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Migrant women's refuge struggling to stay afloat

Eva Corlett, Reporter

The only Wellington refuge set up for migrant women and children suffering domestic abuse is imploring the government for more funding so it can stay afloat.

Shakti delivered a petition to Parliament on Thursday, with more that 5300 signatures calling on the government to provide at least $60,000 in annual contracted funding for the Wellington branch.

Its Wellington refuge helps 300 women and 200 children who are victims of family violence each year.

Originally created to be a drop-in centre, it expanded in 2014 as the new refuge service, after two Wellington women were murdered. The national organisation has been operating in New Zealand since 1995.

The refuge is designed to traverse cultural and language barriers for predominantly Asian, Middle-Eastern and African families.

"There are several culturally specific differences in the forms of abuse in immigrant communities," Shakti's youth co-ordinator Mengzhu Fu said.

"It could be dowry abuse, honour-based violence, forcing underage marriage - these are all issues that don't affect the mainstream population."

Immigration status can also make women more vulnerable, and reluctant to speak out about violence, she said.

"If you're reaching out for support for domestic violence, you want to speak to someone who understands you, where you don't have to explain your culture or your religion."

The Ministry of Social Development increased funding by 30 percent for all family violence agencies in this year's Budget, including for Shakti's existing contracted services.

Shakti's national body accepted that boost, however, its relatively new Wellington branch isn't considered an existing contract and its services were not considered for the 30 percent increase.

"We are really grateful for, and appreciate, MSD's ongoing support for our services outside of Wellington," Ms Fu said. "This is the first time any funding has been increased in the past 10 years and nothing had been adjusted for inflation or rising costs of living."

Even with the increase, the services are still overloaded, she said. If the national board stretched that 30 percent increase to its Wellington service too, other regions like Auckland, Christchurch and Tauranga would suffer.

"It would mean, essentially, we are short-changed for our other services."

Ministry 'supportive' of Shakti's work

The Ministry of Social Development said Shakti was allocated $122,000 as a result of new funding announced by the government in the 2018 Budget. The formal funding offer, with the additional funds, came to $627,451.

"Reducing family and sexual violence is a priority for the ministry and we are supportive of the services that Shakti provide the community," MSD's deputy chief executive, Viv Rickard, said.

He said the Ministry met with Shakti in June, to talk over how the additional funding could be used. "We advised that their Wellington refuge and service provision would be included in their contract," he said.

But Ms Fu said that would be a technical provision under the existing services, rather than equating to additional funding or a new contract.

Three funding options were presented to Shakti, including allowing Shakti to specify how much funding would go to the Wellington branch, another that recommended to Shakti how much should be allocated to that branch and another that gave money to just the existing contracts.

Shakti opted for the choice that meant their Wellington services remain unfunded, Mr Rickard said.

"From our perspective, the government made a choice to lift the amount of funding in the sector. That money went to Shakti and how they decide to use that funding is entirely up to them," he said.

Mr Rickard acknowledged that services in the sector are financially challenged, and that was why there was a 30 percent funding boost given.

He said there are other refuges in Wellington and they are able to provide support to refugees and migrants too.

"But I recognise the excellent work that Shakti do in that area."

The ministry said that Shakti has also been involved in consultations on the Family Violence Funding Plan, which will outline investment in services over the next four years.

Ministry's options 'unfair'

But Ms Fu said the options presented expected them to take away funding from existing services. "We felt that this was an unfair expectation and not a decision we were prepared to make."

She said the organisation wasn't given any opportunity to negotiate the options further. "There is a real need in the community, and throughout these last five years, we've been consistently denied contracted government funding."

Ms Fu said it's hard to understand why the Wellington site isn't getting allocated funding, when the funding given is calculated from all of its other sites.

A senior advisor at Shakti, Shila Nair said on the one hand, the police are referring people to their Wellington service, while on the other MSD is saying the needs can be met by other refuges.

"There is a steadfast refusal to acknowledge the need for services for migrant women in Wellington," she said.

Ms Nair said the $627,451 funding boost has to service four refuges, a 24-hour crisis line and 14 drop-in centres across the country.

So far, the Wellington branch has been helped by community and trust donations, and a one-off $50,000 grant obtained via the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians under the previous government.

The money was given to the national body, which chose to use it for the Wellington site last year. "That itself showed a huge reluctance on the part of the department to specifically contract Shakti Wellington as a new service," Ms Nair said.

Ms Fu said the organisation feels there is an institutional bias against migrant women, because their services are not given as much funding as others.

Shakti has also launched a crowdfunding campaign online, that includes 16 days of activism against gender violence.

Where to get help:

Women's Refuge: (0800 733 843)

It's Not OK (0800 456 450)

Shine: 0508 744 633

] Victim Support]: 0800 650 654

HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): be 04 801 6655 - 0

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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