Why does the English government hate Mabel Gawanas? What horrible crime has she committed that the State has chosen to persecute and cage her for close on to two years? Mabel Gawanas has been in Yarl’s Wood for 22 months for the crime of having sought freedom and safety. Last week, the State moved to deport Mabel Gawanas. Thanks to her organizing and that of supporters in Movement for Justice, Black Sox, and Sisters Uncut, her ticket was cancelled. While that is great news, the idea that being sent back to prison is great news is an apt description of the current moment of State-sponsored violence against and torture of women. This week, Mabel’s daughter, Alexandra, born in England and a citizen of the European Union, turned seven years old. Who will restore those years to Mabel and Alexandra?
Mabel Gawanas is 42 years old and comes from Namibia. Orphaned as a young child, Mabel Gawanas was forced to work as a child minder when she was herself only a child. She says she was beaten, raped and abused by members of her extended family. Finally, she fled the violence. In 2006, she went to the United Kingdom, where, again, she was trapped in a family home. Mabel Gawanas has lived with mental illness for years. According to many, her mental health conditions arise largely from the violence she has endured.
Subjected to the trials of Job, Mabel Gawanas has survived with dignity, and has been rewarded with prison and worse: “I came here as a victim of torture, I was sexually abused by my own family and I am a victim of trafficking … I’ve been offered a place to stay – but I’ve been refused bail three times. Why would I run away from the people who are giving me somewhere to live? I would rather die than be deported. I am so frustrated, I should be bringing up my daughter.”
Mabel Gawanas has been one of the lead organizers of women held in Yarl’s Wood. Last year, when she discovered that she would be taken to medical appointments in handcuffs, she organized the press to come photograph and interview women prisoners in transit. In another instance, she stopped a Kenyan woman from being deported: “We protested when a woman who was tortured in Kenya, and all her family tortured or dead, was due to be deported. Ten of us filled her room with furniture so she missed her flight. She was later freed; we saved her that day.”
According to Movement for Justice, “Mabel is the foremost freedom fighter, leader and organiser of women imprisoned in the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre, a role model for every woman struggling for justice against Britain’s inhuman and racist immigration. She is one of the leaders who have made Yarl’s Wood the central battleground in the fight for women’s rights and the right of asylum in Britain … She has been a leader in every struggle in Yarl’s Wood from the protests that followed the Channel 4 exposures in March last year, and she has always been an active part of the Yarl’s Wood Movement for Justice group. She is a leader for women of every nationality in Yarl’s Wood – from every part of Africa, from India, Bangladesh, China, Eastern Europe etc. She has been organising the protests and placards at the windows on every one of the Surround Harmondsworth demonstrations since April 2015; people at the 12 th March demonstration heard Mabel speak over the phone and saw the large placard she held at the window, denouncing the sexual abuse of women by male guards. Mabel has been central to making the fight inside the centre more organised. She was part of the 3-day courtyard protest by over 100 women in the run-up to September’s parliamentary debate on detention, and organised successful collective action to support get a Chinese detainee taken to hospital. In November and March she organised women of different nationalities to defend Nigerian & Ghanaian women who were collectively resisting deportation. Both charter flights had to leave without any of those women on board.”
The English government hates Mabel Gawanas because she is a freedom fighter. She brings to light the brutality of Yarl’s Wood, immigrant detention and prison more generally. She calls out the State’s violence against women, which begins with a policy of disbelief in women and ends with the torture of indefinite detention. She demonstrates the special hell the State has constructed for African women, and for all women inside. Mabel Gawanas demands FREEDOM. Free Mabel Gawanas! #SetHerFree #ShutItDown
(Photo Credit 1: Bedfordshire on Sunday) (Photo Credit 2: Bedfordshire News)