‘I’m standing on the shoulders of women who started the first refuges over 40 years ago.’
very day, Katie Ghose is fighting vital yet virtually unknown battles which have the power to transform thousands of lives.
Recently, the chief executive of Women’s Aid urged the Government to review their anonymous voter registration policy, so women who had escaped domestic abuse would be able to vote but not be tracked by past partners via the electoral register. After months of fierce campaigning alongside survivor Mehala Osborne, the Government finally took action.
Her latest campaign is equally important, calling on the Government to halt planned funding cuts to women’s domestic abuse refuges. The move, announced by Theresa May, could see more than a third of refuges across England close down, resulting in more than 4,000 women and children being turned away from services and becoming homeless or returning back to an abusive household.
It’s a difficult and sometimes heartbreaking role, but Ghose is more than equipped for it. She previously worked as a barrister representing refugee women and moved on to campaign for women’s representation in UK politics at the Electoral Reform Society.
In light of her latest campaigning efforts (you can sign the petition asking the Government to halt funding cuts here), we spoke to the Women’s Aid chief exec about those who inspire her, career advice and her hopes for domestic abuse survivors in 2018.
What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning and keep pushing forward?
“I love my job and I’m standing on the shoulders of women who started the first refuges over 40 years ago. These ordinary women dotted all around the country were fed up with the apathy from the Government and decided to take matters in their own hands to fight against domestic abuse – and they did something completely extraordinary.
“They started to take women trying to escape abusive relationships into their own homes, risking their own lives to protect women who were being hunted down by violent and abusive partners. And so the UK’s first women’s refuges were born.
“Now many of these refuges are celebrating their 40-year anniversaries and, despite all the obstacles they face, are adapting and continuing to provide vital domestic abuse services that women and children need today. It’s amazing to be part of a movement that brings women of all ages together in the battle for equality. Pushing forward together to end domestic abuse and all forms of violence against women and girls we can make a real difference to women and children’s lives.”
What was the last thing you did that made you proud?
“It has to be representing Women’s Aid on BBC Breakfast to launch our 16 Days campaign. I was interviewed after Charlotte Kneer and her daughters: Charlotte is a survivor who now runs Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid refuge in Surrey. I visited Charlotte and her team a few months ago and it brought home to me the incredible work that refuges do. They are not just a roof over a woman’s head, they are a home for families where they are supported and nurtured to overcome their trauma and get back on their feet following abuse.
“I was proud to be able to explain more about the life-saving work of refuges all over the country, how many already operate on a shoestring and why the Government must guarantee their future so that every woman and child has a safe space to escape to.”
Who inspires you and why?
“The women who have suffered domestic abuse at the hands of a partner or husband and, after escaping the abuse, have decided to speak out so that other women do not have to suffer what they did in future.
“This week I met Claire Throssell, a survivor of domestic abuse and Women’s Aid campaigner, who lost her two sons to domestic abuse when they were murdered by her abusive ex-husband during a court-ordered, unsupervised child contact visit.
“Her strength in campaigning to tackle unsafe child contact and make the family courts safer for survivors is truly inspiring and has already brought about major changes in the way the family courts operate through her work with us on our Child First campaign.
″All of the survivors we work with are tireless in their campaigning and go to incredible efforts to speak out about male violence against women. Their voices are at the heart of all of Women’s Aid’s work and are the lifeblood in our fight against domestic abuse.”
How do you think society views ambitious or successful women?
“Why do we even use the labels ‘she’s feisty’ or ‘a career woman’ while he’s just a bloke doing a job?”
Does success have a downside? If so, what is it?
“For me, no, because my passions and job align so closely. But everyone is different and success shouldn’t be narrowly defined as only about work.
“Ultimately, real success is getting the chance to live as your true self and fulfil your dreams.”
How do you practise self-care and why is it important?
“It’s important because if I look after myself then I can do more to support my team. I have the happiest home life anyone could wish for, but running and beauty treatments also feature as ways I switch off.
“What I want to do now is to develop the best self-care programme for my Women’s Aid colleagues, reflecting the tough nature of the work they do.”
What’s your biggest regret? And what did you learn from it?
“Professionally, never to hire in desperation. Retain and recruit the best in your field and your organisation will fly.
“Personally, not learning Bengali (my father’s mother tongue). But there’s still time.”
If you had one piece of advice for other women, what would it be?
“I try not to give unsolicited advice because it can be so annoying to receive it! But since you’ve asked, quell your inner demons and put yourself forward. Don’t wait until you have a million qualifications for that dream role – men never do – just go for it now.”
What’s the one thing you would change or do in 2018 to push women forward?
“The landmark Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill, announced in this year’s Queen’s Speech, is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform our response to domestic abuse, and better protect and support survivors.
“It is an ambitious aim. We all know that domestic abuse is an epidemic. Levels of police-recorded domestic abuse have increased by 60% in less than three years with nearly 1.1 million domestic abuse-related incidents recorded by the police in the last year ending March 2017. And of course that is just the tip of the iceberg – many women will never report abuse to the police.
“I want to see a Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill with real teeth, a Bill that encompasses and goes beyond changes to the criminal justice system because if women cannot escape abuse in the first place, an improved criminal justice response will be worthless.
“We want survivors’ interests to be put at the heart of the Bill by making tackling domestic abuse everyone’s business, reaching beyond the criminal justice system to education, health, local government and welfare, so that all women can escape domestic abuse.
“Most important of all, to accompany the law must be a secure future for local services – refuges and community support – so that every woman knows that if she reaches out her needs will be met.”