Women’s refuges were first developed in the 1970s as part of a wider feminist movement. They were set up to help women and children by providing a roof over their heads when they needed to escape male violence. So, a safe place to stay was central over forty years ago – and is still vital today.
But women’s refuges provide more than just safety. The refuge movement also had the goals of challenging male violence and changing women’s position in society; as well as helping individual women. It’s important to remember these roots, and a project on the early history of refuges in the East of England and in East London has been interviewing the pioneers of the 1970s to provide an oral history archive of women’s experiences.
Refuges in the UK have developed and changed over the decades, and refuges on a range of different models have been set up around the world. There have been positive and negative changes; such as improvements in the quality of accommodation, but also constraints on length of stay. Many refuges in the UK were originally run by volunteers – often women who themselves had experienced domestic abuse in the past – and have seen increases and decreases in funding for paid workers over the years. A feminist ethos of mutual self-help has sometimes been replaced by a more social service ethos of professional staff helping ‘service users’.
So there are many different ways of running a refuge, and a recent article as part of this journeyscapes research highlights how the practices of workers and residents help create a dynamic space for so much more than safety.
It is important
both to remember the history, and to take the insights forward to face the
current threats to women’s refuges.