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The Story - SaveraUK

Last last year we had the absolute privilege of partnering with Savera UK, a charity helping women facing forced marriage and harmful practices. Here's their story.

Providing a path to a new beginning 

“People ask me if I was a survivor of domestic abuse or harmful practices. My answer is no, but I know that I could have easily been forced into marriage at the age of 11 years old. I’d seen family members and close friends become victims of domestic abuse and harmful practices and it made me feel very angry.

On many occasions I tried to encourage them to report it but we both had so much fear. I knew that my thinking was different to others and if I spoke out, I would l no longer be accepted by their families or even my own community.

I watched as people accepted and followed these cultural traditions and continued to question how and why it was happening. Culture was a beautiful thing to me, yet these were practices that only brought harm and pain.

As I said, I was lucky. I grew up in a household where I was protected from abuse and where I was never treated differently to my brother. But outside the family household, things were different, I wasn’t seen as important or valued as a young woman. I didn’t feel my voice was heard or that my opinion mattered. Despite the empowerment and the positive role-models I had growing up within my family, I still had to conform on many occasions, especially when I moved to the UK. So I decided to make a difference through my work.

I’d worked in community development for Liverpool Primary Care Trust (PCT) NHS for some time when Savera Liverpool was ‘born’ in August 2010. I’d established and led the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities and domestic abuse group, which brought key agencies together to try and address the issue of domestic abuse in the city within BME communities.

A piece of research a year earlier in 2009 revealed a glaring issue, a gap in understanding around differences in the cultural and historical attitudes to domestic abuse within BME communities in the city. The people tasked with helping people at risk from domestic abuse just didn’t know or understand enough about harmful cultural practices, things like forced marriage, ‘honour’-based abuse (HBA) and female genital mutilation (FGM). Members of the public were even less informed.

I knew something was needed, but the need became even more urgent when a school worker contacted me about a group of young BME women, all aged between 13 and 15, who were being threatened, blackmailed and being forced into marriage. I knew that if they behaved outside the expected ‘norm’ of their family, their lives could be at risk.

The school worker asked me to come into the school to talk about the problems they were facing, as they grew up with one foot in the western world and the other back with their traditional families. They needed to speak to someone who understood their culture but who could also challenge it and let them know where they could get help.

That was why Savera Liverpool was established. To provide that support and understanding. The name was chosen because it reflected what we wanted to provide to those using our service - ‘Savera’ meaning ‘new beginning’ in Hindi. It was symbolic of the support the charity would provide to those people at risk.

Initially we focused on the issue of forced marriage, holding the city’s first ever conference addressing this issue, but it didn’t take long for us to realise that support was needed in other areas too. Our small team of volunteers began to grow. In 2012 we became a registered charity and we were able to source small grants to help run projects to educate people on harmful practices, how to identify them and how to call them out. We supported professionals working in the community and helped them to better address issues in at-risk communities.

But we wanted to do more. We wanted to be able to help people at risk directly and regularly. We got our break to do that in 2016 when we received a grant from the Big Lottery Fund from the Violence Against Women and Girls initiative.

This finally allowed us to recruit a team to deliver our one-to-one support service and run drop-in sessions in Merseyside for survivors and those at risk.

Over time, it became clear that our work was needed by more people, in more places. It wasn’t just women and girls at risk, it was men and boys as well and it became clear that harmful practices were not only present in BME communities.

We changed our name to Savera UK and expanded our mandate, aiming to help as many people as possible and educate and inform people across the country - not just Merseyside.

Since then we have established a youth programme, Savera UK Youth, as we believe that peer-to-peer education is vital in our mission to eradicate harmful practices for good. We campaign against them and provide the tools needed to tackle cultural taboos. We support the professionals who are on the front line of response and we speak out every single day, giving a voice to those who do not have one.

We have supported hundreds of people out of abusive environments into their Savera - their ‘new beginning’ - helping them to move forward into their future in safety and with confidence.

However, we could not achieve what we do without our volunteers and our partners, partners like Bare & Bond. Bare & Bond has committed to joining us in speaking out. It believes in the work we do in working towards eliminating ‘honour’-based abuse and harmful practices.

It is because of this belief and the generosity of Bare & Bond’s customers that so many more people will find the help they need and find their way to a new beginning.

Thank you so much for your help and support and keep #SpeakingOut with us.”

Afrah Qassim, Founder, Savera UK

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