can be defined as follows: -
description of the needs of a population that is defined, or defines
itself, as a community, and the resources that exist within that
community, carried out with the active involvement of the community
itself, for the purpose of developing an action plan or other means of
improving the quality of life in the community”.
(Hawtin, 1994, p5).
Thomas (1987) have a six point framework for a community, it illuminates a
community of interest as well as a community of place.
In particular I have chosen to analyse the Bangladeshi women’s
group at the Medway Bangladeshi Centre in Highfields, Leicester.
I will use examples of cultural and patriarchal dominance to
demonstrate inequalities and then I have used a development model that
would help to better the lives of the Bangladeshi women.
I have also used the feminist, black and anti-racist critique, and
also the pluralist theory to support community work practice, however I
have also criticised both the feminist and pluralist approach.
The centre is
located on a main road in Highfields where it is accessible by the
population from Spinney Hill area and the Whycliffe area.
The largest population of the Bangladeshi Community come from these
areas, 3.7% come from Spinney Hill and 3.1% come from Whycliffe, other
areas in Leicester, such as Abbey, Belgrave, Aylestone, and Beaumont leys
have a composition of 0% Bangladeshis.
The sexes of this community is about equal, 50.5% females and 49.5%
males, however, the employment figures between the sexes differ extremely
with figures as high as 72.22% economically active males and only 27.47%
of economically active females. The lower rate is due women to working at home, as well as
cultural differences and language difficulties. (Census, 1991).
In studying the
start of the Bangladeshis, they first immigrated to Britain during the
1960’s as a consequence of labour demands in British industry, with the
hope to return back home (Fryer, 1984).
However, overtime people have settled and the myth of return has
migration was slower due to reluctance by male heads to bring their
families over, largely because many thought they would return after having
saved some money and also due to difficulties in gaining entry clearance
for their families. As a
result, Bangladeshi women came to Britain at a much later date than the
men and therefore fell behind in gaining opportunities within employment,
education and health (Ethnic Minorities, 1991).
However, the women have been identified in the community as
socially and politically disadvantaged, so through a community development
and community education approach, a Bengali mothers and toddlers group had
been created to meet the needs of the women.
The centre aims to
widen participation, raise confidence and self-esteem through community
and social education. Local government funds it.
There is one group leader and one crèche worker, both paid
workers, there are between 8-15 users at any one time.
All the women in the group share the same culture and language,
they are all Muslims, married with children and range between the ages of
The women bring
their children to the sessions, otherwise they would not attend, and they
can’t leave them at home with the fathers because within their culture
it is the women’s role to look after the children, the husband goes out
to work. The family structure is extremely traditional and slow to change.
It is also a conservative influence, which works against change.
The women as much as the men desire to uphold traditional values
and are very much concerned that the family does not break down.
Everyone is anxious about the reputation, good name and stability
of the family (Khan, 1983).
domination is the most influential; the women are not allowed to make any
important decisions without the husband’s permission.
The women have to gain permission for any social outings with the
group or to join any classes held at the centre.
group is also strongly influenced by the local Bangladeshi community, the
community is a close one and has a role on influencing each other.
Due to this, the women are limited in what they do or wear in the
community, e.g. they can’t walk streets late at night visiting friends
and family, they have to be accompanied by a male member of the family.
Westernised clothes for these women in the group is objected,
partly due to their husbands and partly due to the consciousness of the
women, they feel ‘embarrassed’ to wear ‘English clothes’ because
of what other people might say (Lobo 1978).
The group leader
has a more powerful influence on the women internally, his is because the
leader works closely with the women, the women see her as an achiever,
being a Bangladeshi female in employment, gaining position and power.
She has the power to make the final decisions, she decides on the
programme, venues, time and dates for classes and meeting and other
decisions that affect the group.
The women do not
get affected by media much, they can’t read English newspapers and they
have no time to read the Bengali ones.
They may listen to the Bengali radio station and be informed of
events, but apart from that they have little interest in the
commercialised media, instead they prefer to hear and know about issues
through ‘word or mouth’.
