The women behind Micro Rainbow: Jill Power

Learn about Jill Power, Micro Rainbow's Head of Social and Economic Inclusion, and her work with LBTQI women.
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To celebrate International Women’s Month and 2024’s theme ‘Women Who Advocate for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,’ two of Micro Rainbow’s own most inspiring and driven women have shared their experiences of working with LGBTQI refugees and asylum seekers. Jill Power and Moud Goba are a driving force behind the women’s programme at Micro Rainbow and lead the charge to advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion in all that they do for the LBTQI asylum seeking community.

Beginning the work

In 1999, the United Kingdom began recognising asylum claims based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This is when Jill Power, Director of Social and Economic Inclusion at Micro Rainbow, first became working with LGBTQI asylum seekers. Power got her masters in refugee law and has been involved in supporting LGBTQI asylum seeker and refugees ever since.

Including lesbians

Despite the 1999 legal recognition of asylum claims based on sexual orientation, LBTQI women seeking asylum continued to face challenges. However, many things have changed – and improved – since Jill Power began her work in the early 00s.

When Power first began working with LGBTQI refugees and asylum seekers she worked with a client base that was 90% gay men. Where were the women? Of course there were LBTQI women asylum seekers, so why were they nowhere to be found? According to Power the word Lesbian had not been written into law yet and claiming asylum was even more complex for LBTQI women than it is now.

‘Judges would say “You won’t stand out; you don’t look gay. So, you’ll be fine.” or “You’re quite old now. So, you’re not going to get any sexual attention, you’ll be fine.”’.

Additionally, having an LGBTQI claim meant a heightened likelihood of being detained and deported. These horrific truths left women scared to come forward and therefore they were not accessing the help they needed. Crucial awareness-raising was needed, and the mission to help signpost lesbian asylum seekers to services available to them began. As part of this, Power and her colleagues taught the Home Office about lesbian identities, told their gay clients to bring their lesbian friends, and personally went to women’s organisations and clubs to tell them they have a case.

As shown in Micro Rainbow’s 2023 impact report, 35% of the people in the Micro Rainbow community are women. This demonstrates the progress that has been made through the efforts of people like Jill Power. It is especially impressive since most of the asylum-seeking community is male and LBTQI women are still at higher risk of detention and deportation. Hopefully, this percentage will continue to grow as more LBTQI women are empowered to access the support they need.

Exploitation

Despite greater awareness of the issues faced by LBTQI asylum seeking women in the UK, and more LBTQI women accessing support, many women are too scared to seek help. Jill Power explains how there are still hidden women in the system who are afraid to come forward. Many have been trafficked into domestic servitude in the UK, and spent most of their lives in this role. However, often when they become too old to work, they are at risk of being made homeless by their employers. According to Jill Power, these women have spent so much their lives cut off from wider society that, once cast our by their former employers, they have no idea how to prove what has happened to them. As Jill says:

“When they’re 70, and they’ve got nowhere to live, they have no bank account. They’ve got no way to prove who they are. They’ve been exploited their whole lives here”.

Trafficking

Jill Power frequently came across trafficked LBTQI asylum seeking women in her work. They may have been trafficked into domestic slavery or sexual slavery. When they escape their situations, Power explained:

“It’s not easy for women to say, I’ve been trafficked, and then to only be given something like 30 days to get your life together is horrendous”.

People who have been trafficked to the UK are given 30 days to prove they have been trafficked before being detained and likely deported. It extremely challenging for victims of trafficking to gather the evidence they need to prove their cases within 30 days. Many will have no documentation or papers, no bank account, and may have been traumatised by their experiences.

Sista Sista

The need for tailored support for LBTQI asylum seeking women was adamantly clear. Jill Power spearheaded the push to address this need. She helped create a LBTQI women’s support group – Sista Sista – and it is now a cornerstone of Micro Rainbow’s Social Inclusion programme. Sista Sista is a group that brings LBTQI women asylum seekers and refugees together to provide a safe space for creating community, coping with trauma, and rebuilding lives to create more hopeful futures.

The women Micro Rainbow works with oftentimes are traumatised and can be triggered easily. The team working with them need to be sensitive to their needs and have the patience to meet the women where they are at in their healing process. When discussing her previous work helping women write statements of their life for court, Power explained that “You must establish an awful lot of trust with somebody to get that type of information. I wouldn’t do that kind of work if somebody wasn’t ready. If a woman is, really traumatised, you must first make that woman feel safe. You can only work with somebody in this moment.” Sista Sista is run using the guiding principle of meeting the women where they are at and putting in the time and effort it takes to create a space where they feel they can truly heal.

Help us continue supporting LGBTQI refugees and asylum seekers

Help LBTQI women who are forced to flee their home countries because of the persecution they face. Become a Micro Rainbow ally.

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