As we approach the end of Women’s History Month, Micro Rainbow’s LBTQI Women’s Outreach Officer shares her perspectives on LGBTQI refugee services, gender informed practice, and the importance of letting women tell their own stories:
Where do you find hope and safety when it feels as though there is none?
Micro Rainbow works with LGBTQI refugees and asylum seekers in the UK by providing Social Inclusion activities and events, Moving On employability skills workshops and a safe housing programme. This holistic programme helps LGBTQI refugees and asylum seekers overcome the barriers of hostile living environments, isolation, and poverty. Micro Rainbow also recognises that gender can be an additional barrier to accessing services – especially services aimed at the LGBTQI community.
There are many more men seeking asylum in the UK than women (in 2021, 80% were male). As a result, LGBTQI refugee services are frequently shaped around the experiences of men, and fail to adequately serve the needs of the LBTQI women who come into contact with them. Creating safe spaces for LBTQI women is critical in gender informed practice. Putting women first, listening to their needs and tailoring our services to meet that means LBTQI women seeking asylum can access the right services.
Which leads us on to the theme of Women’s History Month 2023:
“Celebrating women who tell our stories”.
Giving women space to speak and tell their own stories
We work with incredible women who are more than capable of telling their own stories in their own words. However, they are not always given the opportunity. Quite often in my role, I feel responsible for the stories of the women we work with. All too often women seeking asylum are not listened to or taken seriously on their own.
Sometimes they are made to relive their trauma to jump over needless obstacles to get the same treatment as their male counterparts. Too many women have experienced forced marriages, forced pregnancies as well as physical and sexual violence. The journeys women face to escape their abuse to find safety and sanctuary regularly include the added pressure of coercive control of finances and documents leaving women with little to no resources to flee.
How does Micro Rainbow ensure that refugee and asylum services help LBTQI women?
We are part of several focus groups such as the Women’s Homelessness Action Forum (WHAF), Homeless Link Women’s focus group and Ending Violence Against Women (EVAW) Coalition. Working with over 100 other organisations, these are spaces which are tackling hidden homelessness, gender-based violence and institutional bias. Micro Rainbow is proud to contribute to amplify the voices and experiences of migrant women and LBTQI women, most importantly trans women who are often isolated from services due to “single sex” and exclusionary policies.
We have also collected our over 10 years expertise and experiences in supporting LBTQI refugee and asylum seeking women in a dedicated guide and training module. If you would like your service or organisation to be more inclusive of LBTQI refugee and asylum seeking women please contact [email protected] for more information.
Peer support for LBTQI women
Each month, Micro Rainbow holds a women’s peer support group, Sista Sista. This provides a safe space for women to share their experiences and, most importantly, be listened to. Quite often we have open discussions while creating art, some examples you can see on our social media channels. The group collectively agreed that they would like to go on a trip and a visit to the Tate Modern was arranged for March. For many of our beneficiaries, it was their first time exploring a gallery or museum. The trip has inspired attendees to create their own art to tell their stories and gave opportunities they otherwise never thought they would experience.
Sometimes we do not know the full impact of our work until we hear feedback. Recently, in one of the Body and Movement sessions Micro Rainbow runs, a lesbian couple advised it was the first time they ever danced together in public without fear of persecution. Micro Rainbow created a space where they could be safe and feel confident to be themselves.
Our work is never done. Become an ally and support LGBTQI refugees and asylum seekers today.