GUEST POST: Some thoughts on issues BAME women, including immigrants, face in the UK

Azita Jabbari-Arabzadeh is a BAME migrant women with an extensive background working with BAME women, including migrants and refugees. In this guest blog, Azita explores some of the issues which face migrant women in the UK, with a particular focus on health inequality.

I came across some shocking news regarding the health and the high rate of death of pregnant black women recently, which I believe, together with the news of a higher rate of mental health issues among South Asian women in the UK is at least worthy of some thoughts by the population and certainly worth sharing worth sharing with readers of the On the Engender blog.

BAME women's mental health

There are concerning statistics and facts in connection with the mental health of BAME women and the barriers they face in accessing services. Memon, A et al. (2016) in a study of this group of women in southeast England revealed a higher prevalence of anxiety and depression in south Asian women, 63.5% compared with 28.5% in white women (over 2.5 times higher).

This research identified personal and environmental factors together with the relationship between service user and healthcare providers as two broad and interrelated areas creating barriers in accessing services for these women, referring partly to non-inclusive services. The paper also reported that few studies have explicitly examined the barriers to accessing mental health services from the perspective of BAME individuals.

Black women's reproductive health

Emma Kasprzak, in her report at BBC News (2019), revealed in the results of the ‘UK Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Deaths’ of women in the UK that the rate of death of black women in the UK in recent years have been five times higher than the white women!

Kasprzak quotes Dr Ria Clarke, who is working towards becoming a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology, where she speaks of medical, economic and social reasons behind the high rate of maternal death rate among black women in the UK.

Dr Clarke also adds: "We need to talk about the fact black women may not feel that they will be taken seriously, which might make them less likely to disclose how they are feeling”.

The BBC article goes on to report Candice Brathwaite’s comments, a black woman who had a caesarean and hours after being discharged from the hospital and insisting that she wasn’t still feeling well, had gone back there with Septicaemia. Candice reported that she was not being listened to in depth or with empathy, similar to other expectant white mothers who were in the hospital she was giving birth in.

BAME women with no recourse to public funds

I would also like to highlight some other potentially very difficult situations that immigrant women, especially of Asian, Middle-Eastern and African origins can face should they have obtained their right to remain in the UK through getting married to a British national. Naturalisation and citizenship acquiring period can take a few years, according to the British Citizenship by Marriage regulations. During the naturalisation period (which used to be longer for women who arrived in the UK during the 90’s), immigrant women have no recourse to public services, which means they cannot apply for benefits such as job-seeker allowance or housing benefits. These regulations can put these women in very vulnerable positions, having to rely on their husbands for all their financial needs.

One hopes that their marriages will be a successful one, where the husband is happy to financially provide for the wife, at least for the first few years of their lives together, until she can either find a job or be eligible to apply for benefits, but we all know that is frequently not the reality of married lives.

The dependent wives usually also don’t have any family members to turn to for support, since immigrant women are usually alone in the country they have arrived at, either as a refugee or as a student originally. As a result, these women will be under the mercy of their husbands totally.

I have heard from many of my immigrant friends and also women I interpreted for in my freelance work, that they have even been subjected to various forms of psychological or physical domestic abuse by their husbands and husbands’ family, due to their lack of ability to earn money or for any other excuse. Because of their inability to pay for an accommodation for themselves or find a network of support, these women would face abuse for years.

It is also important to remember that these women usually cannot find employment or suitable work for many years, due to a variety of reasons such as: poor language skills; unfamiliarity with the job market in the UK and how to apply for jobs; lack of self-confidence as a result of living with abusive men; and as a result of prejudice and racism existing in Scotland and the UK. This will add to their problem of not becoming financially independent and so they can find themselves in a vicious cycle of despair.

Even after an immigrant BAME woman finds employment which is suitable to the level of her qualifications and skills -usually after several years of job-seeking, taking on small temp jobs and extended volunteering, due to the various types of prejudice existing in the UK and the inability of the current employment laws to protect them from bullying and harassment in a meaningful way - many of these women can and have (based on the real-life stories of immigrants) faced mental health issues and have been unable to keep their jobs or get promoted, hitting the glass ceiling or getting unfairly dismissed more than white women with similar level of qualifications and experience to them.

These are only a few types of issues that immigrant women face in the UK including in Scotland, there is no time or space to address all the other kinds here. These issues and more are explored in a creative non-fiction book, ‘A migrant’s guide to the western galaxy’ by Azadeh Sufiyan, (available from the Aye Aye and Good Press Gallery bookstores in Glasgow, and online)

I am reminded of Einstein’s wise words: “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it”.

Guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views of Engender, and all language used is the author's own. Bloggers have received some editorial support from Engender, and may have received a fee from our commissioning pot. We aim for our blog to reflect a range of feminist viewpoints, and offer a commissioning pot to ensure that women do not have to offer their time or words for free.

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