This month’s vigil at Barker’s Pool, Sheffield, by “Women in Black” [http://www.womeninblack.org.uk/UK.htm] was focussed on the issue of Corrective Rape whereby some men think an act of rape will change a lesbian woman into a heterosexual one. This happens in several countries and Anna Rowbottom, spokesperson for the group, particularly mentioned South Africa where 1in 4 women will be raped by the age of 16 years, and 1 in 4 men will admit to the act. Homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death in several countries and the Sheffield group’s monthly letter, for which they were collecting signatures, is to our government regarding the issue of sexuality and claims for asylum. It asks that a person’s sexuality be taking into account when making a decision. Anna cited the case of a lesbian woman who has been refused asylum despite the fact that she will be in danger of being put to death if she is sent back to her own country because of her sexuality. She also cited the fact that while the death penalty is not currently used to punish homosexuals in some countries, places like Uganda are reconsidering this option.
At present asylum seekers may have to prove their sexuality as part of their claim but this can be difficult as they may have spent years hiding it or dealing with difficult experiences.
The group’s campaign is ongoing and covers all areas of violence to women whether at home or abroad. They are particularly concerned with issues where political and world events impact on women, whose lives are often hit harder than men’s. They are concerned about cutbacks in the current fiscal climate,particularly to the voluntary sector and Anna cited the closure of rape crisis centres as an example.
Recently, the group held a hustings in Sheffield – ”What About Women?” – asking representatives from the three main parties about women’s issues. The answers were good but not backed up by practical responses and women’s issues seem to have been absent from the current election debates.
The Sheffield group is about a year old and is an amalgamation of various women’s groups.
Anna was asked whether a “Men in Black” group could make a contribution? She said men did sign the letters and show an interest and everyone was welcome. She did feel that there would be certain issues that needed to be female specific and other areas where both sexes could contribute. Politicians need to take more note of women’s needs in society although it does appear that the emphasis seems to be moving backwards and the sexualisation of women is more overt.
She also gave a mention to “Sheffield Fems” who meet every Tuesday at 7.30pm at the “Dog and Partidge” on Trippet Lane.