Friday, 13 October 2017 10:11

Women’s shelters trying to ‘Lift Her Up’

Written by  Demi Knight
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Women’s shelters across Southern Alberta are making moves to create safer spaces for women, not just within their communities but provincially with a new Lift Her Up campaign.

After protesters shouted obscenities and sexual comments outside the Alberta legislature building last winter, shelters from across the province came together to create a movement of safer spaces for women within Alberta.
“Violent language directed at women in the public eye also perpetuates abuse behind closed doors. In 2016 Alberta’s shelters cared for just over sixteen thousand women, children and seniors through admissions to shelter and outreach programs,” says Executive Director of Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS), Jan Reimer of why the initiative was introduced and how it was formed to help not only women within politics but the gender collectively across the province.
“Our goal is to bring this to zero – but we can’t do it in a society that tolerates public bullying of women.”
Through this new campaign, that was strategically brought to light around the time of municipal elections, the conversation of creating a safer space for women within politics and the public sector has become a hot topic, and many would say, rightfully so. With shelters across the province seeing increases in the number of women seeking services within the last five years, the idea that misogyny and unfair treatment towards a specific sex still exists within Alberta, is one that the ACWS are hoping more people take special attention.
With 41 women’s shelters available throughout the province, and only 16 of those being within southern Alberta, this new campaign and all the partners that make up the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelter’s think continuing the conversation of safety for women should not be overlooked.    
“We are a part of the council for this campaign at  Pincher Creek Women’s emergency shelter, and we absolutely think this campaign is great. There’s women in political roles that face a lot discrimination,” says Executive Director of Pincher Creek Women’s Emergency Shelter, Julie Coleman.
“The work that’s being done with this campaign is helping to shift the narrative, and bring people to become a little more conscious of how we support women in political situations, as well as highlighting sexist attitudes.”
Coleman also went on to describe that having campaigns like this within the province are great at stressing the support needed when it comes to women.
“There’s always room for more support,” says Coleman, before explaining the common difficulties that most shelter’s face across Alberta.
“Some of the challenges that are familiar across the province is a lack of affordable housing and wait times to get from the shelter into affordable housing, we don’t have a second stage program here, like a lot of smaller places in southern Alberta. I think more longer-term programming is needed in this area for sure.”
With most shelters across the area offering programs for women such as counselling, outreach and residential escape and child support programs for those escaping abuse, both the need for these services and the number of women and families seeking them have risen over the past few years.
“The number of women we work to help each year always varies, last year we served 150 women and 90 kids. We had some funding increases this year so our outreach program has been used a lot more,” says Coleman.
Lethbridge’s YWCA Habour House women’s emergency centre has too seen an increase in numbers over the last few years.
With 535 women and children residing in the shelter in 2014, to 548 in 2015, and all the way up to 636 women and children accessing the shelter last year.
However, it’s not only needing a place of refuge that has increased over the years but also as Coleman said earlier, the need for outreach programs.
The YWCA also saw a jump of almost 1,000 people needing outreach services from 2014 to 2016, the number increasing drastically from 3,134 to 3,975 in only two years.
And the number’s just keep on growing, from the amount of women who disclosed sexual assaults to the number of people having to be turned away due to a lack of space or other reasons.
However, it’s not just cities such as Lethbridge that are having to turn those in need away, but rural communities also.
The Rowan House society in High River, in fact had to turn down a total of 236 people in the past year due to spacing issues. 
Still, with the only communities within southern Alberta having multiple women’s shelters available being those of Medicine Hat and Calgary, the question still stands that are women getting enough support throughout the province?
With this question in mind, and the recent sexist comments made during a protest for women within politics, it seems to the ACWS that now is the perfect time to bring these problems to the surface and promote better and safer environments for women all around.
“Sadly, sexist bullying is all too common in political life. We want politics to be a safe and welcoming space where everyone is able to make their point about issues that concern them. We hope the campaign will encourage more women to participate in politics,” says Reimer of why this campaign is important for members of the public to take notice of.
“Leadership against sexism is needed from both citizens and candidates alike.”
On a final note and when asked about the necessity for actions and campaigns such as the #liftherup that is currently taking place, Executive Director of the Pincher Creek Women’s emergency shelter, Julie Coleman says support like this is always needed.
She also added that lately it has become a sad reality that many women requiring the help that these shelters offer first turn to other coping methods that could put themselves at risk, due to a feeling of inadequate support or helplessness.
“We have seen a lot more women coming in that are coping with a lot of pain and trauma by using drugs. And it’s really important to understand that a lot of women coming in to these places and needing help from these services have experienced trauma that lead them to want to escape from that pain by using drugs and other unhealthy coping methods.”
A list of all women’s shelters that are a part of the ACWS can be found online at shelters as well as recent campaign information and information on all the services offered by the shelters across the province.

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