes a person ‘plus sized’ has become distorted, leaving women who wear larger sizes feeling excluded from fashion. As a result of this, plus-sized women feel uncomfortable shopping at second-hand shops or more sustainable brands.

To add further insult, plus size women often cannot find their clothing styles in shops, forced to choose between unfamiliar clothes or shopping unsustainably, where straight size women can try new clothing trends easily regardless of where they shop. This could leave guilt within plus-sized women, who are pressured to buy sustainably or second-hand, but cannot find any clothing that assists in expressing their identity.

For me, someone who is neither straight nor plus size, the effect is similar. When I first started venturing into buying second-hand, I would feel dejected minutes after opening an app. It was hard to see clothes that I couldn’t have. It felt like a taunt. I felt too big to wear the style I wanted to wear—but too small to shop plus-sized. I would feel guilty at the idea of taking clothing meant for women in larger sizes, conscious of the options already limited for plus-sized women. 

It took a long time, but over the years I have begun to accept my body for what it is, rather than how the media defines me. After years of being told I must be too big, the realisation that there are millions of women ‘in between’, just like me, has been eye-opening. My body is in-between, and that is okay.

Once I showed my own body some compassion, my world got larger. I began to see how tailored the clothing industry is towards straight-sized bodies. It allowed me to look beyond it, and begin to both wear the clothes that I want and wear clothes that don’t contribute towards fast fashion. My self-esteem improved.

But, I am lucky. There are many women who are still trapped by the standards of the clothing industry, feeling trapped by constant advertisements of how women should look. It’s an issue we must come together to address. We must focus on the women whose self-esteems are lowered by the fashion industry.

We cannot lose hope. The future of fashion is carved by consumers. It is an evolving process and, hopefully, the growing acceptance of plus-size bodies online can inspire the fashion industry to include both sustainable and accessible clothing for every body type. Disengaging with articles and media that only fuel body dysmorphia is the first step. Self-acceptance is the next. If we begin to show our own bodies some kindness, we can begin to show kindness to all types of bodies and appreciate our differences. 

JAN Trust has a long history of supporting women and we work hard to ensure that women feel empowered within their communities. We offer to mentor women, assisting in their personal development through the experiences of counsellors, entrepreneurs, and activists. Through mentoring programs such as ours, women can feel empowered in their bodies rather than being discouraged by advertisements and media.

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Only MEN in GOVERNMENT?

Challenging the Taliban’s belief that women have no place in politics. 

On 7th September, the Taliban announced that they had formed the new Government of Afghanistan after they took control of more than 90% of the country and seized Kabul, the capital, last month. From Prime Minister to Interior Minister, the 33 roles have been unmistakably filled by only men. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs seems to have been forgotten and abolished completely. Women do not hold any major positions of power, as if they are not a part of Afghanistan’s population.

The Taliban has claimed that they have changed since they last ruled the country in the late 1990s and into the 21st country, until the US troops arrived in Afghanistan after 9/11, and that their policies will be more relaxed and supportive of women’s rights. Under the Taliban’s previous rule, women were confined to their homes and did not work or study as they were not allowed to leave the home without being accompanied by a male relative. This time round, they have vowed to respect women’s rights within “the norms of Islamic law”; however, with the lack of any women in the government, their statements that they want to form an “inclusive, Islamic government” are meaningless and empty.

Women’s political participation is extremely important because research has indicated that the gender of the legislator has a significant impact on their policy priorities and the types of solutions proposed. Women tend to champion a high quality of life and respond to citizens’ needs better than men, reflecting the priorities of families, women, and ethnic and racial minorities. Women’s political participation has also been found to result in tangible gains for democracy and increased cooperation across any party and ethnic lines; hence, with Afghanistan being a multi-ethnic country, women representation in the government could be hugely advantageous. Furthermore, Afghanistan is a war-ravaged country, and as a result has an extremely low human development index, so it could really benefit from women playing an active role in the government, as women tend to prioritise health, education, and other key development indicators. 

Prior to the Taliban takeover, Afghan woman made up 27% of the parliament — well over the world average of women representation in parliaments, which was found to be 25% in 2020 . Nearly half of the civil service jobs in the Afghan ministries were held by women. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case, and this must be changed. It is important that the voices of Afghan women are amplified because of the great potential of change they can bring to the country. A 30% benchmark should be the goal as this is the minimum amount of representation that allows a “critical mass” to be achieved. This is when there is a considerable minority within legislators, allowing the minority to have a significant impact on the legislation that is formed. The Taliban’s plan of a few token individuals in lower positions is far from enough. While the Taliban’s government is far from democratically legitimate, having the government be more inclusive of the diverse range of groups of a population can increase support and therefore lead to more effective governance. 

