The theme for 2023’s International Women’s Day is #EmbraceEquity. This theme aims to prompt conversations about Why equal opportunities aren’t enough. Equality focuses on providing all genders with equal opportunities, such as a woman’s right to vote. Yet, women often require more than a level playing field. They need an equitable approach.
“Equality is giving everyone a shoe. Equity is giving everyone a shoe that fits.”
Issues of equality versus equity are also found in the services provided to refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, particularly among those who are part of the LGBTQI community. The overwhelming majority of people seeking asylum in the UK identify as male, meaning that mainstream services are designed with this group in mind. However, a large proportion of those seeking asylum on the grounds of sexuality or gender identity are women. These women are often left unassisted when services do not support or prioritise their needs.
No two experiences are the same
People’s experiences should not be assumed based on their identity. Micro Rainbow Embraces Equity in its work by recognising that the life experiences of LGBTQI people are not monolithic and providing tailored responses. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex people grouped together under the LGBTQI acronym are often assumed to experience the world in the same way and share similar needs. As an organisation serving LGBTQI refugees and asylum seekers, Micro Rainbow recognises that is not the case.
The LBTQI asylum seeking and refugee women Micro Rainbow works with have many intersecting and interconnecting parts of their identity. These will all have impacted their experiences and will continue to do so in the future. This can include sexual orientation and/or gender identity, race, nationality, immigration status, disability, age and having a family. The support Micro Rainbow provides for LBTQI women recognises that the women accessing services require different forms of support.
Micro Rainbow’s women-centric work
LGBTQI refugees and asylum seekers can find it difficult to approach mainstream LGBTQI services, events, and spaces. These spaces can be costly to enter and are often visited overwhelmingly by white cisgender gay men. It can be even harder for LBTQI asylum seeking and refugee women to access these spaces.
Micro Rainbow addresses the specific needs of LBTQI beneficiaries by employing an LBTQI Women’s Outreach Officer. This purpose of this role is to provide support tailored to the specific needs of the women accessing Micro Rainbow’s programmes. This Outreach Officer leads the programming of the Sista Sista support group, which is a safe space in which LBTQI women can talk openly about their experiences in a supportive environment.
Sista Sista’s workshops and support sessions focus on rebuilding LBTQI refugee women’s self-esteem and confidence, empowering them to realise their potential.
Experiences of Micro Rainbow’s tailored support for LBTQI women
Sarah, a lesbian from Uganda:
“Sharing with the other women and through the workshops I could talk about things without reliving them, because I felt like I was in a safe space where people understood”.
Angela, a lesbian from St Lucia:
“Ever since I’ve been coming to Micro Rainbow, I feel different. Being with like-minded people…when you are on your own you begin to internalise your problems and feel shame. Coming to Micro Rainbow opened up my eyes and showed me that I am not alone, that all of us are here because we have been persecuted for who we are. Together we are able to support each other”
Safe housing for LBTQI women
LBTQI asylum seeking and refugee women are at particular risk of precarious living situations. Unable to work and ineligible for mainstream benefits, people live with family members, friends or sometimes in dangerous situations to avoid becoming street homeless. In many instances people will be living week by week on a friend’s sofa and are vulnerable to being made street homeless at any point.
Micro Rainbow’s housing programme was created in response to the precarious living situations that many LBTQI women like Alana end up in:
“I was incredibly lucky that Micro Rainbow was there at the right time. I kept worrying I could end up homeless, like so many LGBTQI asylum seekers do […] But when I arrived at the Micro Rainbow house, I felt a sense of relief to have a roof above my head and feel safe at the same time – something I hadn’t felt in a long time. It was heart-warming.” – Alana, a trans woman from Malaysia
Micro Rainbow recognises that the LBTQI women it works with require an intersectional and equitable approach in service provision. Providing bespoke services such as an LBTQI Women’s Outreach Officer, women only spaces like Sista Sista, and safe housing gives LBTQI women the support they need to rebuild their confidence. The additional support provided by these services address the specific needs of LBTQI beneficiaries.
Become an ally today and help Micro Rainbow provide safe housing and social inclusion activities like Sista Sista for the LBTQI asylum seeking women and refugees.