Responding to violence or just failing women?

In the week of #IWD2023, this post is about a current and ongoing emergency situation of violence against women and girls (VAWG). This situation is taking place in a particular country, but many of the issues it raises are common to VAWG response efforts elsewhere. Indeed, members of the Making Waves network all have stories of how the VAWG response leaves women unsupported in their own countries. 

In this particular case, it involves a woman who is employed as a domestic and care worker. She separated from her partner as he was violent towards her. When she separated from him, she took a protection order against him. 

We feel it’s important to protect their confidentiality and privacy – so let’s call the woman B and her child Baby A. 

The ex-partner continuously violated the protection order by attacking her and threatening to kill her. B took refuge in the house of the woman she works for, who is a Making Waves member. We’ll call her G-A. 

B and Baby A arrived at G-A’s house with nothing – no nappies, no food, no change of clothes, no money. G-A kitted them out, fed them and put them up in her home, using her own money. B and Baby A stayed with G-A, and then found alternative accommodation to get away from the violent ex-partner. However, it soon became clear he was stalking B, because he found out where she was staying and attacked her there. This happened several times. B reported it to the police, who would plead lack of transport. G-A would pay for the taxis to get the police around.

One night, the ex-partner appeared at B’s house. He was shouting and aggressive. B took Baby A and fled again, back to the home of G-A. Once there, they called the police, and asked for the ex-partner to be arrested as he had broken the terms of the protection order, and was dangerous. The police said that B would have to come to the station. They could not send a car for her, she’d have to make her own way, but then she could go with them in the police car to arrest the man. So, at 1am, she walked to the station. When she arrived, she was told that no, they could not go to make the arrest as the police car was out of fuel. She called G-A, who said she would send money to a mobile wallet to pay for fuel for the police car. But the police told her they’d still have to wait until morning when shops opened and they could cash in the mobile money to get fuel. So B walked back home to G-A’s house, at 3am, on her own. It’s not clear why they said this, since a few hours later but before the shops opened, the police car was used to pick the man up. He was remanded, then released when he paid a fine of around US$30 for infringing his protection order. 

After he was remanded, and before the sentencing, G-A spoke with a women’s organisation that specialises in support for GBV survivors. They asked G-A to send B to them so she could speak to a counsellor. However, when she got there, she did not see a counsellor. Instead, the receptionist made her narrate her whole issue at reception, and then sent her to a women’s legal support organisation. She could not get help there either.

Some nights later, B was back at her own home with Baby A. It was two days after the man had been fined for breaching his protection order. He turned up, smashed the window, got into B’s bedroom, assaulted her and raped her. Once again, she fled. Once again, G-A took her in, then got her to the police, and then the adult rape clinic where she was treated with great kindness and dignity. She and Baby A again stayed at G-A’s home, until she could get her a space in a safe house for women experiencing violence. 

The next day, when G-A was out but had asked her nephew to be at her home in case of any problems, the man turned up. He was again angry and aggressive, demanding to see B and Baby A, trying to get into G-A’s house. G-A’s nephew told him he should phone B, that she was not there. The man tried, but could not reach B as her phone was not connected. He then turned his back, and apparently took rat poison – he started vomiting, staggering, then lay on the grass. The nephew went to a neighbour to borrow their phone, as he did not have airtime himself. He called G-A to let her know the situation. G-A then called the police, and asked them to go to her house and arrest the man. Four hours later, they still had not done so. G-A hired a taxi, went to the police station to fetch the police, and took them in the taxi to her home. The man was still there, but he saw the police and ran off. The police chased and caught him. He was put in the cells. 

Meanwhile B and Baby A are still at the safe house. There are about 10 women and six children there. There is very little food, and everyone there is hungry. They do not complain because the last woman who asked the safe house to provide more food was expelled. When B had to go to the adult rape clinic for follow-up, staff at the safe house told her to go by herself and did not give her money for transport. Apparently they only accompany women if they are from outside the city, and as B knows her way around, she is left to travel alone, despite her vulnerability. The women’s rights association is still unable to assist. 

B will not be able to go home, it is too dangerous. G-A is looking out for somewhere else B can rent. She will need to pay a deposit and the first month’s rent – money B does not have. G-A is helping her, but all these costs are mounting up. G-A has already spent her own money on food, clothes, nappies for B and Baby A, fuel for police cars, taxis, airtime for herself, her nephew and B, so they can make calls when things happen and they are in danger. She even bought 20 packets of snacking corn for the women and children in the safe house, knowing they are hungry. She knows that won’t go far, but it’s something. She has been babysitting Baby A, including when B has to be in court. But this means she is falling behind with her paid work, so her own income is suffering. 

And what if B did not have the support of G-A? What happens to all those women who do not have a G-A? And who is supporting G-A? Why are the police telling women to walk alone in the middle of the night? Why are they not urgently attending when a man turns violent? Why does infringement of a protection order merit such a small fine? How can it be that a man who has an order against him for violence is able to break in to the woman’s home and rape and assault her? How does this keep happening? Why are women and their children hungry in safe houses? Why is there no assistance from women’s rights associations who are there to support women? Why are women being failed so badly? Why is the phrase ‘Zero tolerance to violence against women and children’ so utterly meaningless?  How can these failings be addressed to #EndVAWG?

On International Women’s Day #IWD2023, when the world is talking about gender equality and using the slogan #EmbraceEquity, these are the questions we are asking. Who is listening? 

Written by Making Waves.

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