Establishing a culturally sensitive helpline to assist victims and inform advocacy

Muslim Women's Network UK - Woman on Phone

Muslim women face many of the same problems as non-Muslim women; however, cultural norms often prevent Muslim women and girls from reaching out for help. The Muslim Women’s Network UK (MWNUK) recognized the need for faith and culturally sensitive services for the Muslim community, and to Muslim women and girls in particular. To respond to this gap in services, they established the Muslim Women’s Network Helpline in January 2015 to intervene in this service gap and reduce the vulnerability of Muslim women. The Helpline provides access to legal rights and other services, and in combating prejudice. Issues raised via the Helpline inform the ongoing expansion of MWNUK’s informational assistance and advocacy priorities. The wide range of issues, to name a few, include: domestic violence, sexual abuse, discrimination, marriage, forced marriage, and divorce. Within a year and a half of establishing the helpline, they actively assisted over 300 women.

The need for a helpline was cemented by the growing number of calls MWNUK was receiving from desperate women. The common factors being the cultural and religious issues that were perpetuating the abuse and preventing victims from accessing help. MWNUK recognized that many Muslim women and girls, due to a lack of social services, are trapped in cycles of abuse and violence. Within the United Kingdom, one-in-four women experience domestic violence. However, this statistic may not reflect the extent of the problem within minority communities such as Muslim women. Due to misinformation within the community that implies that Islam advocates for domestic violence, many women struggle to reconcile their faith with their problems. They have difficulties finding alternative perspectives to patriarchal interpretations that tend to dominate religious discourse and have been used against them. Many Muslim women fear discussing their problems due to dishonor, shame, stigma, and rejection. Moreover, many with whom they would discuss their problems are based within their community, making communication feel less confidential. This tactic provides a way to intervene in this long standing isolation faced by victims and provide avenues for support.

The Helpline provides callers with information, support, guidance and referral regardless of the caller’s ethnicity, race, religion, age, gender, ability, or sexuality. Moreover, men and boys are encouraged to call the Helpline if they are concerned about women or girls in their lives, or are facing forced marriage or domestic violence themselves. 

The Helpline offers bilingual operators who are especially trained to work with Muslim women and girls to provide (watch video):

  • Active listening to the concerns of callers
  • Nuanced responses that address cultural and spiritual concerns that are confidential and non-judgmental
  • Immediate help to callers in crisis
  • Information about legal rights

The Helpline also addresses a number of challenges faced by Muslim women and girls:

  • Many nationwide resources fail to account for cultural nuances that exist within Muslim communities
  • Resources are unappealing or unhelpful to Muslim women
  • Though single-issue helplines exist, often the issues Muslim women face are not covered under the guise of a single issue, their issue may be interconnected with other issues

By providing a general Helpline, Muslim women, as well as men, across the UK can reach the Helpline and be assisted with their issues. Regardless of complexity, the Helpline assists MWNUK in gathering information to improve the rights of Muslim women through advocacy and campaigning.

The Helpline is available free through phone (mobile and landlines), text, webchat and email. In addition, the Helpline provides referrals to eighteen other national helplines within the United Kingdom including information and referrals to single-issue hotlines and local organizations that address frequent issues handled by the Helpline.

During each call, the Helpline provides service to individuals in a safe, anonymous, and confidential way, while also collecting important data from each call. MWNUK analyzes data to determine what awareness campaigns are needed, what services are helpful to clients, and what services are inadequate or missing. The Helpline informs the advocacy priorities of the MWNUK and importantly, informs religious discourse so that women’s lives and experiences will be improved on a community level. For example, data collected through the Helpline was integral in the production of MWNUK’s 2016 report, Information and Guidance on Muslim Marriage and Divorce in Britain.

This tactic provides women, and in particular, Muslim women, an avenue to share their personal issues and gain assistance without fear of stigmatization and exposure. Those interested in addressing community isolation may also be interested in a restorative tactical aim that engaged former child soldiers.


New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.

What we can learn from this tactic: 

This tactic provides insights into a number of key areas that can be utilized by other organizations working with victims of human rights abuses – confidentiality, empowerment and data collection. Confidentiality:  This is an essential component for any tactic dealing with victims of abuse, to ensure the victim is safe from further harm, and builds trust between the community and the organization (see also this example of working with trauma survivors in from West Africa). Specific to the operation of the hotline, callers were able to remain anonymous, which provided a place for people to call and feel safe. It can be a great avenue for individuals to share their personal issues and gain assistance without fear of stigmatization and exposure. Empowerment: This aspect of the tactic ensured that callers were provided not only with a place to share their situation, but with education about their rights and what they can do about their situation. Educating people of their rights not only empowers victims, but provides them with tools to take action on their own behalf.  (see also this example of empowering victims from Kenya) Data collection: The data collected from the calls was useful in the evaluation of the tactic itself as well as revealing gaps in victim services which informed the organization’s future advocacy.  This makes it possible for an organization to assess the most pressing issues for advocacy while remaining receptive to the immediate needs of victims (see also this example of utilization of data collection from Mozambique).