Community Association is an outside body to the group, and it bears a
formal influence to the group. They meet three times a year and they oversee the running of
the group and also see to any formal complaints or issues concerning the
The Centre Manager
has little influence over the group, except that she allocates the funding
to the group and overseas that the work is being carried out in line with
the aims and objectives of the Centre and national policy.
The Centre programme follows national guidelines as an aim to
support and encourage the women, and increase social and educational
opportunities and then the accountability of the service is met, and funds
will be provided. (Government Response, Nov 1996).
However, the work of the social exclusion unit and women’s unit
are centralising and co-ordinating the work of departments and agencies to
bring about more effective policy, and more user orientated delivery of
service, co-ordination rather than centralisation.
One of the ways
that Leicester City Council is hoping to bring about more effective policy
is through the new decision making body.
They have adopted a cabinet style approach, hoping to give
councillors more time to spend in communities and less in meetings, this
should create better opportunities for the Bangladeshi women’s group and
other communities to help shape the councils policies in their benefit and
also get a good representation through process (Face, July 2000).
They need all the
support they can get because of their disadvantages.
One being language, none of the women speak English, some speak
very poor English, the women are not lucky enough to have had an
education. The inability to
speak English isolates them from outside contact except in their own
community. The inequalities
faced, makes them believe that they are a part of a family with very
little individuality and identity. The
lack of ability to communicate further increases the tendency to
seclusion, isolation, and inability to play a significant role in any
decision making process (Lobo, 1978).
To overcome this
barrier, language classes have been provided at the Centre. Through
working in partnership with Leicester College the Centre has been able to
provide ESOL classes. Through
partnership the women are able to benefit from materials, professional
tutors and resources provided by the college.
Tony Blair said,
days of the all purpose authorities that planned and delivered everything
are gone (Haughton (ed), 1999, p177).
The women also use
other independent services in the area; this includes the library, which
has a collection of Bengali books and sound recordings and also
information available in the Indic language for users.
The SHOP project holds sewing courses for women.
The Bangladeshi Cultural Centre, holds short courses on food and
hygiene, advise sessions on benefits and welfare, and youth provisions.
Male users predominantly occupy this centre, so the women tend not
to use their services, but they send their children to Bengali school,
which is run by BCC. Other
agencies such as tenants association, health centres, HASEP, Youth and
Community Centre, employment and training centre are not used due to their
restriction of movement and the language barrier.
can be in better positions by taking greater individual and collective
control over their lives. They
need to influence external decision makers, including their husband’s.
This can be met by increased involvement in the centre, it will
encourage more formal education and therefore better prospects, this
wouldn’t cause an imbalance where the wife would be better educated than
the man, this way the woman can still benefit and have her husband’s
support as well.
appropriate resources, such as tutors of same language skills,
environmental improvements and acquisition grants for building space.
They can improve the provisions by building in health care
The women should
have increased opportunities for social interaction and collective
activity, leading to the development of co-operative and vocal community
networks, such as campaigning for funding for better social, health and
educational activities, e.g. increased computer classes, English classes
and in addition music and arts supporting their cultural identity (Aktar,
This follows into
improved information and educational opportunities that will help build
the neighbourhood. Sharing resources skills and knowledge with other projects
will encourage the women to increase participation, e.g. the BCC could
send over their advice worker and the women can receive information on
benefits, training, law, health etc. These are some of the issues after
prioritising also realistic in the given circumstances of funding and
The theory behind
working with the Bangladeshi women can be seen through the main principle
of the Feminist angle. There
is no agreed single theoretical feminist aim of feminist community work
practice, but it aims to improve women’s welfare by collectively
challenging the social determinants of women’s inequalities.
However, the feminist theory both radical and socialist has been
criticised by Black feminists, who argue that such theories tend to
marginalize Black women by failing to account for their oppressions by
patriarchy, class, culture and race (Pascall, 1997).
Bangladeshi women have to consider their cultural obligations
within the family and not just demand equality or fight against their
husbands because they don’t want to look after the children or do the
housework as unpaid work.
