Sisters Uncut

Taking direct action for domestic violence services.

The strange case of the disappearance of the specialist women’s sector

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Guest blog from a former Eaves worker.

On 30 October 2015 Eaves, a feminist, secular and human rights based charity working on all forms of violence against women and girls with specific expertise on sexual violence, closed its doors.

As well as frontline work, Eaves undertook research, policy, campaigning and advocacy and was well known for being outspoken and critical of Governments of all hues. Eaves’ inspirational chief executive, Denise Marshall, handed her O.B.E. back to David Cameron saying that she had been awarded it for providing quality, specialist services to women and that the political and economic choices of his Government meant that she could no longer fulfil this role adequately.

Eaves handed back its refuges and they were taken over by a generic housing association as is happening across the sector. They duped staff and then rapidly reviewed and amended terms and conditions. These women were not on huge salaries but even so this resulted in a drastic cut in wages of women who had devoted years of their lives to supporting women. Many of them were survivors themselves. They had built up experience, skills and professionalism in this sector. They also often were single mothers scraping a living in London.

The very day that the new “provider” started up operation, they phoned Eaves. “Well, we have a service user who needs you to go with her to the housing department to advocate for her for move on and housing”. This is precisely why we realised we couldn’t deliver the tender to the appropriate quality and standard for the money and we were not prepared to lie and say that we could and nor could we subsidise this work from our own money as our reserves are minimal. We know that women do not need only a roof over their head. They need a range of support – often counselling, often time consuming and resource intensive advice and advocacy on a range of matters – including housing, benefits, immigration, child contact and custody, health access, support through legal processes etc etc.

We see this pattern repeated over and over again – large generic, non-specialist organisations with no track record or expertise on violence against women or on specific issues put in tenders that look glossy and cheap. Quite often they have managed to accumulate vast reserves which limits risk for commissioners and which they could deploy to subsidise poorly funded tenders – letting government off the hook.  Commissioners are delighted to have a non- politicised, non-specialist, undemanding, non-challenging and lowest unit cost provider to tick the boxes  – if not to actually deliver a quality service.

What is lost is not only the quality of service that women want, need and are entitled to, not only respect and remuneration for quality, professional, specialist women’s wages but also the independence of voice, purpose and action of the ngo sector as highlighted by the Baring report.

This is not purely cuts this is a direct and concerted attack on the rights of the most marginalised and on our ability to hold the ever-shrinking state to account. By the same token it is impunity for perpetrators and in some cases the death-knell for women victims of male violence.

What has become of the services at Eaves?

Despite having only a very small timeframe in which to try to transfer and safeguard services, Eaves has managed to do so to some extent.

  • The ISVA was absorbed by the Gaia centre – a project run by Refuge in the Lambeth area.
  • The Beth centre reverted to Women in Prison and is still there though looking for new premises.
  • The Alice project, helping women rebuild their lives after violence, sadly was not found a home.
  • The Poppy project is striving to continue in its own right as an independent organisation – there is likely to be a gap in service for a while but the team are still there and still fighting. We will be happy to update in future publications but Poppy is determined to keep going.

Take action:

  1. The UK government has still not ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (known as Istanbul Convention). This convention requires gender specific, specialist, proportionate and resources services – join the campaign, write to you MP – urge ratification without delay!
  2. Find out and Donate to specialist women’s services in your area and see if you can support them – fundraise for them, fight for them, help them in a way that works for them!