Savera UK, a leading charity tackling culturally-specific abuse such as ‘honour’-based abuse and violence (HBA/HBV) forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) in the UK, has appointed its first ever chief executive officer.
Charity founder, Afrah Qassim, was appointed as CEO in May after ten years as the Chair of the organisation’s board of directors. Savera UK’s former Vice Chair, Aislinn O’Dwyer, a public health professional with a community nursing background, has now stepped up into the role of Chair.
Afrah’s appointment comes at a challenging time for the charity, after the UK Government lockdown to combat the COVID-19 outbreak prompted a 30 percent increase in calls to the service from individuals and professionals requiring specialist support and guidance.
The charity also reported a significant spike in existing clients contacting the organisation for additional emotional and practical support during lockdown, increasing the number of active cases Savera UK is managing.
Speaking of her appointment during the COVID-19 outbreak, Afrah said: “It is an unprecedented and unpredictable time to be taking up the role of CEO. There have been many challenges in my first months as CEO and there will be more to face as the country comes out of lockdown.
“Like many organisations supporting survivors of and people at risk of ‘honour’-based and culturally-specific abuse, we are feeling the demand on our services and are anticipating a spike in new cases, yet we still remain significantly underfunded.
“However, since Savera UK’s establishment almost a decade ago, we have managed to work outside of the box and address challenges creatively to ensure we can effectively support our clients and break the silence around these horrific practices.
“We have set up a helpline, developed training for professionals and for schools and established one-to-one and group support services for our clients. These are all services that simply did not exist in the region ten years ago.
“I am looking forward to navigating the charity through these difficult times with the support of our dedicated staff, volunteers and board of directors. We will continue to work collaboratively to support people at risk in abusive environments, speak out against culturally-specific forms of abuse and educate the next generation, so that they might be the ones to end harmful practices.”
Savera UK’s new Chair, Aislinn O’Dwyer, added: “This is a really important time for Savera UK. ‘Honour’-based abuse takes place within families, where controlling behaviours are used in order to protect cultural and religious beliefs and/or honour.
“The period of COVID-19 lockdown will certainly have exacerbated these controlling behaviours. This can be seen by the statistics above.
“Savera UK is definitely not closed, it is open for business. We have continued to support our clients throughout the lockdown period, and will continue to get our regular services back on track as restrictions are lifted.”