However the Black
and anti-racist community work theory in relation to community work points
out that the work carried out must address the needs and concerns of the
particular groups. The Bangladeshi women for example can benefit from this, as
the theory will encourage cultural formations in their own right.
a highly complex and interwoven system of cultural overlap, Black people
have sustained and generated cultures and formations that not only react
to discrimination and inequality but also creates processes that have an
identity and vitality of their own, independent of hostility from the
dominant group” (Popple, 1990, p37).
domination, the woman can do this by attending literacy group to help
their children with their homework. Through
this method the husbands should not have any objections or feel threatened
because looking after the children is not a threat but more of a duty.
This way the women empower themselves and still sustain cultural
On the other hand,
a pluralist theory can also be applied in some areas of work with the
Bangladeshi women. Pluralists
argue that power in society is not located in any single group or type of
group, instead within democracy public policies are the outcome of
compromises between different competing groups (Popple, 1995).
So by existing as
Bangladeshi women they are already creating and influencing policies, e.g.
social exclusion unit and women’s unit.
This group is seen as an interest group, it is important to
democracy and stability because it helps to divide power and prevent any
one group or class having exclusive influence.
bargaining between this group and other interest groups e.g. Gay and
Lesbian Groups, Somali Women’s Groups, Disability Groups etc. means that
they all have the same impact on policy.
According to pluralists, the state has a role to balance the
different competing interests and ensure that the decision made takes
account of the range of views expressed by the electorates.
in relation to community work suggests a role that is active in supporting
and encouraging participation in the political and administrative
processes as a means of increasing the accessibility and accountability of
the service. The Centre will support this as they aim to increase
participation, socially, politically and economically amongst the users.
The accountability of the Centre can also be seen through the
theory it is the role of the worker to help the group overcome the
problems they face in their neighbourhoods, often by mutual support,
sharing activities and by attempting to secure better services for the
members. One example of this
within the work practice can be seen through the sewing classes, women are
encouraged to take up an occupational skill that is not completely alien
to them. The Centre funds the
course, the money is received every year by Leicester City Council, and as
a statutory service it secures the service for the members a lot longer
than voluntary organisations.
is primarily concerned with community work practice as opposed to ‘grand
theories of society’, through this angle, the group can benefit from the
expertise offered and be recognised for the individual needs as a group,
e.g. cultural and religious aspects.
Advocates for this
approach believe that community work is concerned with marginal
improvements and social consensus, hence they emphasize the value of its
educational and experimental aspect. In this context the Centre sees education +as a means of
enhancing political responsibility, equipping individuals and groups in an
effective way to enable participation and not forgetting the promotion and
maintenance of communal coherence.
stresses upon the importance of skills, good practice is defined in terms
of technical competence rather than conformance with any particular set of
values. Henderson and Thomas
(1987) argue that skills and knowledge can be used in a multiplicity of
situations regardless of value stance of workers or neighbourhood groups.
A way of looking at this is by assessing the parenting classes that
the women attend, they take away the informal skills and knowledge they
have picked up and can use it at any time, whether it’s at home with
their children or with the friend whilst babysitting.
I have used this theory as an acceptable method of practice, the form of
social interventions based on technical skills, can change with time, e.g.
the all machinists may be replaced by technology in the future.
Another criticism of this theory is that because it’s involved
locally with groups and what affects them, it forgets about the
inequalities in the wider society, which then causes problems for
localities. It also believes
that policies are made at a higher level, which excludes women’s groups
who are engaged in and have developed community work.
The other criticism is that it views community as a professional
activity, undertaken by paid workers on behalf of agencies rather than by
those living in a particular community.
In view to this the group leader has experience of cultural and
religious background, lives in the community and, speaks the same language
as the users, and she is unqualified.
But this doesn’t mean she is unable to carry out her work, if
anything she is probably better equipped than a middle class white woman
who has a degree in youth and community work.
Ending it on a
positive note, the pluralist theory has offered community work a range of
practice theories and guidelines, which are acceptable to practitioners
working in a wide range of statutory and voluntary bodies.
is evidential that Bangladeshi women today are still being ignored of
their cultural differences, it appears that there is a mismatch between
service provisions and community identified needs, whether this results
from poor information on the part of service providers about the needs of
the community is difficult to determine, but work still needs to be
Student Youth Work Online 1999-2001. Please always reference the author of