Laura Seebohm from Changing Lives recently wrote a blog for Clinks entitled The Women’s Sector – who’s in the room? This blog raised a number of important issues around representation and voice which Clinks wanted to continue to explore and facilitate dialogue within the sector. We asked Whitney Iles CEO of Project 507, to consider these issues further from the perspective of a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) organisation.
Almost a decade ago I was the vice-chair of Equanomics UK, a non-profit organisation that focused on Racial Equality in Policy and Economic Justice. Now, the CEO of Project 507, a social enterprise established to change systemic conditions that generate violence, I find myself having similar conversations despite the 10 year gap.
Equality, diversity and inclusion with a particular focus on race and ethnicity, has always been at the forefront of my thinking and is the foundation on which I’ve built my work. Earlier this year I wrote a blog, Privilege and Prejudice, responding to another article written about diversity within the charity sector. In that blog I argued that to achieve diversity and equality in any sector we need to go beyond a focus on the perception and attitudes of those with privilege, towards the giving up and exchanging of power in order to redistribute that privilege.
Women-centred spaces within the criminal justice system contribute to the process of bringing more women to the table to generate the solutions, influence policy and help us to understand the different needs of both men and women when developing interventions and support programmes.
However we must ensure that within women-centred spaces other identifying factors such as race and ethnicity do not become an afterthought. We must understand that in order to have an inclusive process, it is not enough to just include women, we must include women that represent a wide range of communities and perspectives.
We must remember that women of colour can be situated differently in the economic, social and political worlds compared to their white counterparts. When those undertaking or seeking reforms on behalf of women neglect this fact, women who are racially privileged are more likely to get their needs met than women of colour. Therefore, it must be in the forefront of our minds when we talk with a gendered perspective especially within the criminal justice system, so that we do not create or play into already established hierarchies of social injustices. As critical race theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw argues, “without frames that allow us to see how social problems impact all members of a targeted group, many will fall through the cracks of our movements, left to suffer in virtual isolation.”
With the increased concern about BAME people in the criminal justice system, since the publication of reports such as the Lammy Review, I have now been invited to a number of meetings with politicians and officials aimed at giving representatives of BAME organisations a voice in the formulation of policy to address the over representation of BAME people in our justice system. This is of course welcome but in the same way that we must be careful to ensure we do not expect one woman to talk for all women, we must also be careful with our use of terms such as BAME, not to treat this group as an essentially undifferentiated pool of ethnicities, nationalities and religions.
Gender and race are being thought about within the voluntary sector and by policy makers, but there is still work to be done. Only by seeing gender and race together rather than two separate experiences, and by understanding the complexities and range of experiences within the categories we use as shorthand will we be able to see the person’s experience in full. In 2018 it should be unacceptable to have one BAME woman sitting around the table representing the community in its entirety.
Conversations around equality, diversity and inclusion are difficult because they challenge us to think outside our normal realms of thought. They push us to see what we are missing and can be overwhelming when we realise how much there is to consider. Bringing BAME voices, women’s voices and BAME women’s voices into the conversation needs to move past the culture of focus groups and into a structure of full admittance. It will be a slow process integrating intersectional and inclusive thinking into our daily routines and systems; women-centred spaces are a good place to start. However across the whole system, our structures need to be re-built in order to properly serve the true needs of the wider community.