Women living in shelters and open centres struggling to support themselves, study finds

A report by the Women's Rights Foundation and Jesuit Refugee Service found that women living in open centres and domestic violence shelters weren't being given the necessary help required for them to become independent

Women living in open centres and domestic violence shelters are struggling to achieve self-sufficiency, a study conducted by the Jesuit Refugee Service in partnership with Women’s Right’s Foundation Malta revealed. 

The study’s findings, which were announced on Friday, found that one of the widespread issues for women living in institutional settings was self-sufficiency.

The report said that living in a shared establishment for a prolonged period restricted independence and that all participants expressed a strong desire to live in their own home, without having to depend on an external system.

“As a result of the continuously increasing and unaffordable rent prices in the country, many are left with no choice but to apply for government housing.”

However, the report found that some women could end up spending years on waiting lists for housing.

Currently, there are an estimated 114 women living in institutional settings and open centres across the Maltese islands. Many of these women are driven out of their homes as a result of domestic violence, while others seek refuge after escaping the dangers of war and persecution in their countries of origin.

The report focused on five focus groups: three groups from domestic violence shelters and two from open centres around Malta and Gozo.

It found that in all groups, participants said they struggled to make ends meet. The report also noted that residents in institutional settings received little to no financial aid by the government.

This, it said, hindered their ability to provide for themselves and to meet basic needs. “While some individuals receive social welfare benefits from the government, it is often not enough to support those with children.”

Moreover, some shelters also imposed a regular contribution on their residents, “which is at times considered too high in relation to the amount they receive in benefits.”

Another issue raised by the study was the fact that besides mainstream courses, little educational support was provided to those looking to achieve self-sufficiency.

“In the case of those living in open centres, no information is provided on the different systems in Malta,” the report said, adding that while some courses were available, they did not equip women with the necessary tool to develop and better themselves.

An emphasis was also placed on the length of some court cases, as well as the issue of protection. It was also pointed out that after exposing themselves and testifying against abusers in court, many women felt they were not given adequate protection. “As a result of this, women are often left feeling vulnerable and unable to take the necessary steps to move on with their lives.”

Participants, especially those in domestic violence shelters, also said that the lack of support in regards to childcare hindered them from being able to find employment.

Single mothers, who tend to have little to no family support, are often left with few options in terms of work as there are very few suitable childcare options, the report found. “While the government offers free childcare services for working mothers, this is only offered once a woman has a promise of work.”

This was preventing women from actively engaging in job searches and attending interviews, the study found.

Another issue raised by participants, especially those living in domestic violence shelters, was the adequacy of staff, who it was pointed out were very often inadequately trained to provide emotional support to victims of domestic violence.

Participants also registered that while therapy is offered in some settings, it is often only available on an irregular basis, or not at all. “In many cases, women are referred to other services offering psychological support, at which point they are placed on an often lengthy waiting list.”

The two NGOs called on government to provide safe spaces, where women living in shelters can heal, and find support and services that are needed in order for them to rebuild their lives. They also called on timely financial support to be made available to vulnerable women.

Another recommendation was for lawyers that formed part of the legal aid service to receive training on domestic violence, while also calling for a housing project to cater for these women’s needs.

More in National