Our women’s networking event, Forever Manchester Women, returns on Wednesday 18th October at sponsors Slater and Gordon’s offices.
So far the Forever Manchester Women events have raised over £20,000 to support female-led community activity across Greater Manchester. This instalment of the event is kindly sponsored by local law firm Slater and Gordon, and will be hosted at their incredible event space in their offices in Manchester.
Sandhya Sharma will be our community speaker on the evening. Sandhya works with Safety4Sisters (S4S), an amazing grassroots Manchester-based women’s organisation that support vulnerable migrant women who cannot access safe accommodation or welfare support and who are experiencing gender-based violence.
They were set up initially as a campaigning organisation in 2009 when members saw that this group of women experiencing domestic/sexual violence were routinely being denied crucial safe accommodation and welfare assistance when seeking to leave the violent situation.
We asked Sandhya a couple of questions to get to know her a bit better ahead of October’s event.
What attracted you to Forever Manchester and FM Women?
Initially I was attracted as we were looking for funding for our Migrant Women’s Group – we needed volunteer costs as each week we have up to 20 women and children using our project. Volunteers pay a huge part in this – they cook, support and interpret for women using the group and give enormous amounts of energy and encouragement. Women are really the unsung heroines of communities often doing poorly paid work, volunteering and going the extra mile to support each other.
But Forever Manchester also understands that community activity is not just about bigger and more mainstream charities and organisations. At a grassroots level, smaller groups like Safety4Sisters are delivering phenomenal locally based work with few resources and in difficult circumstances. FM and FM Women are looking to fund, encourage and highlight such work which is often invisible. They understand that communities are not homogenous, they are porous, changing – there are minorities within minorities. Dissenting women have always played a key role in pushing the notion of gender boundaries. Women who come to Safety4Sisters are those that have been marginalised on multiple levels – from their own communities and wider society and we have to create our own community and spaces. FM and FM Women shines a rare light inside this space to raise the profile of those that would normally get little attention. Manchester based migrant women, experiencing gender based violence and who have insecure immigration status are a group of women that many people know little about. With the support of FM and FM Women, perhaps we can go a little way to change this.
What do you love about Manchester?
I have loved Manchester for different reasons at different times in my life. Originally as a child I came with my mum to Manchester from our home near Stoke. We would get the train to Piccadilly then walk down to Grassroots – a left wing radical bookshop on Newton Street – and then as a teenage I would leave her there and head off to Affleck’s Palace! At Grassroots, I have a very vivid early memory of walking down the stairs into the bookshop and there were just huge amounts of bits of paper stuck on the walls connecting people, leaflets, meetings, and other activist, political and community information. It was the way you communicated without the internet and that buzz of connectivity and community was palpable. This hasn’t changed, Manchester connects people and feels abundantly active. For marginalised communities, this connectively is vital. Straight out of the then Manchester Poly, I wrote to as many groups as I could to see if they needed any volunteers and I had two important replies – the first was from the Citizens Advice Bureau and I started training as a volunteer in Harpurhey Citizens Advice Bureau. The second was from Subah, Young Asian Women’s Refuge, now sadly no more. Subah asked whether I wanted to be an emergency night support worker. I said yes and this was my first insight into working with the most vulnerable communities in Manchester, feminist politics and the Violence Against Women and Girls sector. It was the place I met some lifelong friends.
I love that Manchester has a radical political heritage and cultural history – it was and still is a place where things happen, people connect and have shaped the way we think about and do politics, protest, solidarity and community. Manchester has connected me to some phenomenal people, places and ideas and long may this continue for generations to come.
What’s one thing you’ve enjoyed the most along your journey with Safety4Sisters?
I think the thing that has been the most profound effect on me has been the spirit of solidarity within the Migrant Women’s Group. Being part of a very grassroots organisation like Safety4Sisters has connected me in stronger ways with the foundations and building blocks of why we do what we do and the strength in movements. Organising with diverse women who face the most overwhelming social/health and legal inequalities in society and still being able to come together, campaign and support each other, share, create relationships and friendships, talk and show care is how progressive change takes place. These women are resisting both the patriarchal control in their own communities, racial discrimination and also broader state based immigration control and subjugation. Carving out community based spaces where this can be articulated and valued and find collective support takes incredible courage. It is of course not always easy but we have trust in the process. From this spark of solidarity, powerful things happen.
What’s strong and good in your local community at the moment?
We are living through some incredibly bleak times with the demise of legal aid, the rolling back of the welfare state, acute cuts to mental health services, slashing of funding for community groups and women’s domestic violence specialist organisations – folk are having to find creative ways to resist and survive. There has been strength in this. For example, the Greater Manchester Law Centre recently opening its doors to local people, the continued success of Women Asylum Seekers Together Manchester and amass of individuals, small grassroots initiatives and campaigns that have taken up or continue to address issues that affect communities demonstrate the willingness and passion of people to come together contest and find voices to wider governmental strategies and inequalities in society. Groups like Safety4Sisters are an integral part of this and its feels positive. This persistent energy will continue to help shape Manchester culture for the better.
If you’d like to hear Sandhya Sharma’s inspiring talk, head to Forever Manchester Women.
Tickets are just £20, which includes a welcome drink and canapes. All proceeds from this event will go towards supporting community activity across Greater Manchester.
Tickets can be purchased online by using the ticketing form below.
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Wednesday 18th October
Slater and Gordon
58 Mosley Street