Zinthiya Ganeshpanchan is the founder and CEO of the Zinthiya Trust, a charity supporting disadvantaged women and families in Leicester and Leicestershire to be free from poverty and abuse. She is also a Fellow of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (2020).

As the local lockdown is partially lifted in Leicester, Zinthiya talks to us about the impact the virus has had on the women her charity supports.

The coronavirus outbreak has had a devastating impact across our communities in Leicester. However, the impact it has had on women and in particular on Black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) women is alarming.

Since lockdown began, The Zinthiya Trust has seen an increase in women seeking help who are fleeing violence and abuse. Eighty five percent of the women accessing our domestic violence services are from BAME communities and many of the women have no recourse to public funds. These women have struggled to access safe housing and other vital support because of their immigration status. Without options are forced to stay in violent relationships and homes where their lives are at risk because if they left, they would become homeless and destitute. On top of this, these women are unable to access legal aid and are also facing challenges with submitting their applications to the Home Office due to the delays.

I think Black, Asian and ethnic minority women have also been hit hardest by job losses, reduced working hours or being unable to go back to work in Leicester. Lots of the women we support are working in low skilled and low paid jobs including garment factories, food factories, restaurants and shops and family run businesses which were all shut down during lockdown.

The loss of income has put additional pressure on women who are getting into debt or relying on food banks to be able to support themselves and their children. A recent worrying report suggests that child poverty is on the increase in Leicester. The majority of workers in Leicester’s exploitative garment factories - which have been blamed for contributing to the spread of the virus and local lockdown - are BAME women and their lives and health have been put at risk by poor or illegal working conditions.

Additional issues we’ve come across include the lack of information on the coronavirus guidelines in different languages and the lack of affordable public transport, without which many people are unable to get to essential health appointments, hospital or the supermarket.

Long term I’m very worried about the lack of funding for specialist support services by and for BAME women and increased money and debt issues. I think BAME women in Leicester will be more likely to struggle to find alternative work or get back into work than their white counterparts because of skills or language barriers, having to care for family members or they themselves have health conditions and don’t feel safe to go back to work. With the increase in domestic abuse during lockdown there also needs to be more trauma informed mental health support for women.

Leicester was the first local lockdown in England. But to my knowledge even now, there has been no communication by the local authority with women's groups in the region. I do not feel women's needs are being recognised, in particular the disproportionate impact on BAME women.

You can support the Zinthiya Trust here