Secured Shelters: A beacon of hope for victims of Gender Based Violence

Accra, Feb 28, GNA-Shelters are key amenities in the resolution of Gender Based Violence (GBV), yet these facilities are very limited in Ghana and poses hindrance to the eradication of the menace in the country.

Currently, Ghana has only one shelter functioning, the Ark Foundation, which is privately owned.

The country has pockets of Children's Homes which are used as temporal dwellings for children who have been abused, trafficked and houses GBV victims and survivors.

Even though the Government has set up a shelter in Accra, there is little empirical evidence to help us understand the nature of these shelters and the services they provide to domestic violence survivors.

A shelter is said to be a place giving temporary protection from bad weather or danger.

Evidence and Lessons from Latin America (ELLA) in its research on, “Providing Better
Protection for Victims of Domestic Violence in Ghana”, defined shelter as an example of the kind of protective services that help survivors recover from domestic violence.

They are facilities designed to shield victims from their abusers and prevent future harm while offering opportunities for rehabilitation. A shelter focuses on providing psycho-social
support and skills training for its clients.

Specifically, it offers clients a place to live, psychological counselling and therapy, food and clothing, as well as medical care.

It also assists clients to access vocational and other educational training and covers all costs associated with it. Children are placed in schools in.

Violence against women and girls is the most shameful human rights violation. And it is the most pervasive. It knows no boundaries of geography, culture, or wealth.

As long as it continues, we cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development, and peace.” (Kofi Annan, Former UN Secretary General, 1999).

According to statistics from the Accra Regional Office of the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU), as of August 2020, 31.9 per cent of Ghanaian women faced at least one form of domestic violence - physical, economic, psychological, social, or sexual.

These are statistics from the capital alone even though Ghana is made up of 16 statutory regions thereby, making the only shelter available as well as the temporal homes woefully inadequate.

Memuna (not her real name) a trader, is in court trying to seek justice for her five-year-old daughter who was defiled by her 51 year old Arabic Teacher, Abdul Mugis, in Accra the capital of Ghana.

The mother in her quest to seek justice for the child became the victim of harassment and threats and had to seek asylum in a private shelter.

Similarly, a 90-year-old woman, Madam Akua Denteh, in 2020, was beaten to death in broad daylight at Kafaba in the Northern of Ghana after she was accused of being a witch.

These among many other cases are the plight of women and girls faced with domestic violence in Ghana and globally.

“Across the world, violence against women and girls remains one of the most serious- and the most tolerated- human rights violations, both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality and discrimination.

Ghana passed the Domestic Violence Act as far back as 2007 but the absence of a legal instrument backing the law has left the provision and coordination of support services, such as shelters and the establishment of a Domestic Violence Fund for domestic violence survivors, in the hands of mostly non-state actors.

Ghana is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the only convention on human rights treaty, which affirms the reproductive rights of women and targets culture and tradition as influential forces shaping gender roles and family relations.

Ghana is one of only six countries in West Africa and 20 in sub-Saharan Africa to have enacted legislation to combat domestic violence.

Although the Domestic Violence Act has been passed, full implementation is a challenge. Consequently, the law is not yet fully operationalised.

Ideally, effective legislation should focus on the three P’s – Prevention, Protection and Punishment.

But in Ghana, the focus is primarily on punishment, thus, the state provides legal interventions to survivors of domestic violence such as specialised courts designed to fast-track domestic violence cases and a specialised police unit – the Domestic Violence Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU).

Madam Mercy Acquah-Hayford, the National Coordinator, Inerela Ghana, a non governmental organisation, lamented how the lack of shelter in the country was affecting effective GBV case management in country.

"On countless occasions I have had people who have been abused together with their children sleeping on my couch because there are no places to keep them. In some instances, we have to check victims into hotels and in worse cases, rent accommodation to keep them for their safety.

Through donor support, assistance from individuals and friends, Inerela Ghana, have been building the capacity of victims to make them independent, pay their hospital bills when needed among others, Madam Acquah-Hayford stated.

She said the issue of shelter in the country was a serious one with a lot of risk involved and if the government does not treat it as urgent the consequences would be grave because as it stands now, some of the cases are let go due to the challenge.

The National Coordinator said the number of cases her outfit received on daily basis was alarming thus appealed for at least a shelter in each community to salvage the situation.

The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection must be up and doing in ensuring that the lives of women and children who are being abused are well protected, she charged.

Ms Lois Adumoah Addo, the Programmes Manager of Women in Law and Development Africa (WiLDAF) in an interview with the Ghana News Agency, noted that for the many children who go through abuses and a country with 16 regions these facilities were not enough compared to the cases being recorded on daily basis.

She said Ghana needs to improve the protection of domestic violence victims by adopting a more holistic approach, which include measures that provide space and support for the recovery of survivors.

She called on the government to prioritise the establishment of secured shelters to compliment efforts of the privately owned ones, saying the government needed to also prioritise issues around violence against children in the country.

Mrs Patricia Isabella Essel, a Gender Activist, said, “the life and dignity of people is what makes shelters extremely important otherwise innocent soles would be lost so, I entreat the government to fast-track work on establishing shelters and ensure that the places acquired would be put to good use,” she stated.

She called for appropriate and adequate budgeting, effective response systems, more shelters, training support for officials, provide logistics and resources that were needed by state institutions such as social welfare, the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) and DOVVSU to enable them work effectively.

Mrs Essel noted that much coordination was needed between the Ministry of Gender, Children and social Protection and the various stakeholders from the court, judge, Clarke, for effective implementation of the Act to deal with GBV issues.

This article was produced with the support of the Africa Women’s Journalism Project (AWJP) in partnership with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) with support from the Ford Foundation.