Beyond just reaching a quota, it is important that a diverse range of women are included; inclusion of women of different ages, ethnic groups, cities and religions allows different perspectives to be brought to the table, which is vital in ensuring that policy and law represents the needs of the whole population rather than a select group.

Women are intelligent, talented, and skilful, and they must have the same rights and power as men in the decision-making process at all levels. JAN Trust offers workshops covering CV writing, interview techniques, confidence building, amongst other things, for minority ethnic women. For more information, and to read more about how we empower women to take active roles in society, please do have a look round our website. 

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Obesity: a social problem, not an individual one

In light of obesity becoming more widespread, especially amongst those living in poverty, the government needs to recognise that obesity is a social problem, not an individual one.

Recently, the King’s Fund released a report on obesity in the UK which said that obesity is fast becoming “a disease of England’s poorest people”. They show that the rates of obesity-related hospital admissions in the most deprived areas of England are 2.4 times greater than in the least deprived areas. This is indicative of a myriad of inequalities in society, including inequalities in health, housing, and employment. However, from the government’s side, the issue is framed more as something that individuals are responsible for, rather than a social problem stemming from poverty and disparities.

The current government policies made to combat obesity include requiring restaurants to display the number of calories in each dish, sugar reduction in the products that children consume the most, and encouraging people to do more physical activity and to join weight loss schemes — which are often expensive and time-consuming. However, these policies are simplistic and fail to address the root problems of poverty and inequality. Instead, the policies both come off as condescending and do not fit the reality of those living in poverty, which make them symptomatic of the tendency of the government to throw policies at a problem without tackling the actual problem. Additionally, they fail to recognise the diversity of weight-related issues in society, and the policies can be really harmful to those suffering from eating disorders.

Telling a single parent of several children — with single parents being more likely to live in poverty — who is working long hours, and who may even be starving themselves in order to feed their children, that they should give their children healthier food and that they need to exercise will do nothing to help, and borders on absurd. Jennie, a single mother of three sons in Redbridge, says that she “would like to afford proper meals for [her] sons and [herself]”, a sentiment echoed by most parents living in poverty. They would also like to afford to pay for their children to join after school clubs where they could do sports, and live in areas with more green spaces, but they do not have the means to do so. The main problem is not lack of knowledge or lack of will — it is lack of money and lack of time. However, the government does not seem to recognise this, and, considering the wholly inadequate free lunch packages that were issued in January, which neither contained enough food, nor ingredients which could be used to make the type of healthy meals that they are encouraging parents to make for their children, they are not doing anything to shift the focus of the discussion on obesity from individuals to society.

It is also important to recognise that not all people who live in poverty are the same or have the same circumstances. There are young people, without children, who live in poverty, often because they are struggling to find work. There are pensioners who live in poverty because their pension is low and they do not have much or any money saved themselves. BAME communities also face particular challenges, and are more likely to live in poverty than British White people: nearly half of BAME households live in poverty, and 10% of adults from BAME backgrounds live in deep poverty. Part of the reason why they are more at risk of falling into poverty is the benefit cap and the two-child limit on child support, as well as a tendency for those from ethnic minorities to have lower wages. Not all of these groups will benefit from the same support and the same interventions.

A further issue faced by those from BAME communities is that they are more likely to suffer from comorbidities of obesity. For example, people of South Asian descent are six times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those of European descent, and three times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. However, there is very little research on how and why this happens, and what can be done to prevent it. As such, White bias and racism also play into the issue of obesity and require specific policies and attention. 

Obesity is a complex problem, where many factors come into play, and therefore requires a complex solution. There needs to be a recognition that not everyone who lives in poverty is the same and faces the same risks, and that obesity cannot be tackled without addressing deep-seated inequalities and poverty in society. Telling people to eat less sugar when they barely have food on the table is not going to help.

At JAN Trust we recognise the need to work with communities to help them solve problems they face, rather than take a top-down approach. It is due to our grassroots work with BAME women that we have been able to create the programmes we run, and we work continuously to make them even better and more adapted to the needs of the communities.

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If I’m terrified for my own safety, what about women who don’t have the same support as me?

