The Students for Women Only Services Group held a vigil in Sydney on July 24 to protest against the recent decision to defund specialist women’s and children’s refuge centres in NSW.
The vigil was attended by about 300 people. Speakers included Asian Australian Alliance convener Daphne Lowe Kelley, United Muslim Women Association CEO Maha Abdo, NSW Greens MLC Mehreen Faruqi and Labor MLC Sophie Cotsis.
The government’s decision to cut funding to specialist women and children’s services across the state has meant some refuges will be forced to close and others will be handed over to private organisations.
NSW Labor MLC Linda Burney said the women-only refuges provided an important service to the community.
“The reason why women’s only services were established 40 years ago by women for women was because of the high rates of domestic violence and the high rates of sexual assault. These numbers are still on the rise,” she said.
Handing over refuges to private groups means that the care of women and children fleeing from domestic violence will, in some cases, be taken over by religious organisations.
Lowe Kelley said she is concerned about what the reforms will mean for women with multicultural backgrounds: “Culturally and linguistically diverse women are severely disadvantaged. I’m particularly concerned for the women in our community and the lack of services and registers for them.”
Abdo echoed these concerns, saying refuges catering to women and children of diverse backgrounds are under threat.
“As the Muslims Women’s Association, a service which we provide for women of all ethnic backgrounds, we are now finding that we have to re-tender for a service that we’ve been providing for 35 years,” she said.
Social workers say they are seriously concerned that the Salvation Army could now tender to refuges. The Royal Commission into child sex abuse heard in April that the Salvation Army promoted a confessed child sex offender, Colin Haggar, and put him in charge of a shelter for women and children.
Labor speakers at the vigil said they would fight for the government to restore funding to the women only refuges.