A recent scandal involving Kashana has put the effectiveness and utility of shelter homes in question, yet again
Recently, in a series of videos that went viral on social media, Afshan Latif, in charge of Kashana, a welfare home for destitute and needy girls/women, in Township, levelled serious allegations against some senior public officials and politicians. It wasn’t the first time that a shelter home for women or children had courted controversy; in the past too, cases of exploitation and abuse had been reported.
The issue taken up by Latif is being investigated, and therefore it wouldn’t be wise to comment on that, but one cannot help questioning the effectiveness and utility of such shelter homes if there is even an iota of truth in these allegations.
Shelter homes come under the jurisdiction of the Social Welfare and Bait-ul-Maal Department of the Government of the Punjab. Currently, the department is managing 36 Dar-ul-Amaans, six Dar-ul-Falah centres, 12 Women Crisis Centres, three Kashana centres, 36 District Industrial Homes, three mini Sanatzar, one Violence Against Women Centre, and a Silai Markaz (Stitching Centre), according to the statistics provided by Aasia Bashir, Deputy Director Planning, Social Welfare Department.
A Dar-ul-Amaan, apart from catering to security and basic needs of women, also arranges in-house psycho-social counselling and medical facility, says Misbah Rasheed, the superintendent at the Lahore Dar-ul-Aman. “We have a capacity for 50 women; and, currently, we’ve housed 42 women. We also have a dispensary where basic healthcare is provided [to women]. Apart from providing individual treatment, group sessions are also facilitated in order to sensitise the inmates on issues related to health and hygiene.”
Rasheed also speaks of Dar-ul-Amaan offering skill and vocational training courses, such as the beautician’s course. Besides an “informal educational setup,” the centre recently launched a literacy centre for women. “Within our limited resources, we’re trying our best to facilitate the women who come to us for shelter and sustenance.”
Ambreen Ajaib, the executive director at Bedari, a non-government organisation which implemented a 15-month project, titled Improving the Shelter Homes, in collaboration with Dar-ul-Amaans, in eight districts of the Punjab — Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Chakwal, Vehari, Khanewal and Rawalpindi — has some more insight to offer on the plight of women living in shelter homes. She tells TNS, “Prior to us, an international organisation in partnership with the Social Welfare Department came up with minimum standards for maintenance for such shelter homes. A comprehensive document was compiled that every Dar-ul-Amaan must follow. It binds them to provide counselling and legal aid, but in reality they aren’t effectively doing the needful.
“Such institutes have always been politicised,” she adds. “After the 18th Amendment, Dar-ul-Amaans have been treated like orphans. The [Punjab] government was not ready to own them. There was no clarity on the matter for a long time. Meanwhile, the staff at the centres didn’t get their salaries; rentals and utility bills weren’t paid. In such circumstances, women who came for shelter were dependent on male staff members to bring them food and other stuff from outside. Many women reported incidents where the said staff demanded sexual favours; some obliged, while those who refused had to suffer.”
“Sometimes, we receive women who have no extra clothes,” Ajaib says. “They can’t even take care of their sanitary requirements; some items are available at the Dar-ul-Amaans, but others have to be procured.”
“It’s very unfortunate that women can live only temporarily — for up to six months — in shelter homes. Special permissions and procedures are required for an extended stay. It’s a great irony that there is no system in place, for the proper rehabilitation of women who are victims of violence. Eventually, they have to be returned to their families or husbands who may be abusive.”
For a pregnant woman, life in Dar-ul-Amaan is even more challenging. Delivery time cannot be predicted. To take a woman in labour to hospital, for instance, at midnight, can be hard. As Ajaib puts it, “The superintendent has to take all necessary security measures before letting an inmate leave the place. A lot of times she is unable to do so, even if she wants to.”
So, where does all that leave the shelterless women? According to Ajaib, “In my own experience, I’ve seen that where the heads were proactive, they took many initiatives on their own despite the lack of resources. They also faced many challenges.
“We also saw that the superintendents of many Dar-ul-Amaans wanted to improve things but being women working in the government sector at a junior position, they didn’t have much authority.”
Kanwal Noman, Member of Parliament, was quick to request to the chief justice of Pakistan to take suo moto notice on the issue brought forth by Latif of Kashana. But she throws some serious doubts on the effectiveness of such institutes: “Women and girls come to shelter homes with the confidence that their honour would be safe, but if such things happen at these places, I think nothing could be worse than this.”
Ambreen Ajaib agrees with Noman, but she still believes in the importance of shelter homes, and insists on devising a long-term strategy to help matters: “It’s very unfortunate that women can live only temporarily — for up to six months — in shelter homes. Special permissions and procedures are required for an extended stay. It’s a great irony that there is no system in place, for the proper rehabilitation of women who are victims of violence. Eventually, they have to be returned to their families or husbands who may be abusive.”
For her, this can lead to serious consequences: “When such places aren’t protected, they are liable to stigmatised further. Stories of abuse at shelter homes can deter women from taking refuge here. This is a very serious issue.”
Aasia Bashir, on the other hand, sounds quite positive about the state of affairs at shelter homes: “I don’t know the motives behind the Kashana controversy, because the department has been running these shelter homes for a long time. Why this controversy now?
“From what I have seen over the years, our staff makes sure that the inmates are well taken care of.”
Misbah Rasheed attributes the negative impression of shelter homes to “the misrepresentation in media. Even if you look at the Kashana controversy, the media has conveniently ignored the fact that Kashana and Dar-ul-Amaan are two separate institutes. Our organisation caters for women who faced domestic abuse and come through court, while Kashana is to young and underage girls.
“I can say with full responsibility that women are absolutely safe in Dar-ul-Amaan,” she declares.