The Asian Network of Women’s Shelters and the Oceania Network of Women’s Shelters held a forum at the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) on the topic of “Asia-Pacific Shelters: Going the Second Mile with Advocacy and Service Work” early in the morning on Monday, March 10, 2014.
The speakers were Bandana Rana, President of Saathi, Nepal and Chair of the Global Network of Women’s Shelters; Anthony Carlisle, International Affairs Supervisor at the Garden of Hope Foundation, Taiwan (which is the secretariat of ANWS); Kristen Liu, Executive Director of Garden of Hope New York; Alena Victor, Assistant Director of Shelters at the New York Asian Women’s Center; Margaret Augerinos, CEO, Centre for Non-Violence, Australia; Julie Oberin, CEO of the Annie North Women’s Refuge, Australia; and Ivy Josiah, Executive Director, Women’s Aid Organisation, Malaysia. The meeting was moderated by Chi Hui-Jung, CEO of the Garden of Hope Foundation, Taiwan and chair of ANWS.
The Asia-Pacific is the most diverse region in the world. Differences in shelter services are as wide as the cultural and economic divides. Some countries do not have the legal framework to protect women from domestic violence (DV) let alone the welfare structure to provide sufficient shelter support; while other countries are working on better shelter management and follow-up services.
The panelists discussed the current status of women’s shelters in the Asia-Pacific, looking at issues such as the link between advocacy and shelter work in South Asia, support services to help survivors become economically empowered in North Asia, and resources and services for Asian migrant women in New York.
Never-ending shelter work in Nepal
Bandana Rana said Asian women are “seen but not heard”. Once married, any violence remains inside the house. Bandana said that things started to change in Nepal in the 1980s when women began to speak out. At first, they were stigmatized and called “loose women” who lacked moral character. Despite the backlash, Bandana established Saathi in Nepal in 1992. At that time there were no shelters in the country.
Despite being criticized for speaking English and adopting “western ideas”, Saathi started by raising awareness and spreading the message that women had the right to end violence. Bandana realized that if women wanted to come out of the home, they needed support services. So Saathi opened the first shelter in Nepal in 1995.
It was a very exciting time. Saathi had seed money from Global Women to get started but did not realize the challenges that were ahead. After a year, there were 20 women in the shelter. The money had run out and the needs were immense. Twenty years later, Saathi is still here, but still facing the challenges of generating resources.
“Most development partners want indicators of how many women can be reached in a year, but shelters cannot reach the thousands that development partners would like. Development partners also want to support short-term research plans and aid programs, but shelters are never-ending projects.”
Saathi today runs three shelters. Bandana concluded by saying that shelter work is at the forefront of advocacy, so shelters need to work together with advocacy.
A Garden of Hope for Chinese migrants in New York
Kristen Liu, Executive Director of Garden of Hope New York started by saying that most Chinese immigrants in New York are uneducated, which makes it hard for them to find good jobs. It is common in Chinese families for husband and wife to work in different cities and meet only once a week or even once a month. Meanwhile their children will stay in China. In New York, different families will share apartments.
In New York there are 720 DV incidents a day. GOH-New York receives 7,500 calls to its Chinese language hotline a year. Chinese new immigrants have grown by 34% in recent years. Kristen said new immigrants are especially vulnerable because they face the barriers of racism, ignorance of the law, and a lack of resources.
“Sometimes they do not even know how to call the police, and if the police are called they often use children to interpret for the non-English speaking parents, which hurts the children. Sometimes the husband will use the threat of withdrawing his wife’s green card application to control her. Some migrants do not even know how to take the subway.”
GOH-New York’s services are trauma informed. Kristen said, “As service providers, we have to keep in mind that all experiences are traumatic. Service providers have to be patient and open-minded. Sometimes we’re too focused on their problems. Survivor should be at the center of services, because services are for them.”
The whole-person care approach includes family, health, social, recreational, spiritual, financial, mental, and career counseling. Seventy percent of Chinese immigrants can’t speak English, so the three-month limit on shelter stay is not enough. That is why GOH-New York provides after-shelter services. So far three former shelter residents have become teachers and one has become an accountant.
