By Shaista Gohir
Earlier this week the Muslim Women’s Network (MWN) Helpline marked its seven-year anniversary. It was initially launched on the 15th January 2015 as a part time pilot project and has since grown and been contacted over 17600 times providing help to around 6700 women and girls. Demand for the helpline service have grown further during the Covid pandemic. The number of times the Helpline was contacted via phone, text, email or webchat rose from just over 3000 times in 2020 to almost 4000 times in 2021. The number of women and girls provided support also rose by 25 per cent from 1261 to 1582 in 2021.
“Some of the helpline interventions have therefore been life-saving. In one case, a woman called the helpline while she was on her way to a train station to take her own life.”
Although the helpline is not issue specific and is contacted on over 40 different issues, domestic abuse and poor mental health continue to be its top issues. The 2021 helpline data also revealed a small increase in more serious cases where callers were self-harming or having suicidal thoughts. Some of the helpline interventions have therefore been life-saving. In one case, a woman called the helpline while she was on her way to a train station to take her own life. The Helpline Worker managed to de-escalate the situation and persuade her to accept help and the mental health crisis team was contacted. However, service women have been reporting that they are often left struggling to access mental health services, which already do not meet the needs of ethnic minority communities.
“We have started to see transnational abandonment cases where spouses with an insecure immigration status and their children (who are often British) are left abroad.”
As demand for counselling is outstripping the capacity of mental services more women are turning to charities such as the Muslim Women’s Network UK (MWNUK) that operates the helpline for emotional support. Although the helpline also operates a culturally sensitive counselling service, its waiting lists are also growing and at present the wait time is over 4 months. The Manager of the Helpline service, Shameem Hussain has also noticed cases becoming more complex and requiring greater staff time with support lasting much longer than usual. She said: “We have started to see transnational abandonment cases where spouses with an insecure immigration status and their children (who are often British) are left abroad in countries such as Pakistan. There has also been a slight rise in Muslim women with disabilities who need help - in one case a woman who had both visual and hearing impairments was experiencing emotional abuse and coercive control and wanted help to get away from her family.”
Despite taking the courageous step of disclosing abuse, women are can be let down by public services resulting in them staying with the perpetrators putting their lives at risk. The charity has already highlighted femicide cases of ethnic minority cases on a searchable page they have called ‘Say Her Name.’ Police handling of cases is often raised on the helpline, which resulted in MWNUK producing the report on Muslim Women’s Experience of the Criminal Justice System, the findings of which will be used to input into the current Ministry of Justice’s Victim’s Bill consultation. Another barrier to escaping abuse is the shortage of suitable and safe housing. Many private landlords appear to be taking advantage of the situation for profit and offering so called supported housing. The Helpline is regularly contacted by such landlords which are often turned down due to safeguarding concerns and the poor quality of the additional offered. The housing crisis needs to be addressed urgently by the government.
The MWN helpline is national and is open from 10am to 4pm Monday to Friday and can be contacted via phone on 0800 999 5786, via text on 07415 206 936, via email on firstname.lastname@example.org and through the webchat service via its website www.mwnhelpline.co.uk, which contains useful information many resources.
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