Sharjah shelter offers more than just refuge to abused women

Opened two years ago, the Woman's Protection Centre provides accommodation, legal assistance and psychiatric help to women who have suffered abuse, been cut off financially by their families or have been neglected by their husbands.

Mariam Al Hammadi, manager of the Women’s Protection Centre, at the shelter in Sharjah. Sarah Dea / The National
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SHARJAH // A women’s shelter has moved beyond providing a refuge for victims of domestic violence to giving them more options for a vastly better life.

The Women’s Protection Centre in Sharjah is helping to reintegrate its residents into society by teaching them skills and encouraging them to launch their own businesses.

“We have to work to change the feeling of the ladies so they forget about the abuse, so they will not stay at one point crying about their situation and go forward,” says Mariam Al Hammadi, the centre’s manager.

“Also, if they have the same situation in future they will know how to deal with it.

“They should be independent and not depend on us because there is life outside the shelter. Nobody is here to stay for their lifetime. They should go back to the community or to their families and their children.”

Opened two years ago, the centre provides a haven, legal assistance and psychiatric help to abused women and those cut off financially by their families or neglected by husbands.

The women moved into a larger villa five months ago, enabling the shelter to hold workshops for them and their children.

Initially focused on helping Emirati women, the shelter has since taken in women from other Arab and Asian countries, including the Philippines.

The centre has given refuge to 61 women and 35 children since it opened in 2012. There are now four women living under its roof.

Its goal is to encourage reconciliation, motivate them to be independent and teach them to cope with future challenges.

Counselling helps them to deal with the drunken violence and infidelity to which some of them have been subjected, and while some women go home to their families, others set up their own homes.

The shelter works closely with the police. Before a woman is admitted, a case is filed with police about the abuse. If the police deem it a risk for her to go home, or if she has no place else to go, she is admitted.

“We work with the police so we are not working alone,” Ms Al Hammadi says. “They bring the man, they work with him, tell him to change his behaviour and to sign a paper that he will not do it again.

“Some go back, some divorce because the man gets drunk and has affairs and you can’t change it. Some have problems with their families.

“We help to build their self-esteem and we try to find work for them. Some get jobs and are starting to build their own lives.”

There is a strict privacy code so the women and their families cannot be identified. Workshops teach women their legal rights.

The staff first tries to mediate between the women and the husband or family.

“First I sit alone with the woman and listen to her story, then I sit with the husband or the family and listen to them,” says social worker Fatima Al Sehhi.

“I don’t know which story is correct, so I put it together because I want to solve it. They must want to solve it and not leave things as they are.”

Women often arrive at the shelter with nothing but the clothes they are wearing, says Ms Al Sehhi.

“When she comes she doesn’t have anything, only an abaya and shayla,” she says. “So we give them everything to make them feel like this is their house.”

The centre’s 24-hour hotline can be reached at 800 700 by victims of domestic violence or anyone witnessing aggression against women.