This Challenge Poverty week, Corra is sharing stories from Henry Duncan Grant funded charities. Challenge Poverty week is an opportunity to change the conversation about poverty, end the stigma and show support for solutions. Find out more at: https://www.challengepoverty.net/
Amina is an award-winning organisation, a charity which identifies, supports and amplifies the voices of women from Muslim and black and minority ethnic (BME) communities within Scotland. Known for its innovative and responsive approach the Amina’s aim is to address issues and needs of women these communities. Key areas of work include the national signposting and ‘listening ear’ service; reducing inequalities by building community resilience and supporting women experiencing poverty or at the risk of falling into poverty through capacity building and employability guidance; and peer group support through ‘self-care’ workshops under the ending Violence Against Women and Girls programme.
In the beginning we were not, in it together…
At Amina, spring 2020 started with a flurry of community activities such as a series of awareness raising plays, celebrations of community (S)heroes, enterprise workshops, social isolation reduction and skill building sessions. And then the pandemic happened. Bringing with it change, the sort of change, which many of us struggled to cope with. Depending on where we were on the Covid -impact spectrum, for many the pandemic lockdown offered a relief (even if temporary) from the demands of work commute, discovering the joys(?!) of working from home, renewed connections with nature, increased time with family members in the same households, perhaps paying more attention to self-care and development, last but not the least still connecting with the outside world through digital means.
However, for others, lockdown meant increased uncertainty in personal finances, either due to job loss or reduction in hours, increased burden of care, health concerns, and being cut off from the rest of the world. The women accessing Amina’s services comprise one of the most vulnerable social groups in Scotland; women that experience social isolation, discrimination and oppression in various forms. Lockdown brought with it several challenges, first was; in the absence of in-person activities, connecting with women through all of this. Second, how do we support connectivity for women that are do not have the financial means or digital skills. The pandemic while it brought in new issues and challenges, shone a spotlight on existing inequalities, for a large section of the communities we work with it was being digitally excluded.
What did we learn?
At the height of the pandemic, we started looking for resources to connect communities, and bridge the digital divide. This led to Amina’s national digital inclusion programme, where across a period of seven weeks intensive support was given to BME women across the country, building their digital skills, providing mental health well-being sessions, open platform digital programmes and discussion sessions on topics affecting our everyday lives. While the digital inclusion programme has concluded, we continue supporting disadvantaged women through our bespoke online offerings: online ESOL classes, tailored employability sessions, one to one support and community conversations on life in the times of a pandemic. In the words of Amina service users-
The sessions were very informative and useful in coping strategies during isolation.
Just sharing lockdown concerns in an online group setting with fellow group members has been very supportive and therapeutic.
How do we move forward?
Poverty comes in different forms. Digital poverty is a hidden form of it, where if you are economically and socially disadvantaged, you not only are less likely to be online but also less likely to ‘be in the know’ with what current resources, support is available and less likely to access those opportunities. The pandemic has highlighted that in the tackling of inequalities we need to consider hidden poverty as well, such as digital poverty. At Amina we are striving towards a digitally inclusive society, where lack of skills or resources shouldn’t act as barriers for communities from building life post pandemic.