All shelters welcome survivors that experience different forms of gender-based violence, including sexual violence or rape by a stranger, while most accept survivors of human trafficking. Most of the shelters accept referrals 24-hours a day, seven days a week; however, almost all have regulations that restrict access to some groups of women that contravenes the principle of access for all. For example, few shelters accommodate a wide range of women, including elderly women, women with disabilities, and women with mental health concerns. Women may self-refer to all the shelters run by NGOs, except in Bahrain and the State of Palestine. However, shelters run by governments do not commonly accept self-referrals and only host women referred through another governmental channel.
During a shelter stay, government-run shelters provide survivors with necessities, counseling, legal support and health services, and almost all offer some form of rehabilitation or community reintegration. NGO-run shelters offer similar services, in addition to immediate support for survivors and their children; this includes support after the shelter stay, something not commonly provided by government-run shelters. Some of the NGO-run shelters also provide employment and education support, continued counseling, transitional housing and limited financial support with rent.
Notably, the research finds that over half of responding shelters, regardless of affiliation, offer mediation and/or reconciliation services between the survivor and perpetrator. The Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences has warned that allowing such services can endanger a survivor and her family, therefore they should not be offered. Adjacently, only two NGOs that run shelters, in Algeria and Lebanon, respectively, provide counseling services for perpetrators.
Lastly, only seven countries in the region have enacted violence against women laws; such legislation tends to be incomplete or unclear on the provision of shelter. Furthermore, many States’ legal frameworks are inconsistent in their position on combatting domestic violence, leading to a lack of clarity on the definition of and right to shelter. Moreover, these frameworks often fail to address the establishment, regulation, and funding of shelters, particularly in relation to other protection mechanisms.
As we can see, in addition to a safe place to sleep, government-run and NGO-run shelters in the Arab region aim to offer an array of services for female survivors of violence. However, we also see gaps in the provision of service, either due to limited funding, limited human resources, an unclear awareness of the survivor-centred approach or a lack of concrete legal frameworks, in their efforts to deliver services for female survivors of violence. Based on the research, NGO-run shelters are better placed to render comprehensive and empowering services to survivors and the community at-large, but this cannot be done without resources, both material and financial, from the government, as well as clear legal guidelines to ensure the important work of shelters.
With the pandemic exacerbating an already severe domestic violence problem in the Arab region, shelter for survivors is now more important than ever.Print