Black and Asian women face exclusion in all areas of life

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The Independent Online

Black and ethnic-minority women in Britain are "powerless, poor and passed-over" according to a report which found that they were excluded at every level of society.

Black and ethnic-minority women in Britain are "powerless, poor and passed-over" according to a report which found that they were excluded at every level of society.

In a damning analysis, the research found women from ethnic minorities were "almost entirely absent from the rank of decision-makers in the UK" and face "massive inequalities in education, health, employment and pay, levels of political engagement and treatment by the criminal justice system".

The report by the Fawcett Society, which promotes and supports women in public life, found ethnic-minority women were "struggling against multiple discrimination on grounds of their sex, race and/or religion". The report found that women of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin earned only 56 per cent of the average hourly wage of white men.

Rates of suicide among young women from south Asia were double that of the general population and black women who were being beaten up by their partners have to wait longer for help from the authorities than white women. They also had a higher chance of being a single parent, of earning less and of going to prison than white counterparts.

"Our report reveals the terrible impact that multiple discrimination on grounds of sex, race, religion or age can have on BME [black and ethnic minority] women, who continue to be excluded from positions of power," said Dr Katherine Rake, director of the Fawcett Society. "The experiences of BME women have been too easily overlooked, with the focus too often being on gender or race, but not both."

Around 2.3 million black and ethic-minority women live in the UK - around 4 per cent of the population - but only two black women are MPs. A female Asian MP has never served at Westminster, and the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly do not have any black or ethnic-minority representatives. In 2001, 1.9 per cent of local councillors were BME women. However, seven sit in the unelected House of Lords - 1 per cent of the total.

The report found that many ethnic-minority women were active members of local community and voluntary groups. They had the same level of trade union membership as white women, but only 2 per cent of appointments to quangos were by women from an ethnic group.

The report also found that ethic minorities had adverse experiences of the criminal justice system, from the courts to the prison system. "Discriminatory attitudes" were preventing agencies from tackling violence against black and ethnic-minority women.

The report found that a woman experiencing domestic violence contacted agencies 11 times before getting the help she needed. But black and ethnic minorities had to contact agencies 17 times.

The report also found they were more likely to go to prison than white counterparts and that "race relations in the criminal justice system remained a serious problem for BME women offenders." In 2002, BME women made up less than 8 per cent of the total female population but 29 per cent of the female prison population.

The report found that there were very few ethnic minority women at senior levels in the police and the judiciary.In 2004, Linda Dobbs became the first black woman to be appointed to the High Court. Mrs Justice Dobbs said she had faced obstacles because of the "perceptions of clients". She said: "You had to show you were better than the others to gain their confidence."