On this International Women’s Day, we spoke to our tenant Sistah Space, a community-based non-profit initiative created to bridge the gap in domestic abuse services for African heritage women and girls. ‘Sistah’ is how some black women refer to each other, and it invokes sisterhood. They offer services such as advice, advocacy, one on one support, group sessions, support in court and educational classes to black women suffering domestic, sexual, discriminatory, organisational or financial and material abuse.
Sistah Space was founded by Ngozi Fulani in November 2015 after the murder of Valerie Forde, a 45-year-old black woman, and her 23-month-old daugher by her ex-partner Roland McKoy. Six weeks prior to their murder, Valerie reported McKoy’s threats to burn down their house with her and her children in to the Metropolitan police, but this was carelessly recorded as a threat to property. He was sentenced to 37 years of prison, but the difference in the response both by the police and the media to black women affected by domestic violence compared to white and brown women became very apparent.
They are now campaigning for Valerie’s Law, which advocates for mandatory Cultural Competency training that accounts for the cultural nuances and barriers, colloquialisms, languages and customs that make up the diverse black community. Valerie’s Law aims to enable police officers, relevant government agencies and domestic violence safehouses staff to acknowledge and protect black women in abusive situations through an understanding. They campaigned a few months ago to get 100 thousand signatures, which they achieved with the help of celebrities such as FKA Twigs, Leah Harvey and Megan Cusak. They now have a lot of MPs on board behind them, and the parliamentary debate will occur this month. To support them, you can send a letter to your MP by following this link – all you have to do is fill in your postcode and personal details. They also got sponsored by Clear Channel, who spread Valerie’s Law Billboards all over the UK. If you spot one, you can take a picture of it and tag them or take a selfie with it to promote it.
Besides supporting Valerie’s Law, there are many ways people can help and engage with Sistah Space. But firstly, it is important to ensure people realise that racism and discrimination are a problem everyone should pull together to eliminate regardless of their background. Ngozi points out that “people should examine their own prejudices. We deliver Valerie’s Law training because we highlight to people the kind of discrimination we face on a daily basis. For example, I give quite a few interviews, and almost all the time someone will tell me I speak very well. That’s offensive, why wouldn’t I? So I just ask people every so often to do what I do, which is to take a look at myself and see what changes I need to make, if any, and I apply them”.
Additionally, Sistah Space is currently running a fundraiser for a black women’s Short Stay Refuge, so women and children can be housed for anything between 2 days to 4 weeks while alternative adequate safe space is found. You can donate here. They also run a charity shop selling only brand new items for less than half of their original price. The shop is open for everyone, and if someone suffering from domestic abuse comes in need of something they can’t afford, they will give it to them for free. It also helps them pay their rent and continue doing their work. They are based at Ashwin St in Dalston, and they depend on donations from individuals and organisations.
You can find out more and follow Sistah Space on the links below:
Exhibition at The Print House Gallery
Sistah Space will be taking over The Print House Gallery during the month of March, where they will showcase the work they do. Besides International Women’s day, March is a significant month for them as the 31st is the anniversary of the muder of Valerie and her baby daughter, and it’s also during this month that the parliament will be debating Valerie’s Law. “We want to have this exhibition at the Print House Gallery because when we were having a rough time and facing real discrimination from our local borough of Hackney, Bootstrap reached out to us and offered space with charitable rates which enabled us to have some kind of grounding. Bootstrap is a safe and welcoming space.”, says Ngozi. The exhibition will be on from the 7th to the 31st March.