Sofia's Story of Supporting TDAS as a Trustee and Chair of the Board
My Introduction to TDAS and Lesley Hunter’s Contribution
My introduction to Trafford Women’s Aid (TWA), as we were then called, was through a friend, Lesley Hunter, who I had met 10 years earlier whilst working at Stretford Citizens Advice Bureau. We had since both developed different specialisms and moved on to work for separate organisations. I was a Welfare Rights Officer at Manchester City Council and she was an Employment Rights Advisor at the Low Pay Unit (subsequently Greater Manchester Pay and Employment Rights Advisory Service).
Lesley was a staunch feminist with a gentle stoicism, razor sharp intellect, and a love for Northern Soul music. She started her tenure on the board of TWA initially as the company Secretary in 1999 and then Chair from 2006 to 2011. She led the organisation in both roles and saw it through a number of organisational restructures both internally, and legally as a company. Her passion for a woman’s right to safety and a decent family life had always been the driving force behind her commitment to the organisation and this was always evident in her decision making. We would talk at length about the issues affecting women suffering domestic violence (as it was then called) and the unfair rules that society imposed on women across cultures; forcing them into situations that were neither their choice, nor in their control.
Given my South Asian heritage, I was able to offer insights into the coercive nature of some of the ‘arranged marriages’ that were happening to women I knew. Forced marriage was not yet against the law and was still often misunderstood as ‘arranged marriage’; however many people understood the subtext when this term was misused. Fascinated by the work Lesley was doing with TWA, in 2008 I applied to join the board of trustees and from then until Lesley’s death in 2015, I was coached and mentored by her. I spent many a Sunday afternoon preparing minutes and agendas in Lesley’s living room.
Changes at TDAS
Along the way much has changed, we now have a community office separate from our refuge. Additionally, the language we use to define our subject has become more defined. We know that physical violence is not the only way victims are harmed, thus instead of ‘domestic violence’ we now use the more nuanced term ‘domestic abuse’ which includes physical abuse along with all the other types of abuse.
During my tenure as chair, one of the significant milestones we have reached are that we now deliver services to men. We have a male trustee on the board and we changed our name to Trafford Domestic Abuse Services in August 2012 to reflect this change. The name was chosen by our staff and I agree; it does what it says on the tin! I had suggested Trafford Without Abuse so that we could keep our existing branding, but that was thrown out pretty promptly.
The progression to invite a man onto the board was initially met by challenge by some, but the decision made very simple sense to me; equality begins with having everyone around the table. Gender-based violence and abuse cannot be resolved by women alone, we need men around the table as role-models, as advocates, as advisors, as collaborators, as listeners and as doers. We need men who understand that domestic abuse is about power and control and who are willing, able and committed to changing society by standing with women. We want to see all people able to have positive relationships, where each person feels free to walk away, or even to just comfortably say “No, I don’t want that”.
Despite some very difficult and challenging times, it’s been an absolute honour and a privilege to serve TDAS. I’m aware that as a society we still have a long way to go and that change will come with education and time. TDAS will continue to lead with its ethos and amazing staff teams providing safety, support, refuge, positivity and hope to those who need us.