By Elli Christodoulou
On the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which reminds us every year that violence against women is a criminal offence and is based on gender inequalities between women and men, the Government announces the opening of the “Home for Women” from December 2020.
Violence against women concerns all of us, the state, society as a whole, the perpetrators themselves, the victims and the children involved. It is a chronic and complex social phenomenon which is found in all, without exception, the social and economic strata of society, and why prevention, dealing with the effects and elimination of all forms of violence through effective, coordinated policies and practices, with the participation of civil society, is the main priority of Cyprus. Violence affects not only the victims themselves who have suffered it, causing them physical and multiple psychological problems, but also affects other family members who can unwittingly witness dramatic situations that affect their subsequent emotional development.
At national level, in the context of combating violence in the family, the Republic of Cyprus adopted the Violence in the Family (Prevention and Protection of Victims) Law of 1994 which was replaced by the Law of 2000. An important milestone in 1996 is the establishment of the Advisory Committee for the Prevention and Combating of Violence in the Family, where, according to the provisions of the Law, the main purpose is to monitor the problem and implement and comply with the legislation. In 2002, for the legislative regulation of the issue of domestic violence, the “Manual of Interdepartmental Procedures for the Handling of Incidents of Violence in the Family” was applied. This is the main tool for interdepartmental cooperation and describes the role and responsibilities of each Agency involved in the handling of victims of violence. It should be noted that in 2017, the Council of Ministers approved the revised “Manual of Interdepartmental Procedures for the Management of Incidents of Violence in the Family for Children”.
The issue of violence against women has been and continues to be a political priority of the Government with the objective of providing immediate and effective services to victims of violence. A milestone in tackling the problem was the government’s announcement in January 2019 of the creation of the “Home for Women”. In particular, in the context of the implementation of the obligations arising from the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention), which the Republic of Cyprus ratified by Law in November 2017, the Council of Ministers has approved the implementation of the creation of the “Home for Women”.
According to a Ministerial Decision, the Ministries of Labour, Welfare and Social Insurance, Justice & Public Order, and Health, constitute the Ad hoc Ministerial Committee that supervises/approves the work of the Technical Committee chaired by the Advisory Committee for the Prevention and Combating of Violence in the Family, which is also the Coordinator of all actions for the implementation of this project. It is noted that the management of the “Home for Women” was entrusted to the Association for the Prevention and Handling of Family Violence.
The “Home for Women” will function as an inter scientific victim-friendly, where professionals from various specialties and State Officers such as Clinical Psychologists, Social Workers, specially trained members of the Police, etc., will work under the same roof/structure to provide protection and specialised support to victims of violence and their families. All women (and their minor children) and girls (under 18 years of age) will have access to the “Home for Women” without any discrimination, including migrant women and refugees regardless of their immigration or refugee status.
The “Home for Women” will provide the following services to adult women and under age girls (under 18 years of age) victims of violence, as well as to their dependant :
- Take measures (regarding the victim and the perpetrator) for the immediate protection and safety of the victim.
- Immediate/short psychological support and possible referral to Mental Health Services (NGOs)/ NGOs for long-term monitoring and treatment.
- Socio-economic support (access to allowances or benefits, housing, care services, referral to labour market reintegration services – e.g. education, empowerment, Labour Office).
- Medical examination for physical and sexual abuse and possible referral to physicians/specialists for long-term treatment and medical care. In the case of sexual abuse of a minor, a referral will be made to the Children’s House.
- Receiving a victim’s statement, as well as a visualised statement from the Police.
- Referral and/or escort services – where necessary – in accommodation areas, in the Police, in the Court, in Hospitals, Mental Health Services, in the Welfare Benefit Management Service, in child support and protection bodies, etc.
- Legal services (from the Legal Service, as well as private lawyers).
Case co-management is the key operating element of the Women’s House, where it essentially translates into practice the “one stop shop” approach/ philosophy, according to which all the services involved are co-located and coordinated under the same roof, with the aim of effectively managing cases.
The approach of the “Home for Women” is based on the Family Justice Centre model, where the best interests of the child and of the mother are identical, since mother and dependants, in most cases, experience the same degree of risk of violence. The “Home for Women” will take into account the safety needs of both women and their children, thus providing comprehensive interventions aimed at empowering the mother and ensuring her relationship with her children.
- The mother and her dependent children will receive the initial services at the Home for Women in order to avoid their separation and thus avoid further re-victimisation. The Istanbul Convention also requires specialised support for children based on their needs (Articles 22, 23 and 26). That is why the “Home for Women” provides for the presence of a Child’s Advocate, who will be responsible for safeguarding the rights of the child in all proceedings initiated by the “Home for Women”.
- The “Home for Women” is expected to operate in phases until it becomes fully operational. At this stage, the staff recruited completed their basic training by the end of 2020. The presence of the Police has already been secured in the “Home for Women” supported by an 11-member Department, as well as the placement of a Social Services Officer by the Social Welfare Services. The placement of a Government Clinical Psychologist by Mental Health Services is also expected.
The “Home for Women” started working with the first victims from 1 December 2020.
The Cyprus Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights and on Equal Opportunities for Men and Women reported that with the operation of the “Home for Women” it managed 32 cases of violence against women (72% were Cypriot and 28% were foreigners), 99% of cases had under-age children, 69% of the perpetrators have Cypriot citizenship, while 30% are foreigners. The pandemic has increased the number of incidents of domestic violence. When it is fully operational, more services will be allowed to report incidents to the “Home for Women”.
The Cyprus Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights and on Equal Opportunities for Men and Women, the Commissioner of Gender Equality, the National Mechanism for women’s rights, Ministries, Government Departments, Political and Non-governmental Organizations, Association for Prevention and Handling Violence in Families, as well as civil society actively participated and contributed to the development and opening of the “Home for Women”. All those contributed to this excellent cooperation and effort aimed at protecting and supporting women victims of violence and their underage children.
Let’s hope that at some point, pandemic measures will allow the inauguration that this new structure deserves.
data source: 1) Ministry of Labour & Social Insurance, 2) Press