Working with Vulnerable Women from Minority Communities During Covid-19

In part one of a three part interview Dianna Djokey interviews community development worker and person of colour Shipa Ahmed Khan about how the pandemic has impacted on her work supporting vulnerable women from minority communities.

Dianna: How has Covid impacted you and your work?

Shipa: It’s impacted my work enormously; I’m a Mental Health Community Development Worker. Much of my work has stopped because we’ve not been able to go out and visit community groups and individuals. I also run the Cross Cultural Women’s Group on a weekly basis. The group is for vulnerable women from minority communities. They may be struggling with poor mental health, may be carers, or socially isolated. On average we used to have about 20+ women attend the group each week. The group sessions start with English conversation classes, to help women become more confident in using English in everyday life. With a very mixed group of women from different ethnic backgrounds of different ages and abilities this was really interesting and difficult at times. Despite this we managed to communicate with each other. The second part of the session we would have workshops about different services, learning new skills, IT, arts and crafts, cooking – anything really that the women were interested [in].

We’re working with the PONToon Project that is looking at helping women to become digitally skilled in that area. We were doing a couple of sessions with the University of Portsmouth about getting more women online, for instance setting up email addresses but, unfortunately, that’s when lockdown happened and we had to put a halt on that. But since then, what we’ve found is, even now in the current climate it’s even more so, important that women have access to the digital field, with email, Zoom calls etc. So a lot of women are missing out unfortunately, which we are trying to look at and see how we can push that agenda forward.

What we’ve found is that in the current climate it’s even more so important that women have access to technology and IT. The digital field, with email, Zoom calls etc is a necessity in order to communicate with the wider community and access services. So unfortunately, a lot of women are missing out; we are trying to look at the digital divide and see how we can encourage women to be more confident and move forward.

Portsmouth Cross Cultural Women’s Group poster.

Considering what’s happening, how are you now navigating that with the group of women, as they’re vulnerable?

Many of the women are socially isolated or for different reasons are considered vulnerable. We do have a group WhatsApp, so we try to maintain links with them through the app with little messages, video calls etc. Just recently we had our first Zoom video call with a couple of the women, to build their conversational skills. It has been difficult and many women do not have the technology or knowledge of how to log on to zoom. We have been trying to talk people through [it] over the phone and help them to access the Zoom English class. It isn’t the best solution as many women don’t have access to laptops or phones or even the internet. It’s in the early stages, but we’re really hoping that eventually we’ll get enough women to attend, hopefully it will snowball and get other women to be more interested and engage.

We will persevere with the Zoom English classes on Wednesdays and getting the women more digitally aware. It will be trial and error and we are mindful that we won’t capture everyone.

During Covid many issues have been pushed to the forefront. What are the standout issues for you? What issues do you think people need to pay attention to now?

In terms of the Cross Cultural Women’s Group (CCWG) one of the main issues facing them is the language barrier, it has become a huge obstacle which has come to the forefront during covid-19. Accessing the GP, making appointments, online phone consultations, shopping and online banking don’t work for some of these women that don’t have the language ability or the technology know how, and it’s been very difficult for them to access support services.

In general people just don’t know what services are available and how to access these services. It can be quite difficult to get hold of that information. This has contributed to, and has had a huge impact on, mental health and wellbeing.

People struggled having to home-school their children. Getting your children to do their homework at the end of the week is difficult at the best of times and then to have to actually teach them has been a nightmare – many of the women I support just couldn’t do that.

We often take it for granted that we’ve got nice families, a cozy home; a lot of people might have a home but it’s not always a good environment, relationships might be a bit more strained as everyone is stuck indoors. There might be domestic violence, difficulties with extended family members that are living with them, financial difficulties and of course, lots of people may have underlying health problems. There’s a whole host of other things that come to light. And of course, with groups and places being closed the women don’t have another place they can go to, a place of safety that they could go and get some support and advice from.

The Independence and Wellbeing team that I work for at Portsmouth City Council have been making welfare check calls to the group members during the lockdown period. By doing this we were able to help people feel a little less isolated [and we] were also able to refer people to other support, such as the food banks and arranging food parcels for those that needed them. We were able to sign post to the HIVE which was support[ed] people isolating with other things such as getting prescriptions, etc.

People may not voice the difficulties or problems they are going through. We’ve had to be mindful that there’s a lot more complex things going on for people at home than what we might be aware of; just being able to have a chat or check if people are ok is sometimes enough to let them know we are here to help. Talking and giving information about services and linking people together helps people feel that that they are not alone.

S&C has been awarded funding from the European Journalism Centre Covid-19 Support Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on diverse communities and sectors in Portsmouth:

  • voluntary sector, including charities, community groups and social enterprises
  • small businesses and self-employed people
  • BAME communities
  • people with disabilities

We have also been awarded funding from the Public Interest News Foundation Emergency Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on migrants, and asylum seekers and refugees.

If you are interested in sharing your experiences in any of these areas, get in touch with us over on Facebook and Twitter, or email us at

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay.

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