Content warning: this article discusses topics around domestic violence and may be distressing to some readers
Every night, around 200 women and children stay at the Women’s and Girls’ Emergency Centre in Redfern, Sydney. These women and children are usually fleeing domestic violence, facing homelessness and seeking refuge.
Providing women and families with those immediate needs like safe housing and crisis support is at the core of what the Women’s and Girls’ Emergency Centre (WAGEC) do. But equally important, is their priority to support women holistically, helping them manage their mental health and wellbeing, connecting them with opportunities to help achieve their goals and advocating for social change for women in the community.
In Australia, almost one in four women have experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner since 15 years of age¹, and more than 40% of people who are homeless have experienced domestic violence.²
The link between domestic violence and homelessness faced by women has been long-standing.
WAGEC, one of Mental Health Coordinating Council’s newest members, was born from the experiences of a woman who joined one of the few homeless shelters available in the 1970s. Jeanne Devine, in speaking to other women in crisis, realised most of the women in shelters and on the streets were escaping domestic violence. Inspired by social change including the Women’s Liberation Movement at the time, Jeanne founded WAGEC and it became one of the first women’s refuges in Sydney.
Today, WAGEC still describes itself as a grassroots, feminist organisation working to break the cycle of violence through advocacy and education.
Photos: WAGEC supporters, including Acting CEO Nicole Yade (far right) at a WAGEC community event
WAGEC brings a gendered lens on the physical or sexual violence that women experience and the impact this has on women’s mental health.
“It’s not an easy decision for women to make the choice to leave home and find a safe place to stay – it has a massive impact on their mental health, as well as their children’s”, says Nicole Yade, Acting CEO and Director of Client Operations at WAGEC.
For women who come through WAGEC’s doors, they are often facing an incredibly challenging and difficult time. The courage to leave with little or nothing, for their own safety and their children’s, is not an easy decision to make. Many are victim survivors of physical, emotional, financial abuse and a wide range of controlling, coercive and intimidating behaviours.³
Having a safe place to stay, including transitional housing programs, assistance to find permanent housing, along with a counselling service, holistic support programs and mentoring, gives women the space to openly talk about their mental health, find their strengths and be able to move forward.
“It’s important to look at the women we serve as a whole person, in their entirety and make sure there are interventions to assist them to get back on track on all the parts that make them up as a human being”, says Nicole.
WAGEC’s intervention programs include the ACCESS program, a free mentoring program that supports women aged 18 years+ with building self-confidence, identifying strengths and setting goals for the future. The program aims to increase women’s economic opportunities, improve women’s health and wellbeing, and build on their knowledge, skills and capabilities.
Along with these support programs, having frontline workers and case managers available for women can sometimes just be about helping someone make that decision to leave, which can be transformational for their safety and their children’s safety.
Find out more about WAGEC and their support services and programs at www.wagec.org.au.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 000 or 1800RESPECT – 1800 737 732.
¹ Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2016, Family, domestic and sexual violence data in Australia, last accessed 11 November 2022.
² Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2022, Specialist homelessness services annual report 2020–21, last accessed 11 November 2022.
³ White Ribbon Australia 2022, Understanding the issue, last accessed 11 November 2022.