WOMEN’S organisations in Oldham are calling for a complete "system overhaul" in the face of growing violence against women and girls.

Since the tragic death of Sarah Everard in March, at least 81 UK women have allegedly been killed in circumstances where the suspect is a man – and two were from Oldham.

Susan Booth, 62, died in May this year after being struck 19 times with an axe by her husband outside her home on Hillside Avenue in Shaw.

The healthcare assistant at the Royal Oldham Hospital, who had three grandchildren, was described by her family as the “epitome of caring”.

On March 4, just one day after Sarah’s murder, Imogen Bohajczuk, 29, from Oldham, was found dead by police at a house on Ashton Road, Bardsley.

Imogen, known as Immy, was murdered by her boyfriend Daniel Grant Smith,41, during a "ferocious" attack in February. Imogen had reported an assault by Smith in November, 2020 and called police to report his attack on February 18. Greater Manchester Police officers visited the property the next day but got no response.

Immy was a member of Inspire Women, a woman’s group in Oldham that supports and empowers women in the community. She took part in the organisation’s personal development programme in 2020.

Sally Bonnie, the founder of Inspire Women, said the organisation was “heartbroken” by her death.

Data by the Femicide Census has found 92 per cent of women who are killed by men are killed by someone they know. 

Other organisations that support women in the borough and raise awareness about domestic abuse include the Women’s CHAI Project -Care, Help and Inspire and SAWN-Support and Action for Women Network.

Both organisations are calling for more resources to tackle violence against women. The groups play a crucial role in ensuring women affected by domestic violence are safeguarded and signposted to the necessary support services.

Najma Khalid, founder of Women’s CHAI Project – Care, Help and Inspire, which runs group sessions for women at schools in Oldham with a focus on wellbeing, has seen a surge in the number of residents struggling with domestic abuse in the community, particulary in the aftermath of Covid-19 lockdowns. 

FOUNDER: Najma Khalid of the Women’s CHAI Project

FOUNDER: Najma Khalid of the Women’s CHAI Project

She said: “My experience is that domestic violence still exists at a high rate in all communities. It’s hidden, it’s increased and often victims do not know they are in that cycle because the abuser makes it feel like it’s all their fault. A lot of women don’t know where to go.”

The CHAI Project, which works with a number of women from the BME and South Asian communities who face language and cultural barriers, not only offers a support network but also builds members’ understanding of abuse with translators available for those who are not fluent in English.

Najma, who was in a mentally abusive marriage for five years and met various barriers herself, said: “At CHAI we educate and empower women. We differentiate what is financial, emotional, and psychological abuse and women can pass on that knowledge to their children.”

She added: “Domestic violence training needs to be delivered in the languages of community groups and more people need to be trained in Oldham to offer that in community settings.”

Najma, who has been awarded an honorary masters degree from the Open University and attended the Queen’s Garden Party in recognition of her community work, considers education as “key” to stopping violence against women escalating.

She said: “Awareness of domestic violence from a young age is key. It should be part of the curriculum in schools as well as being raised in groups for adults like ours which engages with about 100 women a week.”

In response to the huge increase in domestic violence during the pandemic the CHAI project ran a webinar with Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women last year.

Ms Abrahams has set tackling violence against women and girls as one of her top priorities and has written to the Chancellor ahead of next week’s budget.

In the letter she urged Rishi Sunak to “address the systemic issues in our society which sees two women a week die at the hands of their partners or ex-partners.”

Rose Ssali, the founder of SAWN which promotes the welfare of Black/African women in Oldham and Greater Manchester, said the group was “very conscious” of the recent rise in domestic abuse reports and has run projects to raise awareness in response.

 

GROUP FOUNDER: Rose Ssali, the founder of SAWN

GROUP FOUNDER: Rose Ssali, the founder of SAWN

Women within the group often face extra cultural barriers to reporting abuse and seeking help and turn to SAWN as a safe space where they are “culturally understood”, according to Rose.

She added: “The culture and upbringing in some parts of Africa is very different to the UK. Some women who experience abuse do not know human rights or body integrity; they are treated as a possession.”

SAWN plays a vital role within the community through its ability to address abuse in a culturally sensitive and appropriate way.

Rose, who is also the business lead of Mama Health and Poverty Partnership a partnership of 14 black women-led organisations, has seen multiple women with no recourse to public funds forced to stay in abusive homes.

She said: “Refuges should be opened to all women, including women with no recourse to public funds. Women are having to put up with abusive relationships, suffer and even die.

“We need a system overhaul. Over the past two years we have worked with over 750 women across Greater Manchester and around 80 per cent of them have no recourse to public funds and about 40 per cent are undocumented."

Rose, who has contributed her findings to the new Domestic Abuse Bill, added: “The local authority needs to be able to do more. When someone is going through domestic violence what I can do at my group is key, never mind national policy.

“The local authority needs to be able to raise awareness and support and resource organisations like ours that work with women from different sectors of the community.”

She added: “If the Oldham local authority can do something that other local authorities can learn from that could ripple through to number 10. We need to do something. Women do not need to die.”