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3rd World Shelter Conference of Women’s Shelters: Abuses in the Dutch women’s shelters

03 november 2015

Abuses in the Dutch women’s shelters.

Two months ago, 3 women fled the shelter in Heemskerk (North of Amsterdam), which is managed by the Blijf Groep (The Stay Group), the largest operator of women’s shelters in the Netherlands. The shelter was filthy, the children had scabies, prostitution took place in the shelter and the women received hardly any asisstance to move towards an independent future, forcing them to stay much longer than needed in the shelter. The women were in such dire financial needs, that they were forced to engage in begging or even prostitution to buy food for their children. Their complaints were met by intimidation by the management of the shelter.

Shelters are funded by government subsidies in the Netherlands. The Blijf Groep received 14 million in government subsidies in 2014. Besides that, the women in the shelters have to pay serious amount of rent, for which they receive hardly anything in return. The Blijf Groep’s general director (one of the organizers of this conference) earns more than the Dutch prime minister (162.000 vs 144.000 euro), but the shelter residents are begging in the street and dependent on food banks. The Dutch government, however, replied to questions in parliament about the abuses that it saw no reason for an investigation, since the Blijf Groep was carrying out its own investigation. The responsible municipality, Haarlem, sent a health inspection team for a one time visit, but did not see any reason for further action, pending the investigation by the Blijf Groep itself. The authorities did not speak to the women themselves, except for the one time that the women and the NGO Femmes for Freedom went to the town hall and refused to leave until they had spoken to the responsible deputy mayor. The Blijf Groep intimidated one of the whitleblowing women by sending an intimidating letter through its lawyer. In short, the women were not and are not taken seriously. Neither were the former staff members of the Blijf Groep, that confirmed that the complaints were indeed of a serious nature. Once the funds have been given to the Blijf Groep, the authorities exert no serious control on how they are spent and on whether the goals of the subsidies are met.

This is strange, since this is not the first time that such abuses take place in a Dutch women’s shelter. In 2012 an independent investigation into atrocities in the so-called “hell house”
in Hilversum (near Utrecht), concluded that there had been no or at least insufficient external oversight. Although there had been complaints since 2007 (!), neither the municipality nor the national federation of shelters had taken serious action.

Femmes for Freedom has received signals that abuses are taking place elsewhere in the sector as well and is currently investigating them. Femmes for Freedom is shocked by the fact that although
many organisations and the authorities claim they are taking action to fight violence against women, but are not interested in the real situation of the victims of such violence, once they have entered the officially recognized women’s shelters.

Femmes for Freedom therefore calls for an independent investigation into the shelters in the Netherlands. In order to serve their purpose, women’s shelters in the Netherlands should be free for documented and undocumented women. Shelter residents should receive adequate assistance, to help them move towards a future outside the shelter. Government subsidies should be invested in the victims of violence, not in incredibly high management salaries.

Do you want to know more about Femmes for Freedom’s thoughts about the Dutch Women’s Shelters? Read this statement (in Dutch).

Workshop Femmes for Freedom at the 3rd World Shelter Conference of Women’s Shelters

Presenter: Shirin Musa (director of Femmes for Freedom)
Title: Marital captivity & the need for a different system of women’s shelters

Description: Marital captivity is relatively unknown subject for women’s organizations. Femmes for Freedom wants to put this issue on the agenda of the international movement, and to discuss the broader

definition of forced marriage as it is being used in the Netherlands, as a good basis for action. You can read more about marital captivity in English here. The information about marital captivity (‘huwelijkse gevangenschap’) in Dutch you can read on this site.

The other issue that Femmes for Freedom wants to address during this session is the plea for better and more specialized women’s shelters. Femmes for Freedom wants to talk about the system of women’s shelters in the Netherlands and how we can make this system work better and more efficient. Femmes for Freedom wants a free and safe women’s shelter system with high quality for women with and without documents.

For more information about the 3rd World Shelter Conference: http://www.worldshelterconference.org

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