How bad must the fear be for marginalised minority women who don’t have a solid support system and may even have to deal with suffering domestic abuse alone?

Many women in the country are grappling with the fear of going out at night or going out alone, and balancing this with not just becoming a recluse. 

I am no exception. 

Even before violence against women became such a topical news issue, I was already wary of being outside alone when it’s dark. It’s not something I necessarily always talk to other people about, but I feel like it’s one of those things that many women and girls instinctively develop — just like we always text each other when we get home safely and tell other people when we’re taking a cab or public transport. 

As it seems like life is gradually going back to ‘normal’ and people go back to work in offices, I’ve begun to go to London more after moving back in with my family to be closer during the pandemic. Unfortunately, this has come with a lot of fear and anxiety about being on the streets of London in the dark once more — to be honest, even just being back in London. 

I wasn’t expecting how much this would affect me and not everyone around me has been that understanding or helpful. But I have also had support from many close to me who have listened to my worries and soothed them without making me feel silly, been there for me through more than a couple of meltdowns, and have even changed plans to avoid leaving me alone. 

Recently, I was venting about how I hated feeling like this and how I hated that I even have to feel like this. Whilst venting, it occurred to me that, even though I was in a terrible mood and frame of mind, I was still being honest about my feelings to someone I trusted — someone who I knew would do their best to make me feel better. 

At least I have support. 

At least there are good transport links near where I live so I don’t normally have to walk very far. 

At least I have devices that come with their own safety features. 

I may be a minoritised ethnic woman, but at least I have many people around me who are extremely unlikely to be brushed off by the authorities if something were to happen to me. 

I couldn’t — and still can’t — help but think about the many women in the country who don’t have even these ‘minimum’ support and safety measures, through no fault of their own. These are women who have just as much worth, potential, and right to safety as the rest of us, but society places them at an automatic disadvantage. 

If I’m terrified, and I have a brilliant support system and the knowledge that I would get justice if anything bad were to hypothetically happen to me, what about the women who don’t have the same privileges as me?

It’s not a thought that is pleasant to think about in the slightest. 

Part of my work with JAN Trust involves amplifying the voices of these marginalised minoritised women to make sure that their concerns receive the attention they deserve. My worries aren’t all minimised because others may ‘have it worse’, but I have to acknowledge that these people exist, and it’s part of my duty as a person in my position to try to make life better for them. 

Posted in Advocacy, BAME, british, Ethnic Minorities, forced marriage, Forced Marriages, girls, mental health, Muslim women, Politics, Sexual Violence, Society, Violence, Violence Against Women, We At JAN Trust, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t touch my hair!

Non-straight hair is beautiful, normal, and above all human. 

While we have made strides in becoming a more inclusive society, Western Eurocentric beauty ideals are still ingrained in our society, creating a society that is hostile towards non-European physical features. The standardisation of straight hair is due to straight hair being the common hair type among White people. Straight hair is ‘good hair’: neater, more professional, and the only type of hair that deserves a seat on the table. Black women and men are repeatedly discriminated against in the workplace, in places of education, in sporting competitions, and in the media because of the texture of their hair. 

Here in the UK, Black students’ hair is disproportionately policed at school. In 2020, Ruby Williams was awarded £8,500 after successfully challenging her school’s discriminatory behaviour towards her hair. She was repeatedly sent home from school because her teachers claimed that her afro hair was against the uniform policy and was blocking other students’ view of the whiteboard. It’s absurd that something as uncontrollable as hair is being discriminated against. A child wouldn’t be barred from school because their height is blocking the view of other kids. So why is hair — which is essentially doing the same blocking that height does — punished? 

The reality is that hidden under these absurd excuses is racism. Upon arrival in the Americas, enslaved Africans would have their intricate hairstyles expressing their ethnic identity shaved off to erase their tribal identities and cultures. This homogenised the slave population and created a population of hairless, ‘cultureless’ slaves in an attempt to dehumanise them. The concept of “good hair” (remember Beyonce’s famous lyric “Becky with the good hair”?) then developed when mixed raced children were born from relationships between the slave owners and the slaves. These offspring had looser curls, creating a beauty standard for Black women to strive for as their natural curls were deemed as inferior. 

Today, Black people still experience discrimination in the workplace and school through racist uniform policies. More prevalent though, are microaggressions that Black individuals experience in their day-to-day lives, with at least 93% of Black people with Afro hair in the UK having experienced microaggressions related to their hair. Unlike blatant racism, microaggressions are subtle and are mostly unintentional discriminatory statements, actions, or behaviour. Despite being called “micro”, they can be as damaging as overt racism, regardless the intent. 

