Project Overview


Southall Black Sisters

Grant Amount


Award Date

April 2020


Rights & Equality

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40 women
given holistic support
IT system
upgraded with online chat
Legal precedent
on rights of girls in religious schools

Southall Black Sisters (SBS), a not-for-profit, secular and inclusive organisation, was established in 1979 to meet the needs of Black (Asian and African-Caribbean) women. They aim to highlight and challenge all forms gender-related violence against women, empower them to gain more control over their lives; live without fear of violence and assert their human rights to justice, equality and freedom.

For more than three decades SBS have been at the forefront of challenging domestic and gender-related violence locally and nationally, and have campaigned for the provision of proper and accountable support services to enable women and their children to escape violent relationships and live in dignity. Their services include an advocacy and resource centre in West London, a well as specialist advice, information, casework, advocacy, counselling and self-help support in several community languages. 

Over the years, Isla’s grants have allowed SBS to carry out ground-breaking work.

In 2017, SBS intervened in the Al-Hijrah case involving a Muslim school whose strict gender segregation practices were found to breach the Equality Act. This outcome set a significant legal precedent and generated substantial media coverage on the rights of girls in religious schools. Ultimately, the judgement legally recognised that “gender segregation can be unlawful and discriminatory, especially in contexts where the practice is tied to the rise of religious fundamentalist and conservative norms”. 

The grant was also used to meet housing and subsistence needs for 10 women with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) status who were in desperate need of crisis accommodation. Without support they faced the dangerous choice of staying in abusive situations or becoming destitute. 100% of women said the support helped them stay out of abusive situations; 98% felt their overall feeling of safety increased; 80% felt their self-esteem and self-worth improved and 92% felt they could cope better with their daily needs. 

SBS was also able to match funds with a grant from the Department of Culture , Media and Sports and was commissioned to lead the first nationwide pilot project funded by the Tampon Tax, and were able to complete an evaluation of the impact of life saving projects on women with NRPF. 

In 2018, Isla’s grant helped provide holistic support to 40 women during the financial year including advice, advocacy, and complementary support (their specialist advocates accompanied women to appointments, court hearings and referred users with complex needs to their in-house group work, counselling and interactive therapeutic activities). The majority of the service users had a greater sense of safety, confidence and reduced risk of repeat victimisation after accessing SBS services and about three quarters (72%) had more awareness of VAWG in BME communities; a large number (31-41%) had provided support to other BME women and girls or joined campaigned on VAWG. 100% of service users from the most marginalised groups reported increased safety/knowledge of their rights; 100% of service users reported reduced risk, reduced repeat victimisation, prevention of escalation; 98% of service users were able to make changes to their living situations and exit violence; and 99% of service users reported improvement in the health, social and psychological well-being.

In 2020, SBS used Isla’s grant to upgrade their IT systems, including replacing their server, upgrading their hosting platform and purchasing new equipment to enable their workforce to work from home. These upgrades mean SBS now have an online chat which is part of a triage system for referral. During Jan-April 2019, the SBS website saw 8,536 visits by new users. This figure rose to 12,009 during Jan-April 2020. In addition, SBS had 12,362 previous users visiting the website during this period. Percentage increases for helpline inquires when compared with the same month last year is as follows: April 2019 vs. 2020, +19%; May 2019 vs. 2020, +196%; June 2019 vs. 2020, +195%. Local IDVA referrals during the same period have also doubled. 

The Isla Foundation crisis grant also provided routes to safety For 10 women with NRPF, who found themselves trapped in abuse during lockdown and in desperate circumstances. SBS were able to provide them with 3 months of temporary accommodation and subsistence along with telephone counselling to help mitigate feelings of isolation, anxiety and helplessness. Feedback from the users who accessed this crisis support has been extremely honest and really brings to light the suffering and marginalisation that they have experienced beyond the immediate experience of abuse: 

One woman said of the service: “I was a victim of domestic violence, I was beaten in the head on several occasions through no fault of my own. I sat in isolation for the full three months reflecting on my behaviour..I had contact with my children, family and friends from S.B.S. support group. Learning to live with limited provisions and resources as I am currently unemployed is always a challenge, but the SBS accommodation saved my life”.