Enfield’s first Ghanaian mayor is aiming to tackle domestic violence by raising awareness of the issue and encouraging victims to come forward.

Cllr Doris Jiagge, who was elected mayor of Enfield in May by her fellow councillors, said the focus on domestic violence and its impact on children “caught up in the middle” is her main priority alongside mental health, with the theme of her mayoral year being “strong minds”.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Cllr Jiagge stressed the importance of people feeling able to talk about domestic violence.

“It is not easy,” she said. “Especially from my community, it is not easy. You can be a target even if you mention something like that. That balance of how to bring about awareness and let people come out and talk about the issues, and the suffering, and the pain they are going through, and just let them know that help is out there – there are people that will listen.

“If you don’t talk about it, people don’t know what is going on. We need to let our voice be heard.”

The mayor said she is holding an awareness day in Edmonton on October 8, where families can get information on domestic violence from “a range of sources” who will be available to offer support and guidance.

Edmonton was chosen because it has a high rate of domestic violence and because people “don’t have the confidence to come forward and talk about it,” she explained.

“Most of them feel there is no help out there,” she said. “They decide to deal with issues themselves and end up harming themselves.”

Cllr Jiagge said her desire in life had always been to use whatever opportunities she is given to help improve people’s lives, especially in the area she is most passionate about – Enfield.

She said: “Being elected as mayor was one of the happiest moments of my life, because I felt privileged and honoured to be a voice for my local community. I think Enfield is a wonderful place to live and work, and being in this position gives me a great opportunity to make a big difference, as best as I can, to Enfield.”

Cllr Jiagge said she had already attended a large number of events, starting with the Queen’s platinum jubilee weekend, when she went to several street parties held by residents. “A lot of them did appreciate that the mayor was able to attend, since they hadn’t had events like that for a couple of years or more because of the pandemic.”

Part One - Enfield Newly Elected Councillors 7th May 2022.

Part One - Enfield Newly Elected Councillors 7th May 2022.

After being born and brought up in Ghana, Cllr Jiagge moved to the UK 27 years ago and has spent most of that time living in Edmonton. “Right from a very young age, I was interested in making a difference in the community,” she said.

As a young girl, her main role model was her great-aunt, the late Justice Annie Jiagge, who was the first female high court judge in the Commonwealth of Nations and a women’s rights activist. Cllr Jiagge said her great-aunt’s favourite words were: “We can do so much, but we must do it as women. Not as imitations of men. Women are playing a big role in development because they bring an extra ingredient of femininity.”

Cllr Jiagge, a councillor for Upper Edmonton, said a lot of women from her background feel politics is a male-dominated profession and believe they will not have a voice. “I try to encourage them to get involved,” she said. “But it is not something they are used to because of their background. Back home, children and women are to be seen, not heard, so it is difficult trying to break that mindset.”

This attitude had made women “very vulnerable”, she said, adding: “If I can get more of them involved in politics, and to come out and voice what is going on in their life, it will make a lot of difference.”

Cllr Jiagge said she had already been involved with women’s groups and charities that advocate for women’s issues. “We try to encourage the women in the local community – most of the time we get to meet them at the churches – if they have issues, they can always come and talk to us about it, and then we can signpost them and let them know where to go for help.

“It took some of us a very long time to come and speak out about issues that are affecting us. I’ll use the word ‘denial’ – that it is not happening to me. At the end of the day, it is happening, and you need to come out and talk about it. Most of the time, it is about getting that one person to listen to you and not judge you.”

The mayor is currently raising money for around ten different local organisations, including Wellbeing Connect Services, Enfield Carers Centre, Platinum Performing Arts and Enfield Town Football Club. “We need to encourage young people to take up sports,” she said, adding that she hoped women’s football would build on the success of the England Lionesses after they were recently crowned European champions.

Cllr Jiagge also spoke about the need to tackle inequalities within the borough, which had recently been highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic. She said the pandemic had particularly affected ethnic minorities because many are employed in jobs that involve coming into contact with people – and they had no choice but to carry on working.

The mayor is a senior reablement worker in Haringey, helping people regain their independence after illness. She worked during the pandemic, dealing with “more than 200 Covid clients”, and also volunteered to deliver food parcels and collect medication for vulnerable people.

“Poverty affects health as well, and it also breeds domestic violence,” Cllr Jiagge said. “Most of the people in deprived areas are the ones that don’t have job security and were likely to be furloughed during the pandemic. Some people have the luxury of working from home, but most people from that background don’t have that luxury.”

The mayor’s Domestic Violence and Child Mental Health Awareness Day event will be held on Saturday, 8th October from 9am to 5pm at Snells Park Hall, Edmonton.