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Austerity has been tough for many NGOs and the people they want to serve. This certainly counts for NGOs supporting women who have been victims of domestic abuse.

A 2012 report from the European Women’s Lobby found that funding for women’s rights was being drastically reduced, with public bodies and government departments for gender equality and women’s NGOs at all levels struggling for survival.

Figures for current spending on services tackling violence against women are difficult to obtain. But in a 2015 survey by Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE) among organisations in 46 countries, all respondents said their country wasn’t investing enough in this area.

The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights estimates that one in five women in the EU have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from a partner – so-called intimate partner violence (IPV – see section 2.2 of FRA report “Violence against women: an EU-wide survey”.

Euclid Network has facilitated two mutual learning events for leaders of women’s rights NGOs including Sonas and WCK that support victims of intimate partner violence under our WeGO project

We are working with partners, including WCK and Sonas, to produce European guidelines to enable women’s rights NGOs to help women victims build their economic independence on top of emergency housing and psycho-social support.

We will launch the guidelines at an event in Brussels on 29-30 November 2017.

Contact for further information:

Ireland: “more and more you’ll need evidence”

In Ireland, nearly all government funding for domestic and sexual violence service providers now comes from one state agency, the Child and Family Agency (TUSLA). Its creation in 2015 was a positive sign that such issues were being prioritised nationally — and it means less bureaucracy for NGOs, says Christina Hurson, head of services at Ireland’s Sonas Domestic Violence Charity, which provides refuge, support and housing to women and children. But it also makes them dependent on just one body: “You have to hope that your approaches align with each other. Ultimately, they’re the funders — they’ll decide what they want.” And, particularly as funding moves from grant-making to commissioning, Hurson is concerned that having a single funder might limit the ability of smaller organisations to respond to specific local needs.

The changing funding landscape has, however, led to a new focus at Sonas that Hurson views positively.

“We see this as an opportunity to build our evidence base — because more and more you’ll need to evidence both the need and what you’re [achieving]”, she says. Most of the senior team at Sonas were recruited within the last few years to help drive this more professionalised service and to lead the organisation in adapting for the future. Sonas also invested in an online database in 2015 to track numbers and trends. As Ireland’s largest service provider of its kind, it may be better placed than smaller organisations to invest its own resources in data collection, but some others have done the same, says Hurson — unthinkable ten years ago.

While austerity did impact Sonas to an extent, the charity survived by cutting some costs and restructuring services — and even developed new services in that period.

“Over 25 years we’ve built quite a bank of experience in the needs of women and children and in thinking about what trends are emerging. So it’s about trying to look for opportunities and anticipate … taking a chance with meeting an unknown need”, says Hurson. Sonas knew that the financial squeeze would mean no more refuge places added in the short term — but also that Ireland was still not meeting European standards.

Most governments still fail to provide the one shelter place per 10,000 population recommended by the Istanbul Convention: as of 2015, some 54,000 shelter places were lacking across 46 European countries.) “There was one part of Dublin that didn’t have a refuge, so that’s where we piloted our Safe Home service, the first of its kind in Ireland.” The Safe Home service provides support and short-term (two to 12 weeks) accommodation to women who’ve suffered domestic abuse, and is for women whose risks have been assessed as low to medium – risks that can be managed in the community rather than requiring 24-hour refuge support.

The pilot phase in 2014 was funded by a local authority, with TUSLA taking over for one year, and subsequently — after a successful external evaluation funded by Sonas — a further two years. “It’s not multi-annual funding, but at least we are maintaining services each year”, says Hurson. “We haven’t had to cut back.” Safe Home was also recognised in the government’s latest 10-year housing strategy as a model for victims of domestic violence — proving that some risk-taking can pay off.

“Over 25 years we’ve built quite a bank of experience in the needs of women and children and in thinking about what trends are emerging. So it’s about trying to look for opportunities and anticipate … taking a chance with meeting an unknown need.”

Greece: a 50% rise in demand, no budget increase

In Greece, meanwhile, the Women’s Centre of Karditsa (WCK) is in the enviable position of receiving a fixed yearly sum (EUR 200,000) from the local authority.

This makes up half its budget, while the other half comes from project funding. That can be unpredictable, but WCK director Aikaterini Velessiotou says the NGO has maintained its level of funding throughout the financial crisis — largely thanks to its 25 years of experience.

But if funding has so far not been cut, the increasing number of those in need has been a challenge: the number of drop-in visitors has increased by about 50% compared to a few years ago, estimates Velessiotou. Increased core funding or growing the team is not an option since WCK, as a de facto department of the municipality, is restricted by Greece’s public sector legislation.

Key to WCK’s sustainability and growth is therefore new or expanded project work: “Sometimes crisis creates new opportunities”, Velessiotou says: “you have to think a little more or find new ways to deliver activities.”

One example: over 800 Roma women live in a settlement near Karditsa, where WCK is based. “These women suffer multiple discrimination — they are uneducated, unemployed, and many are victims of violence. But they never come to our centre, so we have to go to them.” This kind of outreach would be a new activity. Velessiotou hopes to secure national government funding to train her staff and deliver the work.

Government support has been crucial to WCK’s sustainability, both politically and financially, and the centre has worked closely with the General Secretariat for Equality, many ministries, and regional and local authorities. Funding their work would otherwise be “very difficult”, says Velessiotou: “The women who come to us cannot pay for services. And at least in Greece you cannot deliver high-quality services only with volunteers.” WCK permanent staff are highly-qualified, with many years experience. “This demands a stable budget”, she says.

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