GOH-New York also provides parenting training and family therapy to strengthen relations with children. Kristen said it is not hard to find a job in New York, but wages are low.
Empowering DV survivors at the Asian Women’s Center
Another shelter in New York for migrant women is the New York Asian Women’s Center (AWC). Founded in 1983, AWC started as a hotline service and now has two emergency shelters with a total of 40 beds. AWC’s housing program has helped 12 families get on their feet in a 20 month period.
Alena Victor, AWC Assistant Director of Shelters, said that like GOH-New York, AWC uses a trauma-sensitive and client-centered approach. While most of AWC’s clients are women, Alena said they also have some services for men.
Alena said violence is about the power of control. DV includes financial and economic control, such as forbidding her to work, controlling how money is spent, not giving her an allowance, using her to build up debt, and giving her bad credit. Alena said this leaves physical and emotional scars, and lowers self-esteem.
“There are also socio-cultural factors, including internalization. ‘This is my fault’. Feelings of worthlessness. Most shelters provide services to individuals born and raised here. But migrants are limited because they have no allies in their community and no family network. Service providers sometimes view them as uncooperative because they cannot prove DV with an Order of Protection. They also suffer feelings of guilt and fear about what’s going to happen next.”
Because of limited housing options and jobs that pay below a living wage Asian DV survivors in New York ask themselves: ‘How am I going to get to a self-sufficiency point when I don’t know how to manage my finances?’
Alena said that because of social conditioning, women face problems managing money. “Economic empowerment means knowing what a bank account is, knowing about credit score, making decisions about economic standing. So it’s about understanding her and her history, and helping her move beyond that to independence from point A, B, to C and D. For example, if you need a laptop to help you get a job, how much does it cost? What’s it going to make you? How are you going to pay for it with the restaurant job you have now?”
Imbalances in Australia
The Centre for Non-Violence in Australia offers hotline and case management services, and it is the author of the innovative “safe at home safe at work” program to help employees support employers who may be suffering DV by giving them leave from work and other assistance.
Margaret Augerinos, CEO of the Centre, said Australia has national standards and perpetrator programs, and an agenda to end homeless. But while there is strong investment in research, services on the ground are stretched.
“Australia’s Welfare to Work policy of 2006 should have been a good idea, but actually hurt women and children, because people lost control over money. Fifty percent of money is quarantined. It targets people who are at risk and need child protection, but single, or sole parents, are forced to work or they lose child and childcare support. And there is a three-year wait for childcare.”
Julie Oberin, CEO of the Annie North Women’s Refuge, Australia, continued on the theme of housing and homelessness. She said 44% of homeless people are women, but only 25% of homeless shelter residents are women.
“Women choose to stay in violent relationships rather than be homeless. Many are aboriginal women. One-in-three experience DV, and one-in-five sexual abuse. In Australia, aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are at risk because of housing issues, and alcohol and substance abuse. They are 35% more likely to be victims of DV.
DV law not working in Malaysia
In Malaysia, the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) opened its first shelter 30 years ago. Women in crisis come to WAO for help, social workers provide support and empowerment, advocacy officers document stories and identify laws and protocols that are going wrong, and then they lobby the government. So WAO’s advocacy is informed by women’s stories.
WAO’s Executive Director Ivy Josiah said that after Malaysia’s DV act was passed in 1996, by next year there was a 150% increase in DV reports, which shows that the law was very important to women. But while Malaysia may have a very good law and structure, the attitude of the hospital staff, police, judges and other officials is very important, because they may have prejudice against women.
“We found that the law wasn’t working. In 34 case studies in Klang, Perak and Penang we found that women weren’t able to use the law. But our study started by highlighting good practices. We found that hospitals did report to the social services, and they asked women why they were injured and if they were facing DV. Investigating police officers were sensitive to cultural differences and got translators to help out.”
However, Ivy said her study also found that the police did not inform women about what was happening to their case. Police could be insensitive and make inappropriate remarks. Women are sometimes asked to go to another police station, they are intimidated and threatened when officers say things like “Are you sure you want to make this report? Because I’ll have to arrest your husband and you’re husband is going to go to jail.”