International Women’s Day: Sonya Sceats on putting power into the hands of those with lived experience

By 06/03/2020Stories

Sonya Sceats with Natasha Nzazi at Freedom From Torture

Sonya Sceats, Chief Executive at Freedom from Torture shares how and why their work focuses on survivor empowerment.


Torture happens to women around the world every day, in the context of conflict and many forms of repression. But the majority of survivors who reach the UK are men.

With fewer resources and less power, it is usually much harder for female survivors to escape their torturers and flee to safety in countries like the UK. Two out of every three asylum seekers in this country are male.

The women survivors who do reach us are a daily inspiration to me. Their resilience and determination to recover from the horrors inflicted on them are a basis for our therapies. We work in partnership with them to rebuild their lives and find their voices again.

Every year on International Women’s Day, I challenge myself to think what more Freedom from Torture can do to counteract the denial of women’s rights, whether in torturing states or here in the UK.

More survivor empowerment will always be part of the answer.

Natasha Nzazi is among the remarkable survivors in our service user engagement team who work tirelessly to involve our clients in the running of Freedom from Torture. Last year she facilitated our first ever survivor-led survey of all our treatment clients to inform our new rehabilitation model. Now she is getting ready to co-deliver therapeutic services to survivors. Natasha recently gained a first class honours degree in psychology and we cannot wait to put her qualifications to use.

We also believe that putting more power into the hands of those with lived experience is essential as a means of achieving more impact in the fight against torture and for the rights of survivors, including as asylum seekers and refugees.

Nadine Tunasi is one of two members of the Survivors Speak OUT network recently appointed by Foreign Office ministers as survivor champions for the UK-led Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative. Nadine leads a policy sub-group of SSO. Last month she accompanied us to a meeting with Home Office leaders to discuss how to improve asylum decision-making. She was so impressive that they asked her back to meet with even more Home Office leaders.

That is what my job is all about: creating spaces for survivors to speak for themselves about what needs to change – and then moving out of the way as they make it happen for themselves.

Author Sonya Sceats

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