10 August 2014


In recent weeks, the Board has been contemplating the values we will hold throughout our 2014-2015 term. Given the constitutional commitment of the USU to welfare, particular attention was paid to valuing justice, safety and inclusivity. These principles, amongst others, will guide our decision-making to ensure the relevance of the Union in an increasingly diverse community.

It is in this context that we consider the recent NSW Government’s ‘Going Home, Staying Home’ reforms, which may come to jeopardise the safety of wom*n-identifying members of the USU community. We do not purport to be your source of information on policy and politics – but when our community is threatened, we hope to give them a voice.

In March, tender packages for homelessness services were released for inner Sydney, with only $1.1 million specified for wom*n experiencing domestic and family violence. The overall reduction of $6 million for Sydney, with the view to redistributing it across the State, leaves no specific funding for services catering to wom*n who are ‘homeless or at risk of homelessness, who have experienced childhood sexual assault, abuse or neglect, mental health and/or drug and alcohol issues, or for women leaving custody’, SOS Women’s Services reports. For wom*n fleeing domestic violence, discrimination or hardship, these services are of vital assistance.

Photo credit: Student's for Wom*n's Only Services

Sussan, a current student, notes that ‘without those wom*n-only services, I would probably be homeless, not in uni and probably starving’. She also attributes her success in her HSC year to the care and support of the wom*n in her Erskineville refuge. ‘They taught us how to budget, and now I have my own household… They always, always encouraged me to study, they helped me apply for scholarships – they got me into Sydney Uni.’

Summer, having received support from both mixed and wom*n’s-only refuges, compares her experiences and notes that in the latter, the wom*n receiving help knew ‘what they were worth’ and ‘what the possibilities could be’ in situations of pregnancy, violence, mental illness and substance abuse.

‘[They] taught me to always believe in the ability to make choices for you, and that’s what these refuges are about – that they can make their own choices and ones that fit for them. That’s the long-term goal.’

For the shelters that do remain open, many will be altered in nature and composition. Elsie’s, the first wom*n’s-only refuge and established by University of Sydney students, is being subsumed by St Vincent de Paul and will no longer be able to guarantee that all service providers are wom*n. Sussan commented that all-female support was of crucial importance ‘because all the males in my life had let me down’.

Like Elsie’s, many shelters across Sydney will be put under the control and administration of religious institutions such as Mission Australia. For those who flee homes of a particular religion, ‘it is threatening if the only place of potential safety is preaching the same message as their parents’, says Summer.

The planned shift of these services away from inner Sydney may also prove demotivating, isolating and alienating. The movement away from high-quality physical and mental health services, transport hubs, good schools and universities ‘will make their wom*n who struggle to find inspiration ten times harder’, says Summer. ‘It perpetuates the cycle. It’s all about the location’.

‘For us to open up about these things is so difficult.’

Students for Wom*n’s Only Services (SWOS), a group of students fighting against the reforms at the University, are encouraging students ‘to be at the forefront of the wom*n’s refuge movement by fighting for their independence’.

For more information on the reforms and how to assist the campaign against them, contact SWOS at https://www.facebook.com/swossydney?fref=ts, SOS Women’s Services at http://www.soswomensservices.com, or Kate Bullen (USU Wom*n's Portfolio Holder) k.bullen@usu.edu.au. 

If you are experiencing abuse or hardship, the University’s Counselling and Psychological Services can be contacted on (02) 8627 8433. Alternatively, the Board are always available to put you in contact with the relevant resources and service providers.


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