Domestic violence victims get a chance to be financially independent
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Domestic violence victims get a chance to be financially independent

The Hub to house victims as they start afresh

An NGO that seeks to understand the perspective of domestic violence victims is planning to offer them the chance to become financially independent in a renovated house to be called the Hub. Ramona Depares reports

Not enough importance is being given to the financial independence of women in cases of domestic abuse, according to the service co-ordinator at SOAR, as preparations are in full swing to open a house where those who survived a violent situation can receive a full range of support services.

This house and garden will be transformed into spaces where services are offered to domestic violence survivors by the St Jeanne Antide Foundation – but more manpower and funds are needed.This house and garden will be transformed into spaces where services are offered to domestic violence survivors by the St Jeanne Antide Foundation – but more manpower and funds are needed.

SOAR is the support and advocacy service provided to women by St Jeanne Antide Foundation, an NGO. 

Elaine Compagno said that among the new services, the Hub, as it is to be called, will offer an industrial-sized kitchen for those wishing to embark on a career in micro-catering, a fully-equipped office and a workspace for the creation of arts and crafts that will be sold on the market.

“As survivors of domestic violence, so many times we face the question: so why didn’t she leave?” observed Ms Compagno, who is one of the founding members of SOAR.

“Those who have not been through it do not appreciate that it is not simply a matter of leaving, and that the violence does not stop as soon as the woman leaves. The ramifications are never-ending, and include housing problems, emotional trauma, potential loss of employment and potential loss of children’s custody.

“The perspective of survivors cannot be ignored – and we cannot tackle domestic violence without addressing these issues.” 

The service has been offering support, mostly pro bono, to survivors across the board since its inception in 2012. Now, SOAR is working to have bigger, safer spaces for them thanks to the new Hub.

“The new premises will have spaces designed specifically for the uses we have in mind. Rather than fitting the service to the space, we now have the opportunity to fit the space to our service needs.”

One of the harshest realities faced by survivors is the lack of income

Once works at the Hub are finished, a more holistic support system will be offered to try to address every facet of domestic violence, including legal advice, mental health support and academic training for those who need to embark on a new career path.

“One of the harshest realities faced by survivors is the lack of income, especially among older women who may not have been working during the marriage or partnership. The setting up of the industrial kitchen will be a big asset in this respect as it will be rented out by the day or the hour on a subsidised rate to women who want to set up a micro-catering business and don’t have the facilities,” she explains.

More crucially, SOAR will also offer formal training in catering. “Opening up a source of income for survivors indirectly tackles other problems that women face when leaving a violent situation. For many, leaving still means that they need to find alternative accommodation, even though recent legislation makes provision for the abuser to be forced out of the home. 

“Most women end up renting, which is a major financial drain. Other daily needs which before may have been covered by shared finances, such as transport, also suddenly become more expensive.”

The Hub, which, funds permitting, is scheduled to start operating within a year, will also allow for the growth of a soap-making enterprise that SOAR initiated earlier this year, giving women the opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship.

The ground floor will also host a small organic fruit and vegetable garden, with a separate area dedicated to professionals offering pro bono services, including lawyers and counsellors. 

“The house was in a very primitive state and we are having to start works from scratch, re-installing electricity and so forth. Just clearing up the gardens took a large group of people more than three days’ work.  A team of volunteers are already offering time and effort but more manpower is needed for chores like painting, stripping, tiling, finishing and plumbing. And funds are needed to ensure works can carry on. 

“We are looking for donations and for corporate partners to help us reach this goal,” MsCompagno explains.

Meanwhile, the support group’s drive towards better awareness continues, with representatives such as Ms Compagno attending conferences, seminars and training sessions when possible. She explains how the first responders to a crisis situation are not always aware of women’s rights where domestic violence is involved. Some others remain unfamiliar with protocol.

“These people need to be offered training across the board, particularly given the new realities brought in by the new Gender Based Violence and Domestic Violence Act. But training requires co-operation between different government entities – sometimes, this is the missing link,” she concludes.

Organisations that are interested in offering a corporate partnership in order to finish off the SOAR Hub Project are invited to send an e-mail to soarmalta@gmail.com or charlotte.sjaf@gmail.com. Donations of funds and services are also welcomed and can be done online through www.antidemalta.org/how-you-can-help.html

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