Support staff at a women’s shelter say they encourage families to talk to each other to find solutions for a better future, instead of focusing on problems in the past.

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SHARJAH // Support staff at the Women’s Protection Centre walk a fine line every day in trying to help distressed wives, mothers and daughters.

They must listen to every party involved in the dispute – and some of the details can be depressing – and work out the best way to approach each case while remaining compassionate, yet with the detachment required of mediators.

“Small details become big problems so I tell them, ‘you may think, what’s this? It’s so small’, but it’s not,” said social worker Fatima Al Sehhi, who counsels residents at the centre.

“I tell them, ‘you must take responsibility for everything – the baby, husband, family, home, because a woman takes care of every person in the family. So you must be intelligent and strong, even if it’s difficult’.”

Staff, with the help of a psychologist and lawyer, identify the main issues and work out how best to mediate. Pointing the finger of blame usually takes up the first few sessions when social workers speak separately to the woman, her husband or the family.

“He says, ‘she doesn’t take care of the baby, doesn’t take care of the house,’ and she says ‘he doesn’t give any money’,” Ms Al Sehhi says. “I tell them they are here to solve things.”

She offers separate advice to the women.

“I tell her don’t leave the maid to feed the children, to take care of everything. Some men take this point and make it a problem, so change this.”

The women seek refuge after being subjected to violent attacks or when their husband refuses to financially support their daughter or wife.

“Some men are careless and some drink and so are careless about the family. They will not give money and go out with friends,” says Ms Al Sehhi.

“The problem is the man does not grow with his son, with his children. I tell them to treat their wife like their daughter, talk well and don’t shout or beat.

“I say, ‘give money for the house or how will your wife take care of your house, your baby? She is a working woman and goes out thinking all the time of the baby and house so why don’t you change this worry?’ ”

Some mediation sessions can be volatile. “Face-to-face intervention can go very loud,” said Mariam Al Hammadi, the centre’s manager. “We try to find out the problem because when each one blames the other it is difficult. Then we put a plan, decide goals and objectives.”

Reintegration with families is a gradual process that involves regular monitoring.

“First they go back for two hours, then for a whole day, then maybe they will stay one night,” Ms Al Hammadi said. “We don’t put them back directly. When they leave here, it’s not that we cut relations.”

When a woman does leave, staff visit every three days, then monthly, then twice a year. Police cooperation with the centre helps to convince the family that the abuse or neglect must stop.

Finding solutions is crucial, said Ms Al Sehhi, who is relieved when women who have left call to say they have found happiness.

“When a woman says, ‘thank you. Now my husband takes care of me and is not fighting,’ I’m happy,” she said. “I’m a social worker. I must to listen not to one, but to all.”

Ms Al Hammadi said: “A woman will not tell you everything about her life. You have to stay with her and show her the way to release her sadness or anger.

“We have a psychologist who talks to them so they can change how they feel about themselves.”

Some require help with depression and have to be coaxed out of their rooms.

“We want them to relax, to release themselves, but there was one woman who always said, ‘I don’t want to go out, I just want to sleep and stay in the room’,” Ms Al Hammadi said.

“Now she asks to be taken to the salon, to the mall – she wants to see the community.”

Filipino nurse Sharon Vios checks the women for bruises and knows the stress that can be put on staff if they are not wary.

“If you are not a strong woman and don’t know how to handle these cases, you will be depressed yourself,” Ms Vios says. “We have good team working here and we are like a family.”