Diary of a mothering worker
DR GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN
YESTERDAY WAS December 10, Human Rights Day, and the final day of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence. I’ve used these weeks to share statistics, but also emphasise that real women’s lives are at stake. I’ve highlighted youthful student activism so that we acknowledge that violence, such as sexual harassment, persists in the lives of another generation, including in the educational spaces where girls have supposedly taken over.
In this final column marking 16 days of advocacy, I want to amplify the call, made by domestic violence shelters, for sufficient state support.
Within these 16 days of activism alone, a woman battered by her former partner could find no room at any shelter. She and her children were traumatised and had nowhere to go on the night they fled. Following this, Conflict Women and the Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CADV) organised a forum to assess the state of shelters.
The forum confirmed that TT currently has seven shelters. The oldest shelter is closed for renovations, and is still fundraising in order to open again. Right now, it receives a government subvention enabling it to offer counselling and other services, but no crisis refuge.
Two shelters closed over this year due to lack to financial capacity. One of these closed its doors for the first time in 20 years because it too has to fundraise for renovations as well as daily costs of running both services and a shelter. In these 20 years, it received a government subvention twice, both more than five years ago. It too now provides reduced counselling, medical, legal, transportation, educational and other support, but no shelter.
Among the four shelters still open, one has scaled down to 50 per cent of its intake of survivors, from 25 women to 12, because of financial constraints. It receives no government subvention and is entirely community-supported. This is not a celebration of entrepreneurial spirit, it’s a sign of its perpetual state of crisis.
Even with subventions, over 90 per cent of operational costs to run a shelter (building maintenance, security, food, counselling, legal aid, and transportation) must be raised through continual fundraising efforts. By contrast, $1 million would cover all operational costs for the three shelters for one year.
To put this in perspective, $1 million is only five times more than Minister Colm Imbert spent on confetti to open the Uriah Butler/Churchill-Roosevelt Highway Interchange. Just five times the cost of Colm’s confetti, which was immediately blown away, would enable three shelters to provide emergency accommodation for more than 40 women survivors and their families for an entire year.
And, even that isn’t enough. Roberta Clarke, president of the CADV, has pointed out that, by some international standards of one family space per 10,000 people, TT should have at least 130 family spaces provided by shelters. The proposed government-run shelters, promised but not yet operational, can accommodate up to 18 women and their families. One is targeted toward men.
Even with these shelters opened in Trinidad, they would not meet these standards or women’s needs for emergency safe housing or subsidised transitional housing. They may not adequately meet disabled women’s needs, and will still not enable enough women to keep their families together when fleeing with boy children over 12 years old.
Finally, though a single shelter in Tobago is finally being planned in conjunction with the State and the NGO, Women of Substance, even that will not be enough. Across the country, more than 10,000 DV protection orders are sought each year, 11,000 women are estimated to be living with violent partners, and one in ten women cite “nowhere to go” as a reason they stay. It’s also a reason they return.
Shelters are absolutely essential for women and their children fleeing for their safety and lives. They protect against immediate homelessness. They provide traumatised women and children with safety for up to six months, and continued care long after.
Just $1 million and more co-ordinated formal arrangements with state ministries that provide essential services could save women from repeated violence, and improve children’s life chances for generations.
Understanding this reality, shelters are urgently calling for adequate and consistent state resourcing as we move into another year in which we can expect there will be male partners who batter and kill women. As shelters close their doors or open their doors to fewer women, women could die for lack of options to escape. Political will can change this fate.