World's shelters for women under one roof for first time
Locally organized conference attracts 800 delegates
Alexandra Zabjek, The Edmonton Journal
Published: 8:58 am
EDMONTON - Patricia Seale and Marva Browne operate the only women's shelter in Barbados, where they rarely get the chance to meet colleagues in their field.
Madeha Al Ajaroush is helping to develop the first women's shelters in Saudi Arabia to be officially supported by that country's powerful monarchy.
The women are among 800 delegates from countries such as Rwanda, Australia and Afghanistan who are meeting in Edmonton this week for the first global conference on women's shelters.
The Canadian International Development Agency is funding dozens of front-line shelter workers -- who normally couldn't afford costly plane tickets and hotel fees -- to attend.
The Alberta Council of Women's Shelters, which is organizing the event, has also been fundraising feverishly to sponsor shelter workers from around the globe.
The women gathered in Edmonton may work in the same field, but often face struggles unique to their cultures.
"In small countries, when women are abused, there are no provisions for them for housing," said Browne, about the situation in Barbados. "A lot of the women return to the abusive situation."
In Saudi Arabia, it has been taboo to discuss violence against women in public forums until only recently.
"As Saudi women, we're very excited that the government and the king are actually supporting issues of women. That, in itself, is a big leap in our culture and society," said Al Ajaroush.
At the same time, delegates are hoping to learn from each other. Shelter workers around the world deal with such issues as how to help children who have sought refuge with their mothers and how to keep women safe when they are in a shelter. Funding is also a universal concern.
In an increasingly globalized world, women's shelter workers may also find themselves working with the same clients who move between countries.
Margaret Wong, who directs Hong Kong's oldest women's shelter, had a client who fled an abusive marriage in Edmonton to seek help in her native Hong Kong.
Immigrant women are often hesitant to seek help in their adopted countries, either because they don't know where to go or fear that it could affect their immigration status.
Being able to connect with other shelter workers could be the key to better serving victims of domestic abuse, Wong said.
"We should not have the barriers between different countries and regions because we are all serving women victims of domestic violence," Wong said. "The conference could give us the sisterhood, or brotherhood, or whatever you want to call it, to create those important linkages among us."
Leading up to the four-day conference on Monday was speaker Jackson Katz who said that men must speak out against domestic violence if the problem is ever to be solved.
It's a message that anyone who works in a shelter already knows, said Zubeda Dangor, a women's shelter director from Johannesburg, South Africa.
"It's not only a women's problem, it's a societal problem.
"Men and everybody in society need to be involved."
© The Edmonton Journal 2008
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