I'm very happy to have the presence of my colleague from London, regarding the issues of conjugal violence and the ways in which COVID has affected women.
The Shield of Athena was established in 1991. We have a network of services that include two day centres and an emergency shelter, and we are planning a second-step resource. We have, more or less, an integrated system regarding services for women and their children. We do work with vulnerable clientele and presently we give outreach and services in up to 17 languages. We see a lot of people who are in vulnerable situations, particularly women from immigrant communities, particularly women who present with severe linguistic barriers.
Forced confinement and quarantine during the pandemic may compound the issue and increase the dangers and consequences for women victims of conjugal violence. First of all, they can't access the phone in order to call for services. They can't access information. They can't access anybody to help make a protection scenario for them and their children. The pandemic limits their actions and isolates them even more.
Doubly vulnerable clientele such as the ones that we work with—women who present with severe linguistic barriers; women who do not know the system that we live in; women who do not know their rights and the laws; women who have many children or who have children with specific needs, such as autism; women who live in remote areas where there are few services—are also put in danger as their potential for accessing information and resources is even more limited.
Within this COVID pandemic, a key factor for us—and something of major importance—is the fact that women who don't speak the language have a problem accessing services.
This situation is further compounded by the difficulty women have had getting into shelters in Quebec. I don't know the solutions that are used in other provinces, but in Quebec we have quarantined women before transferring them into the shelter system. That means another 14 days as an added step for the women before they are filtered through to the shelters. I have to say that a lot of them left the quarantine. A lot of them did go back to their abusive relationships.
A complicating factor for women who are victims of conjugal violence, who are doubly vulnerable such as immigrant women, is their economic dependency. Many women who work have had their money taken away from them. Many women who are isolated have never been allowed to work, making them totally dependent on their abuser. This is a point that has been brought up before. We have seen this situation. This is something that occurs even more now during the pandemic.
Our job as workers is to make sure that these women are finally autonomous or financially independent. I heard the other presenters speaking about trying to provide job opportunities, but a lot of the women who we're working with can't even speak their language well. Trying to access employability programs or trying to get into the system under the best of circumstances is very difficult for them. Within the context of a pandemic, you can imagine what the situation is.
Many are put on welfare. The first thing social workers do is to put the women on welfare once they get into the shelter, but how far does $600 go?
You can say that there are child benefits, but in the case of abusive relationships and women who can't speak and can't understand the issues, the child benefits may not be given to them. They might have to sign over their child benefits if there's a joint account. In cases where the abusive partner has total custody, then he's the one who gets the benefits.
What can we do to rectify this horrible financial dependency that exists normally for all the aforementioned reasons for women who are victims of conjugal violence?
I think there has to be a financial stipend, an allocation that goes specifically to women who are victims of conjugal violence.
Earlier, somebody mentioned the issues surrounding single moms. Let me tell you, children are poor, but if their mom, who is a single mom, is poor, then they are very much poorer. We have to bolster the women. If the women are also victims of conjugal violence, then they need this stipend, this allocation, even more.
I just want to say a final point. Underlying issues that were important before now for victims of conjugal violence, such as the lack of social housing, are even worse now. Never mind the second-step resources. There are so few of those in Quebec. There are thousands of women who go in and out of the shelter system, and there are maybe 19 seconds to have resources. Never mind those. What about social housing?
We have women clients who are waiting for up to four years in order to access social housing. There are dire consequences for women during this period of a pandemic. We feel that we have to have a specific allocation, a specific pension, a specific fund, that goes directly to women who are victims of conjugal violence, be they single or be they single moms with their children.
Thank you very much.