Bristol BME Voice have been busy working on their Manifesto for Race Equality and Ruth Pitter spoke to us about how this fits with signing up to the Bristol Zero Tolerance pledge and what this means to the organisation.
Bristol BME Voice is one of the voice and influence equalities forums that the Council funds, alongside, Bristol Women’s Voice, Bristol Disability Equality Forum, LGBT Bristol, Bristol Older People’s Forum and Bristol Multi Faith Forum. The aim is to encourage more participation in decision making in the city and BME Voice is working with a range of different organisations, and some individuals, to bring them to decision making tables to influence outcomes.
One of its key areas of work is the Bristol Manifesto for Race Equality which brought together a range of organisations, public sector and voluntary sector groups, to draw up what is called ‘Batook’s Blueprint’ in honour of Batook Pandya who died in 2014 and was instrumental in the early development of the manifesto. As Ruth Pitter says: “it’s been of some effect in Bristol because its enabled us to have some traction with agencies such as the local authority, Avon and Somerset Police, and the health agencies in Bristol with a focus on race equality issues for their organisations. The aim is a strategic impact, working with the public sector and other partners, because what we want the manifesto to achieve is a fundamental change in race inequality in Bristol. That has to be coming from grassroots but it means movement at that strategic level – in education, mental health, criminal justice, employment etc. So it has to drive the actions of the service providers.”
In the Manifesto’s focus on mental health, gender-based violence has been raised alongside the support needs of service users, also another key priority for the manifesto is criminal justice which is also linked to gender-based violence issues. Hence, this is why BME Voice is happy to sign the Bristol Zero Tolerance pledge and support this work in the city.
Ruth attended the Zero Tolerance launch in March 2015; she says that it felt like a coming together of many different kinds of organisations supporting the pledge “it was really essential that they had senior people from the different agencies there representing organisations, some were men, which I thought was a good demonstration that this must be tackled by all. Managers stated that the Zero Tolerance initiative has got to be for the whole of their organisation.”
For BME Voice the initiative also fits with the work that it does; there is a clear resonance. As Ruth says “because BME Voice is fighting for equality, because we come from a place of experiencing discrimination and injustice it is really important that as equalities communities/protected characteristic groups we support each other in the challenging fight for justice and equality – so I believe that Bristol BME Voice must support Zero Tolerance completely and utterly.”
These are also issues that are embedded in the work of the voluntary sector, it can therefore do a lot to support the initiative “the voluntary sector must be more engaged in it. Voscur and BME Voice want to do more to encourage wider support. Some may pledge to undertake small actions that can still make a big difference… In terms of maintaining that key focus in the voluntary sector on Zero Tolerance we need to keep promoting it.”
Creating a Zero Tolerance City will have a wider impact over and above the focus on gender-based violence. “It would mean a safer city, safer in terms of race equality and hate crime. It resonates for me as being a black person in Bristol and experiencing racism and discrimination. I just imagine what the city would be like if it was free from these. As well as a safer city, Bristol would be a place where everyone feels included, valued and protected – this is essential for women. I have experienced gender-based violence in different forms. Perhaps not to the degree as other women, and even though I feel I am able to stand up for myself I still hear language, see things happening and behaviours that are just completely inappropriate and cause distress. Education for me is a major priority.”
BME Voice also wants to do more work with BME women to support them to build their confidence and leadership skills and to be more assertive “this is a powerful thing for them to undertake – if we could be offering more confidence building sessions for BME women n the context of challenging gender-based violence, harassment, bullying etc; it would be fantastic.”
The Bristol Zero Tolerance initiative can also feed into this. As Ruth notes “it is [about the] empowerment of women – maybe I might feel more empowered than some women but I still don’t feel completely in control of what happens around me especially when I am in a space where I am in a minority, which I am often as a black person and a woman. Women need to feel empowered to take control. It would be idyllic to have a city where women could feel completely free to be themselves without having to defend themselves or feeling vulnerable.”
Ruth also commented on the impact of the initiative on Bristol as a city: “it is great that Bristol is leading the way in this; we could be making more noise about this as a city so that nationally people know it’s out there… There is still a lot more to do, more people, services and agencies to get on board, but it is a vital cause and I would be dumbfounded if organisations including public sector agencies not yet on board said it was something they would not support.”