Ashiana Interview: Domestic Violence and the Menstrual Taboo

As I mentioned in my last post about the Ashiana Network we got the opportunity to interview the Housing Services Manager, Pam Saleem, about the kind of work they’re doing in their organisation. Find out what she had to say below!

ABGC: What kind of work do you do and what kind of women do you help?

PS: “We are a domestic violence charity that provides, advice & support, counselling pan London and 3 Refuges in Waltham Forest.  The work that we carry out is culturally specific to Iranian, Turkish and South Asian women between the ages of 16-30 that suffer forced marriage and domestic violence in our refuge provision.  We provide counselling and advice for women from the ages of 14 years old.  Many of our clients face insecure immigration and have no recourse to public funds, physical, emotional, sexual and psychological abuse. Many of the women that contact us are victims of domestic violence, sexual violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and honour based violence.”

ABGC: Our first campaign was driven by the desire to provide sanitary products   to a homeless shelter, because the Government currently doesn’t provide funding for this, despite offering allowances for condoms and razors. Do you receive any local or national funding in this capacity?

PS: “We do not receive any local or national funding for sanitary products but rely heavily on donations.”

ABGC: How many women do you help?

PS: “From 1st April 2014 to 31st March 2015 we helped a total of 1481 women across our services:

  • Advice: 306
  • Counselling: 359
  • Refuge: 37
  • One off enquiries: 779″

ABGC: During some research for our blog site, we have been made aware that there is a lot of stigma in the Asian community regarding menstruation. You work with mainly BAME women; do you find that there is a stigma in talking about issues such as menstruation?

PS: “In most cases women flee with very few belongings and generally do not have the basic of toiletries with them. To our knowledge most of the women we work with use sanitary towels as opposed to Tampons and some women have stated to staff in general conversation that they do not like using tampons as personal preference and in some cases have stated “I can’t use tampons I am not a married woman”.

Support workers have had some conversations with clients and we are aware that clients feel embarrassed to talk about menstruation and in some cultures it is seen as the woman is not clean for 7 days.  We are aware that in some religions women are unable to pray, enter holy places and carry out specific religious activities such as fasting.

In our experience, working with women that are from BME backgrounds, often find menstruation an uncomfortable topic to talk about.  Support workers have observed uncomfortable expressions when supporting women with budgeting; as support workers have often shown clients how to compare prices and products online, as the majority of our clients are on benefits and are unable to afford to buy branded sanitary products.

We have also noted [that] women would feel much more comfortable to ask if we have any spare shampoo, conditioner or toothpaste but not so forthcoming in asking if we have any spare sanitary products.”

ABGC: How do you feel that our campaign could benefit your organisation?

PS: “If we are able to have a donations of such products it would be of great help to the women we work with, not just to our no recourse to public funds clients but all of our clients as they are on a low income and are striving to save as much money as possible.

We feel that your campaign would also support the women we work with to maintain their personal hygiene and comfort as many of our clients suffer from mental health issues i.e. depression and personal hygiene is not always a priority as they feel demotivated and unable to cope with the most basic of activities at times and often neglect themselves due to the nature of the abuse they have suffered.”

I’m sure you’ll agree that Pam has given us a very practical yet moving insight into the everyday problems of the women the Ashiana Network helps. Last time we ran this campaign we tried to encourage people to think about how awful it must be to experience a period on the streets, when you have no money or privacy to keep yourself clean and hygienic. This time the women you will be helping with your donations are escaping unthinkable abuse from the people closest to them.

If you would like to donate, please visit our Facebook page to find out more.

Thank you for reading,

~ Sanya



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