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Issue #1654      September 3, 2014


Action to save women’s refuges

Last Sunday, August 31, around 200 people, including representatives from a number of trade unions, gathered in the Sydney suburb of Glebe in the rain to protest at the closure of the Elsie’s Women’s Refuge. As of Sunday women’s refuges and Aboriginal-run homelessness services are closed, and many other women’s services will no longer operate as independent women-only services. Many of the refuges are fighting to keep their doors open to women and children fleeing domestic violence.

A protest in Sydney last week against the closure of women’s refuges by the Baird Government. (Photo: Linda)

Elsie’s, the first women’s refuge (1974) has been taken over by St Vincent De Paul, as has Dolores in the Eastern Suburbs and Bega women’s refuge: Delvena’s on the North Shore was taken over by Mission Australia; Kempsey by the Samaritans; Allawah House – crisis accommodation for girls 24-18, by the Benevolent Society.

The loss of independent services has devastated and outraged communities across NSW. Specialist staff with expertise that keep women and children safe, and that also have culturally appropriate connections, have been made redundant. This a familiar story for women’s refuges and Aboriginal crisis housing services across NSW. The large Christian organisations will oversee services very differently to small, secular community-run operation. This restructure is plainly incompatible with restorative, feminist and social justice perspectives.

Women’s services that will no longer operate as independent feminist services include: Marcia’s in Campbelltown, East Lakes, Moruya, Bourke, Taree, Tweed Heads, Wagga Wagga.

Several other refuges are waiting on the government’s promise of possible 18-month extended funding. Lillian’s and Jean’s in Sydney’s inner west, and St George Women’s Housing are among these specialist services. Erin’s Place in Marsfield and Killara in Randwick and Claffy House in Burwood are already shut. Women’s domestic violence services in Grafton, Forbes, Queanbeyan and St Louise Lodge in Sydney will no longer be operating as domestic violence services.

These losses are part of major reforms across welfare that introduced competitive tendering in the welfare sector. This process privileges the big NGOs, almost all of which are Christian (75 percent of homelessness service contracts were awarded to these organisations in June this year). The competitive tendering process is set to role out across welfare services, beyond the homelessness sector: next to be hit will be the drug and alcohol sector.

There has been little transparency and workers, service users and the community have been kept in the dark.

In 85 percent of cases, domestic violence is used to keep women in the home. In NSW, women are at least 2.5 times more likely to be killed by someone with whom they are in a relationship. Women want to take refuge in safe places that understand the nature and complexity of this form of violence. With reduced services to turn to, women are forced to stay at home. Women who do leave are to be faced with an increased risk of homelessness.

“Go home, stay home” is the Baird government’s message. These changes seek to keep people in situations that they would otherwise leave. Diverse communities need community-run, independent specialist women-only services.

Don’t let these services be ripped away. Help build resistance to these closures and these outright attacks on women, Aboriginal people and young people.

Next article – March Against Abbott, Perth

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