Zainab Al-Shariff works as a qualified Independent Domestic Violence Advocate for Al-Hasaniya Moroccan Women’s Centre where she started working in 2014. Her role as the lead Idva is to support Arabic speaking women and those from an Arabic background affected by all forms of domestic abuse in the boroughs of Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham in London. The service receives calls and enquiries from all over the UK and never turn anyone away; they always aim to provide advice and signpost victims/survivors to the most appropriate service
What made you decide to work with people experiencing domestic abuse?
I’ve always been drawn into the social care field. I took on this unique role of working with a client group that shares my cultural background, because it is a great opportunity to support them but also to challenge religious and cultural misconceptions about abuse. As part of our work, we look at managing and minimising risks, offering women options and making them aware of services, while challenging beliefs that perpetrators may hold to try and justify abuse.
What are some of the particular challenges faced by the women you support?
There are many challenges faced by this client group. The first is the language barrier. Many clients may not speak English or lack proficiency in it as it’s their second language. They therefore struggle when communicating with voluntary and statutory services unless an appropriate interpreter is used.
Another key challenge we face is working with women with no recourse to public funds. There is considerable pressure on services such as ours to support women with no recourse until they are in a safe place and financially independent, however this takes time and can increase the risk a woman is under. We were disappointed with the recent Domestic Abuse Bill that did not seem to take into consideration migrant women’s needs and rights and will continue to call for this.
Another challenge for our clients is a lack of knowledge of the UK, which includes what happens after reporting a crime to the police and the Criminal Justice System. Our work integrates supporting victims and survivors to understand the UK Criminal Justice System, be more aware of their rights and make informed decisions whilst being supported by a culturally sensitive service that also speaks their native language.
Another key challenge some women report is facing racism or prejudice when interacting with other agencies. Some feel that their inability to speak English, combined with their Muslim or Middle Eastern background, means that much of what they say is dismissed or minimised by professionals and as a result, may feel even more uncertain of what to do, disengage from agencies and may even return to the perpetrators.
What keeps you going when the work gets tough?
I’d say knowing that I am making a genuine difference to women’s lives and their children is a major driving force. Knowing that had it not been for an organisation such as ours, many women would stay in an abusive relationship or would leave and return due to feeling they are not being as well supported as they need.
Another factor that keeps me going is definitely my colleagues! I’m lucky to work with a great Manager who is extremely supportive and colleagues who are always there when it gets tough. What are you most proud of so far?
I’m proud of my commitment to Al Hasaniya, to my role and to the clients I support. I’m proud knowing that we, as a charity, give 100% in our efforts to support our clients and have helped thousands of women to know there is life beyond abuse.
I’m proud of each woman who has called/emailed/engaged with us because even seeking advice and voicing their experiences is a major step. I’m proud of those who have left and made a new life for themselves and feel freer, confident and stronger as a result.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering this career, what would it be?
I’d say demonstrate empathy as much as possible. We are all humans and have an understanding of what fear and pain is. Be understanding of what your client has experienced and what they continue to experience by listening to what they say to you. Be understanding of their specific needs so you can offer them holistic support, be it their cultural needs or other needs.
Zainab's colleague Nadia said: 'She constantly goes above and beyond for all of our clients who are either suffering from domestic violence or have survived it. Her commitment and energy often sees her working tirelessly to get her clients the results they deserve and are entitled to. Her care and empathy often fill the gap that these women experience when dealing with statutory services and other professionals.'
for more information, see https://safelives.org.uk/news-views/star-month/2020/july