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Sherron Walker Harford, Domestic Violence Activist and committee member of The Shelter: A Safe House for Battered Women and Children.

The appropriate resources needed by NGOs and activists to effectively fight gender-based violence are hindered by lack of finance, support, communication and access.

This was stated by Sherron Walker Harford chair of the fundraising and property committees at The Shelter: A Safe House for Battered Women and Children.

Harford commented during a telephone interview as she spoke on yesterday’s United Nations observance of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

She said more than speaking up during such designated days, the discussion and work to fight violence against women needed to be aggressive and prominent all year-round through combined efforts.

On its own, the NGO established since 1987 by the former director of the Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Diana Mahabir-Wyatt, has been trying to make a difference, but with not much financial assistance and the required manpower to be effective.

Harford said such a situation is faced by so many other NGO’s and activists championing this cause, saying it was like having their hands tied.

She said, the shelter, which had to close its doors two years ago for much-needed renovation and would be reopened in late January 2021, receives a small government subvention, which did not pay more than one salary. And much of its financial support apart from fundraising came from corporate entities.

But while the rebuilding of the shelter was one load off, Harford said there was a dire need for fundraising to afford permanent specialised professionals like social workers, counsellors, housekeepers and security personnel.

“Our desperate need is for the finance for us to have the supporting staff because it is one thing for the ladies to come in and for them to be physically healed—that’s the easy part, providing lunches, that also an easy part, but the counselling is what is the permanent healing and would help to break the cycle,” said Harford.”

She explained, the shelter which houses over 20 victims at a time, strives to provide an all-encompassing service to victims and survivors through counselling, skillset training, temporary housing, medical care, home visits and even perpetrator therapy to break the cycle of violence.

Currently, the shelter, which is in its final stages of renovation, remains closed. And victims are offered offsite counselling through counsellors and social workers to whom the NGO is affiliated. These professionals as explained by Harford, render a pro bono service in some instances but for the most part, the NGO covers the cost of such services provided to victims.

She said the NGO previously appealed to Government bodies to establish a working group consisting of five key ministries—the Ministries of National Security, Health, Housing, Education and Social Development and Family Services. All needed in providing a holistic solution for victims.

“When we get our ladies, that is through the Ministry of National Security. Then we need to have a doctor so that’s the Ministry of Health, then we need to have a counsellor that’s the Ministry of Social Development, then we need to have skillset training so that is the Ministry of Education then we have to try and find housing for them, that’s the Ministry of Housing. So five Ministries need to work together,” illustrated Harford.

Yesterday the United Nations Women’s arm, called on governments around the world to address the issue of violence against women as part of their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The theme for this year’s observance is: Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect.

But even with such calls and the tireless work by activists, Harford said, domestic violence activism still seemed an unpopular cause because of mindsets influenced by cultural and social norms.

“Everyone is very happy to donate to a cause that doesn’t point a finger at themselves. Domestic violence and violence against women is something that most people don’t wish to be associated with because of the Trinidadian mentality. We’re not a popular cause. Yet we are a cause that needs support from every single part of the Government and society,” Harford stressed.

Additionally, the shame, blame and stigma that come with domestic violence also played active roles in hindering the fight, Harford related.

She said there were still too many people who believed violence was only associated with particular socio-economic and socio-demographic groups.

“The only way we are even going to see a change in mindset or break the cycles is if we stop the shame and blame and we help each other, everyone playing their part.”

To assist voluntarily or financially, visit the NGO’s Facebook page or Tego Donations. They can also be contacted at 628-1116.