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Govt urged to legislate to streamline shelters for women

Govt urged to legislate to streamline shelters for women

Emphasising the need for legislation on shelters for victims of gender-based violence, a consultative meeting on Friday discussed the challenges of running such shelter homes in the province and recommended the women’s development and social welfare department to work together to streamline efforts.

The Sindh Commission on the Status of Women (SCSW) in collaboration with the Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO) organised the consultative meeting with government officials – mainly from district administrations, the Women’s Development Department and the Social Welfare Department to discuss the various challenges regarding shelters for women victims of violence.

Minister for Women’s Development Syeda Shehla Raza, the commissioners of Hyderabad, Sukkur and Nawabshah as well as representatives of various districts attended the meeting to discuss the on-ground situation of safe houses for women across Sindh, and their administrative, financial and legal matters.

Raza said that there is need to run a one-window operation at shelters with the support of all line departments and women rights NGOs. According to Raza, her department was severely understaffed and lacked resources because of which it was not functioning properly. She said she was committed to bringing about structural changes as per the law to make the department active to resolve women’s issues. SCSW Chairperson Nuzhat Shirin said the purpose of the meeting was to fulfil the court orders issued to the commission on the issue of safe houses.

Shirin informed the participants that the SCSW has visited safe houses and Darul Amans and also the district administrations for reports. “The commission observed that there is no clear rationale about operations of safe houses, the controlling and reporting authority is unclear and undefined and appointment of officers, caretakers does not exist.”

Shirin also said that the budgetary mechanisms are also unclear or vague and SOPs, referral and operational mechanisms are unavailable. Women are also not aware about the availability of shelters, she added.

The SCSW chief said they would develop the mechanism to run shelters in order to streamline their controlling authority, budgetary allocations, human resources and SOPs. Sharing the issues being faced in functionalising safe houses, district officials said that shelters have been established on ad hoc basis and there are no centralised operating procedures.

Anis Haroon, member of the National Commission of Human Rights and women rights activist Malka Khan also attended the meeting. The participants recommended the need for legislation on the issue of safe houses and subsequent working on legal aspects to define the controlling authority, SOPs for custody issues, length of stay of admitted person, rights of the admitted person availing the facility of safe houses, role of police, role of women’s development and social welfare departments, and security.

They said safe houses are currently under the Social Welfare Department but since the affected persons in Sindh are mostly women suffering from gender-based violence, the Women’s Development Department needs to have control.

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