I first met Professor Aisha K Gill back in 2017 when she had a party at my restaurant Jikoni. She was celebrating the CBE she was awarded for her activism and work for preventing violence against women. Aisha is a criminologist and lecturer at University of Roehampton and she has spent decades fighting for the rights of disadvantaged women, protecting the most vulnerable in our communities. She is kind, bright, determined and optimistic, and I am in awe of her. We have become close friends, and her passion and tireless campaigning has been a constant source of inspiration. In short, she is an exemplary woman – one who makes the world a better place.
Long before the coronavirus struck, I already knew from conversations I’d had with Aisha that the demand for domestic-violence support services was soaring. Refuge reported that, in England and Wales, two women every week are killed by a current or former partner. Demand for refuge space far outstrips supply. Lucy Hadley, the campaigns and policy manager at Women’s Aid, said: “Sixty-four per cent of refuge referrals were declined in 2018 to 2019, and the number of refuge bed spaces in England is 30 per cent below the number recommended by the Council of Europe.”
There was no question that there would be an upturn in domestic violence over the pandemic. According to Aisha’s research, over the last 20 months, some domestic-violence/abuse support services have reported a 900 per cent rise in calls asking for help. The government has failed to respond or show any leadership in tackling this issue. In fact, in the same period that over £53 million was spent on the failed London Garden Bridge project, refuge services had their funding cut by councils due to government austerity measures. Four years after the domestic abuse bill was first promised in the Queen’s speech, it finally became law on 30 April 2021. While much of this is positive, the new Act has significant gaps and not all women are protected under it.
The government has failed to deliver equal protection and support for migrant women through the new law. Migrant women and their children remain the most vulnerable. They remain trapped with abusers with no access to the statutory welfare safety – many keep quiet fearing that their immigration status will be used against them if they report a crime or flee. Women, often with children, are being forced to choose between staying with abusers in life-threatening situations or homelessness. The bill’s omission to protect these women shows that racism and inequality is deeply embedded in the very institutions that shape and allocate power and resources. It exists within the police, health and immigration systems and the welfare state so in fact fighting for the rights of migrant women is a fight for racial equality and justice.
The task of keeping women and children with insecure immigration status safe has been left to independent bodies, charities, trusts and individuals like Aisha who started a campaign to raise money for women at the beginning of the pandemic. Coming from a background where I have witnessed first hand how domestic violence destroys the lives of victims, I knew I wanted to help support this important campaign.
On 28 November this year, we will celebrate the restaurant’s fifth birthday with our usual tradition of hosting a fundraising lunch and dinner. We are bringing back an event we held two years ago called The Samosa Sisterhood, which previously supported the brilliant work of The Women and Girls Network. This time beneficiaries of funds raised will include Asha Projects, Safety4Sisters and Women for Refugee Women.
I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of prominent women who will be supporting us by reading poems and prose to raise awareness at our event – the comedienne Meera Syal, the news anchor Mishal Husain, the musician Anoushka Shankar, the poet Nikita Gill and the actress Indira Varma. My friend, the award-winning pastry chef Ravneet Gill, will be supporting me in the kitchen by cooking up an array of sweet treats for our guests.
Tickets for our event sold out within hours of being announced, but we still need your help in raising urgent funds for women in need. Keeping all women safe should be a priority for everyone. In donating to our fund, you are helping to protect the most vulnerable women and children, and giving them a chance to thrive. After all, we have to fund the world we want to see.
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