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Opinions of Monday, 18 February 2019

Columnist: Faisal Mutari

Long overdue, the need for Shelter for abused Women in Ghana


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Dorothy has been married for 15 years and has endured abuse from her husband for as long as she can remember. Last year she gathered the courage to lodge a complaint against her husband at the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU) in Accra.

“I told them I was scared to go back home as it is likely my husband will beat me for reporting him. But they said there is nothing they can do for me, I should find a friend to go spend the night with meanwhile my children are home with him.”

Following protocol, her husband was invited for questioning but was not placed under arrest. Dorothy was faced with the stark choice of going back home to her abuser knowing very well he is angered by her action.

“I ended up having to go back home. That night, he insulted me and threatened to throw me out of the house with my kids. I was so scared, but there was nothing I could do, there was no place to go, so I stayed”.

A home is supposed to be the safest place for anyone. Unfortunately, it is not the case for many women and children across the world. A UN report released on November 25, 2018 found that, of the 87,000 women murdered in 2017, 50,000 were murdered by an intimate partner or a family member. Africa and the Americas recorded the highest number of women killed by an intimate partner or family member.

This report is only a shadow of the pervasive nature of domestic violence across the world. Ghanaian women are not exempted from this growing phenomenon of gender based vviolence Indeed Dorothy’s case is not an isolated one. Figures on Domestic Violence in Ghana indicates that, 33-37% of women have experienced abuse in the form of Intimate Partner Violence in their relationships. Of this figure, a large number including Dorothy required a shelter for rehabilitation which is barely available for these victims.

A shelter for domestic violence victims is a temporary safe space for abused women and children where they can be rehabilitated and removed from the community or household where they are being abused. Across the world, governments have played a crucial role in establishing shelters for abused women noting with interest its tendency to rehabilitate abused women. Notable countries with a sparse network of shelters for abused women is United States of America and Brazil amongst others.

Aside providing temporary housing, shelters also provide counseling services, employment assistance and offer legal services. These services are crucial to helping abused women since in many cases, victims are again subjected to shaming and isolation by family or their communities. In many other instances, abused women and children do not have the needed funds to seek for justice against their abusers thus not reporting or failing to pursue abuse cases.

Again, shelters as part of its reintegration strategies seek to empower women through the learning of vocations and support through school. All these are geared towards the protection and promotion of women’s right.

These importance of shelters and the pervasive nature of domestic violence in Ghana notwithstanding, the country can barely boost of a functional shelter for abused women. In many cases, law enforcement authorities are forced to send victims back home to their abusers as there are no shelters readily available. This further compounds the woes of abused women in the instance where a spouse finds out his wife has launched a complaint against him at a police station.

Having ratified various international treaties and conventions that call for the protection of women’s right such as the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against women and the Declaration on the elimination of violence against women, Ghana has implicitly committed to instituting measures to protect women against discrimination and violence.

The Domestic Violence Act passed in 2007 was expected to serve as a landmark legislation in the protection of abused women in Ghana in their quest for justice and protection. The act specifically instructs government to provide shelters in all districts of the country to serve as a safe haven for victims of abuse, however, over a decade after the passage of this instrument, the establishment of shelters in all regions of the country is yet to materialize. A stark reminder of the slow pace Ghana is proceeding in its attempt to protect the rights of abused women.

The only ‘known’ shelter for abused women was operated by the Ark Foundation, a non-governmental organization in Ghana which has since been closed due to lack of funds for operations. The facility only has the capacity of housing 30 persons. But with over 10,000 cases being received by the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit annually and over 2000 women in need of shelters, this facility provides services for only a fraction of abused women. Since its closure over two years ago, the Foundation has made frantic effort to reopen the shelter by lunching donation drive from private individuals. While this drive has once again brought to light the need for the country to have a functional and upgraded shelter for abused women, it also brings to fore the efforts of NGOs such as the Ark Foundation in providing safe spaces for women.

The government as well as development partners must as matter of urgency, prioritize the creation of shelters across the countries and supporting existing ones such as the Ark Foundation to cater for the needs of abused women. Studies have shown that, shelters provide an avenue for many abused women to reassert themselves and escape abusive relationship. There is thus, the need to place emphasis on the building of shelters as provided for in the Domestic Violence Act. This will have a twofold effect. It will encourage more women to report abusive relationships without fear of going back home to their abusive partners. Secondly, it will provide a safe space for women to learn skills to empower themselves economically.

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