The National Secular Society – which seems to be a small group of angry people we would fit into Liverpool Cathedral in one sitting – has just awarded the excellent Southall Black Sisters the Secularist of the Year prize. Unfortunately, I can’t work out what the Sisters actually won. Was it money, a trophy, a bunch of flowers? I think we should be told (or, at least, I should be told where to look for the answer).


Southall Black Sisters was set up to meet the needs of Black and Asian women who are the victims of domestic violence or injustices in the legal system. The main aim of the organisation is to empower women in gaining more control over their lives, to be able to live without fear of violence and be able to assert their human rights to justice, equality and freedom. It is right on the forefront of the feminist struggle in this country. It celebrated its thirtieth anniversary last year, being founded in 1979 during the Southall race riots.

They were awarded the prize for the following reason:

… because they provide a secular space where women fleeing violence or injustice – often resulting from religious attitudes – can find a safe haven… The Government’s ‘cohesion’ agenda has put an enormous amount of power into the hands of religious leaders in minority Asian communities. These are almost always very conservative in their outlook and some consider women’s rights to be unimportant. The Southall Black Sisters can provide women with some time away from this all-powerful religious patriarchy for them to sort out their problems in their own way.

This raises two intriguing questions:

1. What has any of that to do with ‘secularism’? I’d love to know the view of the Southall Black Sisters on this. But to set this against some silly prejudice about ‘religion’ just pushes the NSS into the ‘we’ve stopped thinking’ corner. Since when has defending women against injustice and violence been the sole preserve of ‘secularists’?

2. Did the NSS not check out who actually funds the Sisters? Here’s the list (as discovered by someone else):

The Bromley Trust, John Lyon’s Charity, Department of Health Section 64 Funding, The Sigrid Rausing Trust, City Parochial Foundation, Bridge House Trust, Comic Relief, London Borough of Ealing, Network for Social Change, Princess Diana Memorial Fund, Oak Foundation, Wates Foundation, Henry Smith Charity, London Rape Crisis Centre, Atlantic Philanthropies, Bloomberg.

At least three of those are Christian charities and there may be more.

So, how much financial support is the NSS providing to their award winners? Just asking.