Southall Black Sisters (SBS) is making a landmark High Court challenge to London Borough of Ealing later this month. The organisation, which has protected women’s rights for nearly two decades, faces closure due to the withdrawal of £100,000 of annual funding by the Tory-controlled council in West London.
In April, a judge granted SBS permission to proceed with legal action against Ealing Council for its failure to have proper regard to its duties under the Race Relations Act. A full hearing of the case is scheduled for July 17 and 18, when supporters are invited to join a demonstration at 9.30am outside the High Court in the Strand.
Ealing council is seeking to argue that the very existence of specialist groups like SBS is unlawful under the Race Relations Act. It has also withdrawn funding from other refugee and race equality groups in the borough. The ruling is certain to affect the future of groups around the country.
SBS has provided succour to countless victims of domestic violence since its founding in 1979. It helped Kiranjit Ahluwalia win an historic court case after she killed her husband in self-defence. It has given sanctuary and assistance to those unable to turn elsewhere and brought to light issues which have long remained hidden in society.
Over 40% of Ealing’s 300,000 population are people of colour, making the borough one of the most ethnically diverse in the country. SBS has provided unique assistance to Asian women and has acquired an irreplaceable body of experience in helping those who face not only domestic violence but also immigration and asylum difficulties. As Hannana Saddiqui of SBS, says: “If Ealing Council cut our finding then we will have no where to go and we are very much fearful that many of these women may well die. Asian women are three times more likely to kill themselves than women in general population as a result of abuse."
The organisation has endured repeated attempts to withdraw its funding since it was founded in the wake of the killing in Southall of teacher Blair Peach by Special Patrol Group police officers during an anti-racist demonstration in 1979. SBS has not shirked from supporting political and trade union battles such the 1984-1985 miners’ strike, industrial struggles at Heathrow airport, abortion rights and opposition to blasphemy laws.
The council is justifying its decision to withdraw funding on the grounds of a community “cohesion”, “one size fits all” agenda, which is remarkably similar to New Labour’s opposition to diversity in favour of enforced “inclusion”. The council plans to hand over SBS’s funding to Refuge, a national anti-domestic violence charity.
As SBS say in their statement, the “cohesion” agenda is being cynically used to cut essential life saving services to black and minority women. “So, in our situation, due in part to budget constraints, Ealing Council has made full use of the backlash against multiculturalism and feminism to ‘restructure’ its services so that there is only one service provider of domestic violence.”
SBS believes that its legal challenge is about more than their own survival, but represents a key moment, as funding is being withdrawn from progressive black, minority and feminist projects around the country. What this demonstrates, SBS rightly says, is a “political attack on the notion of positive action and on the right to self-organisation underpinned by secular, anti-racist and progressive values.”
At the same time, says SBS, reactionary and often fundamentalist religious organisations are being given financial support to provide “welfare services”, often at the expense of basic human rights. A World to Win calls on everyone to support Southall Black Sisters’ campaign.
A World to Win secretary