When people ask me what I do in my spare time I tell them that I volunteer for an organisation called Shakti. I also tell them that Shakti provides services and support for Asian, Middle Eastern and African women and their children who have survived domestic violence.
This is usually followed by the comment, “But anyone can go through domestic violence.”
That is true. I usually go on to explain that, yes, anyone can experience domestic violence, but how many shelter and refuges cater towards the culturally specific needs of migrant and refugee women?
To which they respond, “All of them, of course.”
These responses are common and it tells us that many people believe that a one-size fits all approach is adequate when helping migrant and refugee women and their children from Middle Eastern, African and Asian backgrounds who have escaped or are wishing to leave their abuser in a domestic violence situation in Aotearoa. However, the current mainstream refuges are based off a bicultural model, even though Aotearoa is a multicultural country. The one-size fits all approach ignores the different stigmas, values, lifestyles and modes of support and communication that exist in migrant and refugee communities. This is clearly an attitude that was echoed by the Ministry of Social Development when they declined funding for Shakti Wellington Refuge this year, despite the needs analysis that indicated the demand for culturally appropriate services.
There needs to be a Shakti refuge based in Wellington that not only services the Wellington population, but the greater Wellington region including Hutt Valley and New Plymouth. In the 2013 census, 11.4% (33,036) respondents in Wellington identified as being Asian, Middle Eastern, African or Latin American. With such a large migrant population in Wellington, we need a refuge that provides support and advocacy for women who don’t fit under the biculturalism model that is currently in place in mainstream refuges. This need is evident from the fact that Shakti Wellington Refuge serviced over 350 women last year, with over 200 referrals coming from the Police.
These services are not only inappropriate because they do not understand the cultural needs and backgrounds of many migrant and refugee women, but because of stigmas within our own communities. We grow up hearing our parents, our friends, and people in New Zealand’s migrant and refugee communities say things like:
“You may be in New Zealand but you shouldn’t follow New Zealand culture.”
“In our culture, that is not how we do things.”
“Divorce is a Western concept, it is unacceptable in our culture.”
“It is shameful to leave your husband.”
With these kinds of messages persisting in our communities, it makes leaving an abusive relationship an even more daunting task than it already is. There are already so many barriers to stop women from reaching out for help. Racial discrimination and ignorance from New Zealanders is coupled with the potential of facing backlash from your own communities. Finding support shouldn’t be another hurdle for migrant and refugee women to struggle over.
Wellington and its greater region needs a refuge that provides culturally appropriate life-saving services for women in need. Shakti Wellington Refuge provides something that can genuinely help achieve this. Without the refuge in Wellington, the nearest option for women seeking help would be in Shakti refuge in Tauranga, which would be a six hour drive away. If Shakti Wellington Refuge continues to be under-resourced, it means that they cannot provide the support and advocacy to the migrant women who need it.
Of course, the problems won’t end if Shakti Wellington Refuge receives funding. We still have a long way to go in dismantling the racism that prevented the funding in the first place, and in ending gender-based violence so that there isn’t such a high demand for shelters and refuges.
But it is a necessary step in the right direction.