As domestic violence against women remains an issue on the island, the Women of Substance non-government organisation is working towards beginning the construction of Tobago’s first Women’s Empowerment Centre, by the end of 2019. The shelter will act as a safe house for women who are victims of domestic violence.
In aid of the construction the organisation hosted a High Tea fundraiser event two weeks ago at the Lowland Multipurpose Facility, Lowlands, where founder Onika Mars told Newsday she was unsure how much the building would cost, but her team needs as much money as they can generate.
So far they have raised approximately $21, 000.
"It is going to be a state-of-the-art building and it’s going to make a difference in not only in the lives of affected women in Tobago but to all who seek help at our doorsteps.” The organisation which has been in existence for two years has helped many women trapped abusive relationships through empowerment sessions called Sit and Chat with Onika Mars.
Mars, herself a domestic-abuse survivor, has been an advocate against domestic violence against women in Tobago for many years. She said the Tobago House of Assembly presented a piece of land to the organisation in January and she is anxious to expand its services to abused women who need a safe environment to heal.
“The objective is to house victims of domestic violence and abuse in a safe environment and prepare them by way of training to go back into society and pick up where they would have left off. We are going to be doing training programmes related to empowerment sessions, including financial planning. We will have someone coming in to teach life skills, cooking courses, sewing, handcraft (and) agro-processing.”
She said the group also wanted to partner with MIC and other training and skills organisations across the island to involve them in the training of the women.
From the number of calls she has received over the past two years, she said, "We recognised very early we needed to have that safe place for the women.
"A lot of the women stay in abusive partnerships because they have nowhere else to go and up to recently I would have received a call from a friend of mine in Virginia asking if our organisation has a safe home already so she can recommend a victim from Grenada.
"We are trying to find out from the Ministry of National Security and the other revenant authorities how organisation can assist in a situation like this, once we can."
Mars said she believes the centre can move the issues of domestic violence against women to the front burner and encourage women to make the best decision to save their lives.
“There has been an increase, because I have seen more women coming forward for help.
"Our organisation doesn’t encourage or tell women to leave and they make their own decision from there because we don’t want to be responsible for somebody who leaves the abusive relationship and then something happens. They will say Women of Substance told them to leave, so we don’t ever do that.
She explained, "What we do is counsel and give the best advice we can give. One time we have 20 people in the session, this month we had 15 and the last one we had nine new persons. So it’s not that every month we will have the same people and the same amount.
"The fact is the groups have women who need help and in many cases need more than just a sit-and-chat – they need a new environment.”
The organisation is planning a number of fundraisers to get the construction of the centre going and also welcomes contributions from any private or public-sector entities.