Over recent years the NSW Government’s “Going Home, Staying Home” changes have had the impact of transforming many of the women’s refuges established and run by feminists since the 1970s into generic homelessness services often now operated by religious charities. In most cases these services are also now required to provide a service to a range of homeless people and are no longer able to focus their attention on the needs of women and children escaping domestic violence.
While the government claims no beds have been lost, the accommodation now being offered is frequently inappropriate and is typically unsupported by specialised domestic violence workers. Women and their children are frequently offered temporary accommodation in a motel room or in a facility that accommodates other homeless individuals, often including men, and they are not receiving the intensive support necessary to leave abusive partners. Many women are still turned away altogether.
Management of these refuges has in many cases passed from women operating within a feminist framework to churches that actively promote male headship, discourage divorce, restrict women’s reproductive rights, actively discriminate against women within their own organisations, and have a history of covering up child abuse. A feminist framework for the management of women’s refuges and appropriately trained staff is essential if we are to empower women to leave abusive relationships.
The Federal and NSW Government need to work together to ensure that funding is restored and increased to enable adequate resourcing of women’s refuges run by women, exclusively for women and children escaping domestic violence. These services should not be required to operate as generic homelessness services. Segregated domestic violence funding needs to be allocated to ensure women’s refuges do not continue to be subsumed within state housing services. There also needs to be acknowledgement that refuges and other domestic violence support services are best operated within a feminist framework and staffed exclusively by women, for women and their children in accordance with international models of best practice.
Useful resources on the gendered nature of domestic violence.