These aggressions can be incredibly hard to navigate because of the lack of awareness and the discomfort for the person who is subject to the aggression to explain their lack of appreciation of the comment. So, often they are ignored, but, because they are ignored, it can make the individual feel self-doubt and that they are less than worthy to be heard and understood. And, because the offender does not intend to be racist, when confronted, they tend to be very unwilling to accept that their comment or behaviour has caused offence. 

A common microaggression Black people experience is the touching of their hair; a study by Pantene found uninvited hair-touching was one of the most common types of microaggressions, with nearly half of the respondents experiencing it. While such an act seems harmless, although perhaps a bit strange, it makes one feel less “normal” — like an animal at a zoo or a type of circus act that people can’t help but touch due to curiosity. 

It is belittling act, making one feel like an outsider and hence people must be educated about it. Organisations should require employees to take mandatory workshops and training to eradicate biased and racist attitudes. JAN Trust offers award-winning workshops that raise awareness of how we can make the world a more tolerant, friendlier place, and actively campaigns against all forms of racism and discrimination. 

Posted in Active citizenship, Advocacy, BAME, british, discrimination, Diversity, Ethnic Minorities, girls, Inclusion, Racism, Representation, Society, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In The Era Of Online Dating, How Do We Recognise Forced Marriages?

Over the past few years, the idea of ‘dating’ has changed significantly. 

What was once about finding the courage to ask the cute guy or girl for their number or out for dinner has shifted to an anonymous presence dropping you a message over one of the many dating apps the world has to offer. Although these apps have allowed many to find love in places they never knew they would, has it also made us more oblivious to the darker side of dating? For some, dating is not the heartwarming experience most of us get, but one that leads to something significantly more detrimental: forced marriage. 

Understanding and recognising the signs of forced marriage is hard enough as it is. With the addition of more people engaging online, and fewer people engaging in person, it is becoming easier for forced marriages to go unnoticed. A forced marriage is when one or both of the people involved cannot or do not consent to the marriage, but are forced to go ahead with it. It is a human rights abuse that occurs all over the world, predominantly impacting women and girls. Not only is a forced marriage disallowing someone to make their own decisions, but it is also frequently coupled with other forms of abuse, including physical and sexual abuse. 

Unfortunately, some dating sites have been used as a haven for individuals to abuse vulnerable women and manipulate them into marriage. One site, realmeets, is specifically set up for people to find someone to marry almost immediately, with many women on there looking to come from other countries to the UK. This vulnerability makes them susceptible to abuses such as forced marriage, with the other person offering them their ‘dream’ in return for marrying them. 

The harm that forced marriages can cause to people is exponential. These arrangements are mentally and physically exhaustive and are limiting in every way. Being able to recognise the signs of forced marriage is the first step to stopping it. In 2012, the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) had 1500 phone calls regarding concerns about forced marriage, with 82% involving women and a huge number being under 25 years old. Many were taken abroad to marry people they’d never met and then left there rather than coming home to the UK. 

Victims of forced marriage, or those who are at risk may be under pressure from their families, might not openly disclose this information, but it might be exerted in a number of ways. They may become depressed or utilise self-harming behaviours. They may feel they are bringing shame on their families. They may become withdrawn or isolated. They may have suddenly moved away to be with a new husband. They secretively begin asking about contraception. They may have injuries that are related to domestic violence. They may ask about terminating a pregnancy. All of these indicators could be signs of someone being forced into a marriage, however, they become significantly harder to notice when socialising moves to the online world. 

With all the good that online dating has brought to people’s lives, it’s difficult to write it off, and that’s not the intention here. However, it is important to recognise that if our whole lives are online, then people’s lives become isolated, and more and more people become vulnerable to these sorts of risks. Making sure there is time for face-to-face interaction will enable us to continue our fight against forced marriage. At JAN Trust, we work with the community by providing training and raising awareness of the impact and signs of forced marriage. If you would like to learn more about our work, visit www.jantrust.org/project/against-forced-marriage/. By raising awareness of this issue and reminding ourselves to take the time to check in on people, together we can bring an end to this abuse. 

Posted in Campaign, child marriage, forced marriage, Forced Marriages, girls, Health Issues, marriage, mental health, Sexual Violence, Violence Against Women, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment